Lazy Tomatoes?

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I’ve just found out why my tomatoes fail to ripen in a more timely manner. After all, our summer has been hot enough, from the 90s to triple digits, and I expected a near bumper crop from my healthy, lush Brandywine bush I bought from a reputable nursery in early May. The plant developed and grew well, up to five feet, at which point I topped it off. But most of the blossoms failed to produce fruit, and the ones that did were, and are, slow to ripen.

The optimum temperature range, however, should be 70 to 75 degrees Farenheit, I now know. Anything substantially warmer or cooler slows down the process. Yes, we’re having cooler nights than usual, pleasant for sleeping with opened windows but not for growing summer vegetables. The further from ideal temps, the less efficient osmosis becomes.

The pigments that give tomatoes their red colors, lycopene and carotene, simply cannot be produced beyond the optimum temperature range. Moreover, bright sunshine isn’t really necessary for ripening tomatoes. Instead, it’s increased ethylene synthesis that controls the ripening process. 

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Increased fertilizer and water won’t do the trick, either. In fact, extra fertilizer can be harmful to the plant in extremely hot weather by burning the roots rather than providing nutrients. Gradually, plants are unable to absorb water and nutrients; the leaves turn yellow and wilt. Growing heat-tolerant varieties, on the other hand, will help the plant take up the calcium already in the soil.

So what are they, especially heirloom varieties? Check with local garden centers and nurseries in spring, keeping in mind that individual characteristics can change within varying microclimates. Here is a partial list from Organic Farming and Gardening School (John Michael, OFGS.com, January 9, 2020):

Brandywine

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Cherokee Purple

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Early Girl

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Genovese 

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Green Zebra

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Yellow Pear

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Author: www.rosesintherainmemoir.wordpress.com

Just short of fifty years of holy matrimony, I am blessed to be a mother of two and grandmother of seven. Much of my writing speaks to the culture and tradition of the Deep South, where I spent the first thirty-five years of my life before relocating to the Pacific Northwest. As a poet and essayist, I’ve published both online and in print media. In mid-February 2019, I launched Roses in the Rain: A Daughter's Story, following a successful couple years of Invitation to the Garden, both on WordPress.com. Watch for upcoming installments to the memoir blog every Tuesday. The garden posts follow on Friday/Saturday. I look forward to hearing from you all!

9 thoughts on “Lazy Tomatoes?”

  1. Beautiful tomatoes. I shared this article with my husband who has been trying to grow tomatoes for several years. It gets very hot here in North Carolina. Finally he has plants that get some shade during the day and they are doing much better. However next year he’s going to try your suggestions. Thanks for the great post. There’s nothing like fresh grown tomatoes. Blessings and love to you and your family. Joni 💕❤️

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    1. You’re welcome, Joni! Yes, our beautiful South does get quite hot and muggy during the summers. I’m from the Florida panhandle originally, but somehow I don’t remember triple digit heat in those years. We’ve been in Washington state since the mid-1970s, and even then the really hot spell was for about three weeks in August. Now it’s almost all summer. This is the first year I’ve experienced troubles with tomatoes. I already gave up on cucumbers and pulled out the vines. Herbs, on the other hand, continue to thrive year after year.

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      1. How interesting my friend. We came from near the Seattle area. I worked downtown. My daughter is in the Kirkland area and loves the hotter days. Your tomatoes were beautiful. We have had one cucumber so far. He is going to try some of your varieties next year, they are actually really pretty. Have a blessed evening my friend and thanks for sharing. The fresh ones are just so much better, no comparison. Love to you and your family. Joni

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  2. That was very informative Jo…..and explains why I had an early crop of beefsteaks but the later ones are still green green green! Plus, my neighbour has been complaining about her tomatoes not ripening for weeks now, but we have had the same kind of way too hot summer as you have. I’ll pass that info along to her.

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  3. Love the variety of tomatoes that you are growing! I planted a ton of Brandywine and Amish Paste, heirlooms both, but temperatures in upstate NY have varied so much that the fruit has yet to turn red…and I hope that’s just a matter of time.

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  4. Great post, Jo! I suspected the low nighttime temps were the big culprit, turns out the high daytime temps don’t help, either. My tomatoes are finally starting to ripen. Cukes doing okay and getting a few squash, the peppers, however, are doing great! This has been the best year (we’ve been in Eastern Washington for 13 years) for kale and beets that we have ever had!!

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    1. Somehow I had assumed you were a fairly recent Southern transplant, probably because I only recently discovered your blog on WordPress. We’ve been out here since ’75! It took me years and years to settle in, but I’m still a born-and-bred Southerner!

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  5. My daughter set me up on WordPress a few years ago on one of her visits with her. Since then, I’ve made so many new friends from all over the world via blogging, as well as learned a thing or two about gardening. And history, too.

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