Thursday, August 4, 2016

Tomato Death

Ex-tomatoes. RIP.

So my tomato crop this year at the homestead has been a total and complete failure. One of the things I learned in my Master Gardener coursework is that crops that are suffering and dying generally are not infected with disease; most of the time it's our own husbandry habits -- watering trends, over/under fertilizing, or other human factors which have inadvertently killed the ones we love...well, the green ones, anyway.

But for the second summer in a row my tomatoes have fruited poorly (this year not at all) and had a wilting issue, which I now realize is either being caused by fusarium or verticillium wilt. Both are soil-borne diseases that can last for years in soil, and so now I'm faced with fixing the issue, along with buying tomatoes at the farmer's market for the foreseeable future.

It doesn't really matter which wilt it is, fusarium or virticillium -- that's like debating whether getting run over by a Subaru Outback versus a Forester would be worse. The point is you, or in this case my tomatoes, are flat on the concrete at this point, and aren't coming back.

Luckily, since my contaminated soil is in raised beds, I can opt to either replace all the soil or solarize the bed. I'm going to solarize since we're at the height of summer -- spreading some clear plastic over the beds and letting our blistering summer heat do its work, raising the temperatures in the beds to about 160 degrees and killing the fungus...hopefully. 

Next year I will also have to plant VFN-resistant (VFN = verticillium, fusarium and nematode) hybrids instead of heirlooms. Luckily "Better Boy" is one of my favorite hybrids, so I have hope of salsa in 2017. I will miss my heirloom Mortgage Lifters and Pink Ladies though, but I'm taking no chances. It's sad to let those seeds go, but they will live on at the winery in the garden, so all is not lost.

It does make me understand exactly why these hybrids were developed, however. Losing an entire crop to disease is unfortunate for me, but could be catastrophic in the ag sector or on a family farm back in the day when no tomatoes actually meant no tomatoes -- period. 

Heirlooms are beautiful and are all the rage these days, but it's important not to forget exactly why some of these hybrids -- common, easy-to-grow; disease resistant and prolific -- are an important part of the crop world. They get a bad rap but the truth is are sometimes the answer to a prayer.

And I'm already praying for my 2017 crop, believe me. And luckily, my self-esteem got a boost this morning when I was able to can 20 pounds of pickles in the form of relish. So the preserving season has not been a total bust vegetable-wise.

But then there was relish.

And lots of flowers.


  1. Ah I'm sorry! How disheartening to have your hand raised plants bite the dust like that! But hopefully the tomatoes are abundant at the market. Better boy is a great tomato indeed. Is there any way to test the soil next year to assure the infection is out? I had very bad luck with solarizing a thistle infiltration but thistles will grow in bleach I think so that probably doesn't count! Haha I thought maybe you burned all your mortgage lifters in protest of the contest :)

  2. I refuse to hold the tomatoes responsible for that contest lol! I've heard it's much harder to solarize against seed, and I'm not even sure it's going to work for the wilt, but I can replace the soil if necessary. I'm pretty sure you can test for the pathogens, but it's probably just as cheap to order a couple of yards more of good soil and have it delivered so I'm going to take a risk and wait and see.

  3. I tried tomatoes twice, both times in containers, and had precious little luck. As much as I would love fresh produce from my own garden, it can be very disappointing to try and try. I suppose I couldn't be out there tending it anyway, with this awful smoke back in the area. *cough*

    1. Today is the worst yet for the smoke, don't you think? And the fire is only 25 percent contained. So, I do grow a lot of vegetables but honestly, it's always an uphill battle between the wind and heat. Maybe I can blame those things on my crop failures...that and the smoke for this year!

  4. My husband's tomatoes aren't doing that great either. This has been a strange summer, weatherwise. It is incredibly hot and humid but with little to no rain. The sky will cloud up and it will look like rain is imminent, but then it just dissipates.

    I hope your solarizing works. It is certainly hot enough there.

    1. Thanks Molly. I don't know a single person, coast to coast, who has not had tomato issues this year. Weird, huh! And humid but no rain has got to be awful in the garden...all the disease issues, none of the water you need.