The first tomato sits taunting you on the vine, ripening slowly for what seems like weeks until it is finally red.
The taste of that first tomato of the season, still warm from the sun, is wonderful and is the start of a summer full of tomatoes.
Homegrown tomatoes taste so different from the blah of store-bought, hydroponically grown tomatoes that buying a tomato plant is often the gardener’s first try at growing edibles.
Getting the perfect, even red, round tomato is not always easy. Tomatoes are subject to many diseases and pests, all of which make growing tomatoes not as easy as some might think. This year particularly has been rather a trial in the tomato patch.
First, we had a record-breaking wet May, which was great for the gardener’s water bills, but the tomatoes barely had time to dry out before the next rain arrived. This was followed by a typical rise in temperatures accompanied by sudden heavy downpours of rain.
The inconsistent moisture levels produce cracked skins on the top of the tomato and sometime hard brown patches on the base of the tomato (Blossom End Rot). Both of these issues are associated with high or inconsistent moisture levels as the young fruit develops.
Fortunately, recent times have been much dryer and developing tomatoes are doing better.
An associated problem with cracking at the top of the tomatoes is a borer, which takes advantage of the cracked skin and enters the tomato rendering it inedible.
The tomato horn worm is a huge worm that can decimate the top of the tomato overnight. The worm is often still happily eating in the early morning when it can be tossed into soapy water or, as I prefer, take a few leaves off the plant and take the leaves plus worm to another part of the garden, where it can develop into the large sphinx moth.
To reduce problems like blossom end rot and other diseases, look for disease-resistant varieties. For a variety of color and taste, try some heirloom varieties that come in white, red, green and almost black colors and are worth growing, too.
So, tomatoes are not necessarily an easy plant to start your edible garden experience, but the result of a great taste is worth the effort.
For a full list of tomato issues and how to solve them, visit https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/tomato-diseases-disorders/