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Tomato Growers Face Challenges Aplenty

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July 28, 2011 by wcobserver

This year has brought us record lows, record rains, and record highs. Now someone has turned the rain gauge to the off position and it may never rain again. On average NWA gets 45 inches of rain in a year. Too bad we accounted for 31 of those inches in that deluge this spring. This weather takes a toll on our gardens. We have spoken to people that have had gardens for more than 30 years on our hill and they say they are seeing insects they have never seen before.

The challenges this summer are aplenty; Tomatoes are no exception. There’s heat stress, lack of water, and more insects than Noah’s ark could hold. You can beat yourself up and say, I should have mulched more, I should be more diligent about getting those insects off, or if I wasn’t so cheap, I would water more. But if your tomato blooms are not putting on sets, it is not your fault. If our highs are above 93 degrees, then tomatoes do not want to set. If our lows are above 70 degrees, tomatoes do not want to set. When both of these things happen together, it is almost impossible for tomatoes to set.

If you are lucky enough to have sets, then you might be experiencing a high number of pests such as the tomato borers or my favorite hearty caterpillar, the tomato horn worm. We spend hours combing our plants looking for these critters and feeding them to our chickens. Another overly pesky friend is the stink bug which leaves white splotches on your tomatoes.

Some of the best advice we received when starting our farm was that if you want to grow and sell organic produce, grow three times as much as what you want and share with the insects because they are going to take their share anyway. So we have followed that advice this year and planted over 200 tomato plants and have been sharing with the pests (the ones that get away at least). This has given us some beautiful tomatoes. It also has given us many culls or seconds; the tomatoes that pests have feasted on but not completely demolished.

If you are having lot of culls and don’t know what to do with them, look to preserving. Cut out the bad parts and turn those tomatoes into salsa, sauce, or just tomato quarters. The easiest way is to just freeze them, but if you don’t have the freezer space, look to canning them. The University of Missouri has a great website that helps you find easy ways to utilize left over tomatoes. http://extension.missouri.edu/p/GH1456. These will give you safe recipes for hot water bath canning if you do not have a pressure cooker. Come this winter, you will be happy that you spent the extra time now!

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