Slow, but Steady Tomatoes
Written by: Kevin Milaeger
August 1st, 2023
I keep hearing how this has been such a warm summer. We’ve had our warm spells, but I think if it were truly excessively warm I would have been picking tomatoes before now. I planted my plants on May 28th, and growth has gone on uninterrupted. No cool evenings. I reviewed my notes from years past and this is definitely late for the first fruit. But I finally picked my first large fruit a couple days ago, a variety called ‘Brandywine.’ There are a number of strains under this name, and this is ‘Sudduth’s Strain,’ supposedly the original. It has “potato” leaves and the fruit has pinkish colored skin, with red flesh. Some say its the finest tomato there is. There are many opinions on that subject.
Tomato 'Brandywine Suddith's Strain'
Tomato dead flower
Although all my tomato plants are healthy, there have been some challenges. The most frustrating this year is the failure to set fruit. That is, the flowers look great but pollination is somehow thwarted and the fruit never forms. This could be part of the cause of delayed production this year. Blossom failure can occur for several reasons but the most common is environmental. Tomatoes are self-pollinating, but complete pollination is accomplished with the help of insects. Some kind of extreme weather, too hot or cold, excessive wind or a rain that lasts several days are the most likely. Another possibility is some kind of spray but since I really don’t use much in the way of sprays, I feel the cause was environmental, and so beyond my control. You can buy “blossom set” products, but I’ve never used them. I guess if the problem were persistent, I might resort to that. Anyway, there were plenty of other blooms, so much fruit is in the offing.
Speaking of pollination, you have no doubt come across some malformed tomato fruit at some point in your gardening history. This is called catfacing. Its not the result of anything you did or didn’t do. Its from incomplete or partial pollination. Tomatoes are self-pollinating, but insect pollination is a big plus. If the insect activity is disrupted because of the weather, you can end up with catfacing. The fruit tastes the same and I eat them all the time, but they are cosmetically imperfect. If you want to assist in pollination you can gently shake the plants when they’re flowering. When I was a kid in our family greenhouse, that was one of my jobs.
This is the time of year when we’re sometimes attacked by the tomato hornworm. This is a green caterpillar about the size of your little finger, with diagonal stripes on its body. The green color of its body is nearly the same as the color of tomato stems, so its hard to spot, until you find your first one. Telltale evidence of its presence is the chewed up leaves of the plant. These buggers like the new, soft growth so they would be near the tops of your plants. Another sign is their frass, or feces. This is dark brown and will be scattered around where they have been feeding. They have healthy appetites and will eat lots in a short time. They will also eat the fruit itself. What to do with them? If you google around a bit you’ll see that they eventually turn into beautiful, large moths. If you’ve been growing tomatoes for some years, you may well have some “volunteer” plants coming up. Plants you didn’t plant, but they sprouted from seed that got scattered around the previous year. I pick off the hornworms and release them on those unwanted plants. Problem solved. If by chance you see a hornworm that is covered with white eggs, you can observe another of nature’s wonders. These are eggs laid by a parasitic wasp. When they hatch the young will devour the worm. Painful to watch, but part of nature.
photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden
photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden
Hornworm infected with wasp eggs
We sell lots of Roma (paste) tomatoes at Milaeger’s. They’re characterized by a meaty, dense flesh with few seeds and an elongated shape. There are many kinds so I thought this year I’d put a few to the test. I’m growing our most popular variety simply called ‘Roma,’ another called ‘La Roma II,’ and a relative newcomer called ‘Early Resilience.’ ‘La Roma II’ was the first to bear fruit, followed closely by ‘Early Resilience.’ In addition to earliness, I’ll be keeping track of overall production, and of course, flavor. Lots of folks can the paste tomatoes, and they also make wonderful sauces and salsa.
My one cherry tomato plant is also late. I’m growing ‘Sweet million,’ a variety I haven’t grown in many years. The fruit trusses are so beautiful I almost hate to pick them.
Tomato 'Sweet Million'
Cucumber 'Green Light'
Many of you are aware of my fondness for the cucumber ‘Mini Munch.’ I’ve had great success with it. At Milaeger’s we offer it for a limited time around mid-May as part of our Vintage Veggies program. This year I failed to secure my plants. I know, with my total access you’d think I would have no trouble, but sometimes even I come up short. Fortunately, I was able to get some of the variety ‘Green Light,’ another mini cuke, one we offer all season long. It rivals ‘Mini Munch,’ and the seed is less expensive, so the plants are too. This morning I picked for less than five minutes and found 28 cukes. I think I planted four pots (usually three seedlings per pot.) I favor the mini cukes because no skinning is required. Also, I use an entire cucumber at once. No half cucumbers in the fridge that can turn ugly. You have to pick them when they are small though, about four inches. ‘Green Light’ is a winner!
August 2023 - Slow, but Steady Tomatoes
June 2023 - Plants Look Good, Keeping Fingers Crossed
May 2023 - Time for Vintage Veggies!
April 2023 - Early Spring Garden Update
January 2023 - January in the Greenhouse
October 2022 - The Fun Miracle of Seed
August 2022 - End of August Garden Review
July 2022 - A Bit of Garden Levity
July 2022 - A New Tomato Problem
June 2022 - Unda Unda! An Italian Tomato Salad
June 2022 - The Dreaded Blossom End Rot
June 2022 - Tomato Test and Cucumber Review
May 2022 - Is it Safe to Plant? Do You Feel Lucky?
April 2022 - Fun with Turtles & My Favorite Tool
March 2022 - Jump Start the Season with Greens to Grow!
February 2022 - I See the Future and it’s Green
September 2021 - Tomato Tales, Trials, and Tribulations
July 2021 - Putzing with Pumpkins
July 2021 - July Tomato Observations
June 2021 - Late Spring Garden Update
May 2021 - Picking Peppers and Pepper Pointers
January 2021 - Paste Tomatoes—Searching for More Flavor
January 2021 - New Gardeners - Dig In!
October 2020 - The End of the Season
September 2020 - Planting Now for Fall Harvest
August 2020 - Midsummer Garden Notes
July 2020 - Cukes Now! Tomatoes for the Fourth?
June 2020 - Tomato Plant Supports and Fertility
May 2020 - Time to Plant
April 2020 - Making Salads More Memorable
April 2020 - Victory Gardens Then and Now
April 2020 - Turn Off the News and Get in Your Garden
March 2020 - Stay Healthy---Plant Some Greens
February 2020 - Winter Planning, Winter Reading
September 2019 - Planting Fall Greens---what's your excuse?
September 2019 - 2019 Tomatomania Review
August 2019 - The Hypochondriacal Garden
July 2019 - Tomatoes 2019---A New Record!
June 2019 - Tomatoes---Early Summer Progress Report
June 2019 - Dwarf Tomatoes---The Next Big Thing
May 2019 - The Urge to Plant is Getting Stronger
April 2019 - Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Greens
April 2019 - Jefferson's Tomatoes & Tomato Nutrition
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!
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!
August 2014 - The August Harvest Begins
July 2014 - My Tomatoes are Blushing
June 2014 - Some Tomato Concerns
May 2014 - Is it Time to Plant Tomatoes?
April 2014 - A Chilly Spring... What Can I Plant Now?
March 2014 - Start Growing Your Own Food Right Now
October 2013 - Keep Calm and Garden On!
October 2013 - Autumn Vegetables
September 2013 - Tomato Popularity Poll Results Blog
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