Other than the pandemic, it seems that the main topic of discussion among the local populace has been about the persistent wet weather through July. It’s a topic that has been discussed ad nauseam, including in this column.
Well, I have had enough and just don’t want to talk about the weather ... speaking of weather, it has had quite an effect on my tomato plants. Aside from the diseases mentioned last week, there are other issues with my tomatoes that relate to weather, and that is cracking and blossom end rot.
Cracking occurs on the fruit. Sometimes the cracks start near the stem end of the fruit and extend vertically down the tomato. This is called radial cracking or side splitting. At other times, cracking begins at the top of the tomato as a circle. Over time, more circular cracks appear. This is referred to as concentric cracking. It’s good to know these terms in case you ever get to be a contestant on a quiz program.
The severity of cracking varies, but is most severe during periods of heavy rain and high temperatures. Well, we’ve had the rain, soils are saturated and temperatures are rising. As such, tomato plants are taking up a lot of water. This causes the interior of tomato fruit to expand faster than the skin can grow. A little bit of cracking is no big deal and the quality of the tomato fruit is unaffected. Nevertheless, tomatoes with cracks should be harvested even if not fully ripe. They will continue to ripen after picking. If left on the plant, the cracks will worsen and create opportunities for disease to enter the fruit.
Another tomato problem related to the weather and soil moisture level is blossom end rot. This appears as a blacking at the lower end of the tomato fruit. There are several factors which can cause this physiological problem. The primary cause is the lack of calcium uptake by the tomato plant. This will occur during drought when lack of moisture prevents plant roots from taking up calcium or when persistently saturated soils cause roots to rot. Non-weather related factors that induce blossom end rot include acidic soils, excessive nitrogen fertilization and extremes in air temperatures.
Blossom end rot is not a uniquely tomato problem. It may also occur on peppers, as well as many vine crops, such as summer and winter squash, and watermelons. Fruit of these crops developing blossom end rot are not salvageable. So, pick them off and toss onto the compost pile.
THINGS TO DO ...
Here are some other gardening items to toss around:
- Cut off the top two-thirds of individual basil plants when planning to make a large batch of pesto. Leave the rest of each plant intact as it will continue to produce more shoots and leaves. What do you do with a large batch of pesto? Freeze it in ice cube trays or in small clumps of about 2 tablespoons each. When frozen, the flavor is retained for at least 6 months. If not making pesto, dry the basil shoots in a food dehydrator or put the leafy stems in a paper grocery bag and place the bag in a dimly lit, cool, dry room. Drying will be a lot quicker if the bag has holes punched in it. These same drying methods may be used with other herbs.
- Pick cucumbers while they are still thin skinned with small seeds. Letting cucumbers get large and yellow on the vine will cause the plant to stop producing fruit. Even if you pick the over-ripe cucumbers, the vines may not get going again. Obstinate, those cucumbers!
- Cut out a few of the larger leaves of summer squash plants if rotting of young fruit is a problem. Hot, humid and stagnant air promotes fruit rots. Removing a few leaves improves air circulation around the plant and can reduce occurrence of rot.
- Get out the hoe if keeping ahead of weeds in the garden has been too much for the Zen method of weeding, that is, crawling on hands and knees, and meditating while pulling up weeds. If slacking off on weeding, at least pull up those weeds that are forming seed heads.
- Prune the canes of summer-bearing raspberries when the harvest is completed. These canes die after yielding their crop. Leave the new canes alone for now. They will produce next year’s crop, but will need some pruning in early spring.
- Pinch or prune back houseplants that are getting a bit leggy. This will encourage more branching and compact, bushy growth. While you’re in a pinching mode, cut back herbaceous perennials that have finished flowering. Just make sure not to remove all the foliage.
- Apply fertilizer to annuals if their vigor or amount of flowering has slowed. Water-soluble or liquid fertilizers would be best to use to give the plants a quick pick-me-up since many nutrients, especially nitrogen and potassium, have leached from the soil during the constant rains of last month.
- Place flowers for drying in silica gel for best retention of the flower color. Silica gels for drying flowers are available at most garden centers.