The Hypochondriacal Garden

Kevin Milaeger





When asked about our health, most of us simply answer “it’s fine.” But if pressed, we might list a few problems---maybe a sore shoulder or knee, your arthritis is acting up, you have a rash that won’t go away, your medication doesn’t seem right----whatever. We all go through life dealing with various health issues, some much more serious than others, but somehow most of us get to old age.  

Plants are not that different from us. I’ve never read the once-popular book by Jerry Baker called “Plants are Like People,” (1975), but I like the title. I use that phrase regularly, to help people better understand plants. For me, it makes a plant problem easier to talk about. Not every human ache and pain is a crisis, and we shouldn’t panic when a plant doesn’t look quite right. But we should pay attention. Its best not to get too alarmed about a twisted leaf, a little spot, an unknown insect. The life of a typical tomato plant is less than six months. Like us, they are not always completely healthy, but most manage to survive the six months. Our job as gardeners is fairly straightforward---manage as best we can the things that are under our control. Choose disease resistant varieties, plant at the proper time, water, fertilize, stake, prune, and possibly treat for disease, especially if your garden has a history of problems. What could be easier?

In our part of the world, most of the diseases that hinder tomato plants are fungal. I’ve sprayed my plants with copper fungicide a number of times, and now I am on a weekly regimen. I want to stay ahead of the problem. Last year I didn’t, and my garden suffered. If fungus has been a problem for you, you need to be proactive. It’s not that hard to do. Remember to reapply after a rain, and when you are watering, keep water off the leaves. According to the label, you can apply the fungicide right up to harvest.

When tomatoes are ripening, we often see cracking of the skin. This doesn’t affect the flavor, but it makes them unsuitable for any supermarket. Even farmer’s markets would prefer their fruit not cracked. If the cracks are horizontal, the condition is genetic, and there is nothing you can do. If the cracking is vertical, it is environmental, and often related to watering, or the time of harvest. I prefer not to worry about it, the cracks don’t bother me a bit. But if it bothers you, try picking the fruit earlier, and allowing it to ripen in your kitchen, but not in the fridge. The flavor will not be affected, nor will the nutritional value.

My tomato plants look pretty good right now, and they are bearing well. But it took a while to get usable fruit. This has been the worst year for blossom end rot (BER) that I’ve ever experienced. From my ten plants, I must have discarded well over 50 large tomatoes. Fortunately, this condition is usually at its worst at the beginning of the season, so it is not really a problem anymore. But I’m still finding a few black bottomed fruits that I missed. We have discussed this problem in past blogs, and talked about many of the preventive measures, and folklore remedies. I think I’ve tried them all and nothing has worked. So, I wasn’t too surprised when I came upon some new findings about this problem. I belong to a plant group on facebook, a group that is supposedly run by horticulture professors. It is very tightly run, but that’s another story. They address all kinds of plant problems, and they always back up their statements with scientific studies. No folk remedies allowed. On a recent post about BER, they said that the problem is not caused by calcium deficiencies, and that there seems to be nothing that can be done about it. They did mention that the problem is “linked” to the use of ammonia-based fertilizers---but that was far from definitive. The professors conclude that the cause of BER is environmental. That is, “low light temperatures, fluctuating temperatures, watering too often, etc.” I’m sure there will be another study at some point, and new opinions will be touted, but this is the most up-to-date information out there. It doesn’t really matter to me, and most of you---we will all continue to grow tomatoes. The group is called “Garden Professor’s Blog” and anyone can join. You have to put up with their sometimes annoying rules and restrictions, but that might be a good thing.

Don’t forget about Tomatomania! This free event is held at our Racine location on Saturday, September 7, from 11-3. The tomato tasting is free. We will be creating and serving many tomato-based foods and beverages than can be purchased with tickets. Stop in for some tomato fun!


Please email me (kevin@milaegers.com) if you have any questions or comments.



Archives  (Click on text for links)



March 2019 - The Year of the Potato
March 2019 - Tomatoes---America's Favorite Vegetable
February 2019 - The Greens are Coming
January 2019 - Long, Chilly Nights Make Me Think of Tomatoes


June 2018 - Learn the Rules Before You Break Them
May 2018 - To Plant or Not to Plant
March 2018 - Brrr...Can You Plant this Early?
February 2018 - February's Climatological Shift




October 2017 - Remember: Every Tomato Variety is Someone's Favorite
August 2017 - A Tomato Miracle
July 2017 - Our Big Garden & Some Unpleasant News
June 2017 - Mid-June Tomato Report
June 2017 - Tomatoes----The Acid Test
April 2017 - It's Time to Plant Onions
April 2017 - Raspberries: It's time for annual pruning
March 2017 - Warning! Internet Garden Danger!
March 2017 - Tomato Talk---Shorter Varieties are Trending
March 2017 - It's Only the Start of March, but...
February 2017 - Tasty Greens and Winter Tomatoes
February 2017 - Green is Right Around the Corner



October 2016 - Autumn Greens, Eggplant and more
September 2016 - The Tomato Polls are Closed, the Winner is...
September 2016 - Pity the Hornworm? Maybe not.
August 2016 - It's true!---Sometimes tomato beauty is only skin deep!
July 2016 - Summer Heat Means Fast Ripening
July 2016 - July Tomato Update---a few concerns
June 2016 - The Great Bell Pepper Challenge!
June 2016 - Super Start for 2016 Vegetables!
May 2016 - Tomato Planting Date Inches Closer!
May 2016 - Vintage Veggies Now & Disease Resistant Tomatoes!
April 2016 - A Few New Plants & Garden Updates!
April 2016 - Go Outside---It's Time for Planting!
March 2016 - Yep! ----It's Time to Plant Greens!
March 2016 - The Quest for the Perfect Tomato
March 2016 - Think Green! It's almost time to plant
February 2016 - Pepper Pointers: it's all about patience
February 2016 - I See Greens on the Horizon
January 2016 - Tomato Disease --- What can you do?
January 2016 - Tomatoes on my Mind!


