In the Garden:
Middle South
June, 2004
Regional Report

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With robust plants to support them, these delicate tomato blossoms will soon give way to luscious, sun-ripened fruits.

No-Fail Tomatoes

In more than two decades as a vegetable gardener, 2003 was the first year my tomatoes failed. Daily rains spread late blight through the plants in early summer, and all my pruning and praying was in vain. Now I have more respect for the troubles tomatoes must endure, and I'm determined to help them stand up to the challenges. I've dubbed this year's crop my no-fail tomatoes.

Pounds of Prevention
My campaign began when I selected a cherry-type tomato as my main crop. Small-fruited tomatoes are usually more vigorous and disease tolerant than varieties that produce huge fruits, and they taste great, too. A week after setting out my plants, I mulched them with grass clippings, which form a nice splash barrier between the soil and the leaves. This is a basic strategy for preventing early blight, the fungal disease that causes brown spots on low leaves, and eventually makes them shrivel.

As the plants grew, I provided a support system made of jute woven between upright stakes, and watched for the first suckers to emerge near the base of the plants. These I adopted as secondary main stems, but I began pinching out most of the other suckers. With a couple of plants, I'm trying the "Missouri method" of pruning, which involves topping back the suckers that grow from the leaf node beneath each flower cluster. This method allows the plants to keep more leaves, and retains nodes where suckers can grow later in the season to bear a fall crop.

To keep fungal diseases at bay, I'm spraying my plants weekly with earth-safe disease deterrents. In wet weeks I've used neem, which keeps fungal spores from germinating and penetrating leaf tissues. In better weather I'm using a teaspoon of baking soda mixed in a quart of water, which has similar effects.

The process has been anything but tedious, and I'm enjoying working closely with my plants, appreciating their intricate little flowers, and gaining new respect for what it takes to be a no-fail tomato.


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