Vegetables can have a shady history. In Germany, the wolf peach was so named because some associated it with werewolves. The scientific name Lycopersicon esculentum actually means edible wolf peach.
The wolf peach is an introduction from South America. Cortez brought it to Spain, and it spread across Europe. Because it is a member of the poisonous nightshade family, it was viewed with concern by many. Nevertheless, Italians embraced it and made it the mainstay of their cuisine. The amorous French called it love apple and attributed love-inducing qualities to it. Quite an exciting history for the lowly tomato.
More gardeners grow tomatoes than any other vegetable. This may be due to the fact that homegrown tomatoes often taste much better. Taste can be improved by selecting the right variety, careful fertilization and watering and allowing fruits to ripen on the vine.
Tomatoes can have lots of problems, most of which are better prevented than cured. Plan ahead of time if you want a healthy wolf peach.
Blossom end rot (BER) usually appears on tomatoes just before ripening as a dry, sunken leathery lesion on the bottom of the fruit. It is caused by a calcium deficiency. It is definitely better prevented than cured.
Calcium enters the plant in water the roots take up. Deep till before planting to encourage deep rooting. Plant seedlings deeper than they originally grew to slightly above where the first leaf was attached. One method is to dig a trench and plant the transplant lying down with the top third of the plant exposed. The stem will root and make a larger root system. Be careful not to chop the buried stem when weeding.
Mix one cup of gypsum (calcium sulfate) into the planting hole to supply calcium and prevent BER. Mulch around the plants, but keep the mulch pulled slightly away from the stem. Water twice a week with 3/4 inch of water each time. Watering is the key. If you let the plant get dry while the fruit are small, this can cause BER. Tomatoes in containers are more susceptible to BER because the root system is smaller and more likely to dry out. I suggest planting vegetables in raised beds instead of containers to reduce problems.
Nutritional problems can be avoided by taking and following a soil sample. Properly fertilized plants are healthier and produce tastier fruit. Potassium is especially important in producing a tasty crop.
Try to water plants without getting the leaves wet. Wet leaves encourage diseases. A soaker hose may be a good investment. Water long enough each time to wet the soil 12 inches deep. Water before 10 a.m., so the leaves will dry quickly. Wait until the soil dries slightly before watering again.
Many tomato diseases can be prevented by planting resistant varieties. Tomato spotted-wilt virus (TSWV) makes a plant look stunted and wilted with red-tinged leaves that may turn yellow. Leaves may have a dark red mottling, and fruit can have lines or rings on the surface. TSWV is spread by thrips and cannot be controlled once you get it. Prevent it by planting TSWV resistant varieties: Amelia, Stiletto and others. These varieties can be less tasty, so let the fruits ripen on the plant.
Tomato wilt is commonly caused by one of two fungi or a bacterium. Buy resistant varieties. Letters following the variety name indicate resistance: V-verticillium wilt; F-Fusarium wilt; N-nematodes; T-Tobacco Mosaic Virus, etc.
There is no resistance to bacterial wilt. If you have planted a resistant variety and it wilts, you may have bacterial wilt. Plant tomatoes in another area. Do not move soil or plants from this area to avoid spreading the disease. If you need help identifying the problem, consult your local UGA extension agent at 800-ASK-UGA1.
Install a trellis at planting to keep tomatoes off the ground. Vines on the ground are more susceptible to diseases and fruit rots.
The Bibb County Extension Office is planning a vegetable gardening class on May 7. For more information, contact the extension office at 751-6338.