November 12, 2022
I have been complaining about the low rate of production my tomato plants have seen throughout the season. I planted 14 plants from five different varieties and had the worst production in the three years of growing my container garden here in Arkansas. I cannot even blame my containers as half of the plants were placed in ground. Since misery loves company, at least I was not alone. My gardening group all complained about the money spent and low production of their tomatoes as well. The plants grew tall, but the lower stems all wilted, and only a few flowers took hold to produce fruit. I finally gave up on the plants as I was preparing for our three weeks away, figuring they would die anyway. Imagine my surprise when I found green tomatoes on two of the plants that had not had any production all summer long. I removed the other dead plants but left these two hoping the green fruit might still ripen.
When I looked online, I found tomato woes plagued the Plains states from the start of the season. Mid-May through early June brought a chilly and wet start to the growing season, and tomatoes are a warm-season crop. Soil temperatures lower than 65F (18C) reduce root development and early root development gives the plants the support needed for summer growth and fruiting. The slow start to the season was followed by a flash drought. A flash draught is a rapid change to below-normal rainfall combined with abnormally high temperatures. This further intensified the stress on plants. The slow cool spring start had not allowed the plants to develop a strong root system to support the top growth, causing plants to wilt in the heat of the day, further slowing growth and reducing flower bud development. This was a good description of what happened on my patio.
We have been back from our trip for two weeks and I kept waiting for the green tomatoes to ripen on the vine. The vines themselves were dying from the bottom up, but the leaves and stems around the tomatoes were still green and full. With the cold front predicted for this weekend (it is here) I knew the fruit would freeze if I left it outside. I harvested the green tomatoes and removed the last two of my plants from the ground. The 9 tomatoes were my biggest production of the year, and they were still not ripe. Left on my own I would have thrown them to the birds and written this off as one last failure. Luckily, Melissa loves fried green tomatoes. I always thought that was just a movie.
THOUGHTS: I found it interesting that after removing the last of the plants from my patio my thoughts immediately turned to next year’s production. I have tried several approaches to gain more vegetables, and none has done well. I seem to be better able to grow the flowers planted by my mother-in-law and the wheat seed scattered by the birds than to get any production from the plants I purchase. I am nowhere near growing anything from seed even though I did buy a seed starter kit. Regardless, I found myself checking out larger containers and contemplating building raised beds as I perused the box hardware store this last week. Just like with my Royals baseball team, there is always next year. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.