After two soggy summers, I am happy to report that this one has been dry and sunny for us. “Finally,” I told myself, “I will get enough tomatoes to can or freeze.”
I even bought black plastic, which had planting holes already punched into it, to help suppress weeds. Of course, that “mulch” took much longer to arrive than it should have due to the sudden high demand for gardening supplies, so my seedlings became a bit root bound in the meantime. But, once set out, they grew big and bushy. Unfortunately they weren’t producing as many fruits as I thought they should.
Since tomato blossoms--such as those pictured in the banner image--are self-pollinating, that couldn’t be due to a paucity of pollinators. I knew that fertilizer high in nitrogen encourages plants to make lush foliage at the expense of flowers. But the only “food” I’d given mine was a 6-11-5 spray-on type, which is highest in phosphorus and thus calculated to produce more blooms instead. So what had gone wrong?
Some Don't Like It Hot
As mentioned before, I’m relatively new to vegetable gardening, most of my 30+ years of experience being with ornamental plants. So, after turning to Internet experts for help, I concluded that—oddly enough—the problem probably was that beautiful weather. In July it had turned both hotter and dryer than is usual here in western PA. Since tomatoes originated in the temperate Andes, temperatures above 85 degrees during the day or 75 degrees at night may make pollen—like the rest of us—too miserably sticky to move. On the other hand, dry conditions may render it too powdery to adhere, while chilly nights below 55 degrees can cause blossoms to drop before they are pollinated.
Also, heirloom tomatoes tend to be more sensitive to weather conditions than modern hybrids are. And, because most of the antique types are indeterminate, they like to grow tall before they begin making fruits. Naturally, most of my plants are heirlooms. (Sigh.)
Weathering the Weather
As either Charles Dudley Warner or Mark Twain once said, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it”—for the very good reason that there is nothing that anybody can do about it. So I just will have to make sure that my tomatoes are getting enough water, possess my soul in patience until the weather changes, and hope that this isn’t one of those years when we have an early frost. Fortunately, the dry conditions have thus far prevented the fungus problems which sometimes doom tomatoes to die young.
Tomato, Tomahto: A Few to Try Before You Call the Whole Thing Off
According to Bonnie Plants, gardeners who live in climates where the weather isn’t likely to “chill” soon enough may want to try growing heat-tolerant tomatoes such as ‘Heatmaster’ and ‘Solar Fire’ or the heirlooms ‘Arkansas Traveler’ or ‘Homestead.’ Cherry types also reportedly aren’t as bothered by steamy weather as larger-fruited varieties are. And those of you who reside where the weather typically isn't warm enough for tomatoes may want to attempt cold-tolerant cultivars such as ‘Carmelo,’ ‘Oregon Spring,’ ‘Stupice,’ and ‘Super Bush.’
As for me, I recently discovered that there are more green tomato fruits in my garden than I thought there were, buried beneath all that lush foliage where it is difficult to see them. Nothing close to the tables-full (pictured above) that my more experienced mother used to get, though. So I’ve concluded that the next time I pray for nicer weather, I’d better be a little more specific!
Photos: The photos included in the article are my own.