November 2015 - My Late Harvest (The tomato picking continues...No Kidding!)

October 2015 - Its Mid-October---the End is Near!

September 2015 - 2015---Not the Year of the Pepper!

September 2015 - Top Varieties at Tomatomania 2015!

September 2015 - Get the most from September tomatoes!

August 2015 - Tomatomania 2015---Coming Soon!

August 2015 - Oh No!!!......Freaky Tomatoes

July 2015 - A Marvelous Community Garden

July 2015 - Finally----the first ripe tomato

July 2015 - Is it Possible to overdose on peas?

July 2015 - The Garden in July --- I'm still planting!

June 2015 - And Just When Things Were Looking So Good...

June 2015 - Tomatoes, Cukes, and a Whimsical Onion

June 2015 - Trials and Tribulations in the Veggie Garden!

May 2015 - Trouble in Tomatoland!

May 2015 - Tomatoes are Claustrophobic

May 2015 - A Little Chilly, but it's Rhubarb Time!

May 2015 - Joan's Rhubarb Torte Recipe

April 2015 - "Ketchup and Fries" plant video

April 2015 - Early May in the Vegetable Garden

April 2015 - What Vegetables Can I Plant Now?

April 2015 - Making Salad Interesting

March 2015 - Ready... set... GROW!

March 2015 - Unusual Potatoes --- Not Just for Tots Anymore!

February 2015 - Next Month is Spring!

February 2015 - Greens to Grow 2015



September 2014 - Tomatomania Review 2014!

September 2014 - Tomatomania Results by Category or Cummulative

August 2014 - Kale! Kale! The Greens are Here! Click here for Recipe

August 2014 - The August Harvest Begins

July 2014 - Greens to Grow for Fall!!!  Click here for Spreadsheet

July 2014 - My Tomatoes are Blushing

June 2014 - Some Tomato Concerns

May 2014 - Garden Update --- the Cold Weather Experiment

May 2014 - Is it Time to Plant Tomatoes?

May 2014 - Vintage Veggies #4 and Vintage Veggies List 2014

April 2014 - A Chilly Spring... What Can I Plant Now?

March 2014 - Start Growing Your Own Food Right Now


February 2014 - Greens to Grow   Click here for Spreadsheet



October 2013 - Keep Calm and Garden On!

October 2013 - Autumn Vegetables

September 2013 - Tomato Popularity Poll Results Blog

September 2013 - Tomatomania Category and Cumulative Results

September 2013 - Tomatomania 2013 BlogVideo and T-Shirt

August 2013 - Greens to Grow and Spreadsheet

July 2013 - Spaghetti Squash

July 2013 - New Tomato and Zucchini Recipe Blog
July 2013 - Tomato and Zucchini Recipe

June 2013 - Cold Spring - What it Means for Vegetables
May 2013 - Tomatoes in Containers
May 2013 - Vintage Veggies 2013
April 2013 - My Tomato Garden Preview 2013
April 2013 - Don't Forget Rosemary!
April 2013 - It's Planting Time
March 2013 - Onions
March 2013 - Vintage Veggies
March 2013 - Greens to Grow Update
February 2013 - Hot Peppers
February 2013 - Grafted Tomatoes
February 2013 - Greens to Grow


September 2012 - Tomatomania Results
July 2012 - Compass Plant
July 2012 -July 2012 - Heat Wave
June 2012 - Okra
June 2012 - Potato Onion
May 2012 - Gas Plant

May 2012 - My Tomato Garden
May 2012 -
 Vintage Veggie Fest
March 2012 - Growing Raspberries in SE Wisconsin
March 2012 - Winter Tomato Project
February 2012 - Success with Sweet Peppers
February 2012 - Vegetable Cukes Miniature 
January 2012 - Tomatoes New Varieties


September 2011 -Tomatomania Review  
August 2011 - Tomatomania Preview
August 2011 - Racine Vegetable Garden Tour
July 2011 - Vegetables in my Garden
July 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes
June 2011 - Vegetables - Diseases made Simple
June 2011 - Vegetables - Container Growing
May 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes
April 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Event Preview
March 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Announcement

September 2010 - Tomatomania Review  
August 2010 - Flowers Late Summer Color 
July 2010 Vegetables Cukes and Tomatoes 
June 2010 Tomatoes New Varieties

September 2009 - Tomatoes End of Season Review  
September 2009 - Tomatomania Review
July 2009 - Tomatoes General and Fruit Set Problems
June 2009  - Tomatoes Fertilization
June 2009  - Tomatoes Personal Experience 
May 2009 - Tomatoes General
May 2009 - Tomatoes Diseases
May 2009 - Tomatoes Selecting and Growing
April 2009 - Tomatoes General

Any questions or comments, please contact us at: gardenquestions@milaegers.com