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Down the Garden Path

Gardening with Tomatoes in 2015

The recent issue of the issue of the University of Illinois Extension Home Yard and Garden newsletter states that the growing degree days for our area (recorded at St. Charles) have recorded more days than our 11 year average of 865, at 1056. Gardeners then would have expected better plant growth of our vegetables. Clearly the vegetables have not been reading the reports!

Home gardeners should take heart in knowing that commercial growers are seeing the same kinds of development and if you have stopped by and shopped your local vegetable stand or farmers market, it is reflected in some of our favorite vegetables still missing from the shelves. This is not a conspiracy to drive up prices by creating a demand; the vegetables are just not ready to harvest yet.

Tomatoes are a great example of why gardeners plant the varieties we do and when we plant them here in N. Illinois. Back in January when the vegetable catalogs arrived in the mail box, we eagerly read the descriptions, one sounding better than the last. Settling on just a few varieties, gardeners hope to space out harvest so the bounty would be spaced out during the summer growing season. For that reason, early, main season and late season varieties were chosen. Gardeners would also have chosen to try one or two of the heritage varieties as well, known for their unique flavor or thin tender skin, shape or appearance.

What our weather has done though may be to delay and then compress the harvest into a shorter time frame. That may not be a bad thing, it just means you have had to wait longer for your first BLT sandwich using your own homegrown tomatoes and that you will have to ramp up your canning schedule to accommodate all the tomatoes in a shorter amount of time.

Other impacts of our wetter weather, regardless of the accumulated growing degree days, have been all the tomato foliage disease and poor plant development. Those varieties of the F1 hybrids have shown better disease resistance than the heritage types due the many decades of traditional breeding by breeders. While the foliar diseases attack them too, damage is limited and the tomato plants survive to provide us with tomatoes. Heritage varieties may not have the same fate, the disease killing the plants completely.

Over- crowding of the plants can promote more disease, as the foliage does not dry off quickly with the morning sun, allowing the fungal and bacterial diseases time to develop. Tomato plants that can be staked up or grown in cages keep all that foliage that much higher and away from the soil. Removing the suckers on the tomato plant can also open up the canopy to good light and air movement. Even though our gardens may not be their best this year, we always have that "do over" in 2016.