Tomato Troubles

This post follows a discussion on Facebook about some ‘mater problems. I wanted to show some pics to go with the descriptions. All input is welcome!

The first group of tomatoes are ones that are potted on the porch. They are clearly inferior to the ones in the garden, thin and spindly, even before I started pinching off infected leaves. There is newspaper over the soil to prevent splash up of fungus. Several people recommend not watering at night–but God keeps doing it anyway. The soil was new in the pots this year and was a mixture of 1/2 boughten potting soil and 1/2 well-rotted compost. The holes were lined with ground egg shells before planting. This location gets 8-10 hours of sun.

Bottom half of leaves are missing as fungus/blight/whatever has begun to climb the plant and I keep removing them.

I didn’t have any advanced diseased leaves to show since I have been cleaning the plants daily. But this is what showed up since last night. It starts with the tip of the leaf blackening, then the leaves begin to yellow and the black spots and circles show up. It seems to affect the branch too with a blackening.

Here is my hugelkultur/raised bed up close. The tomatoes have just exploded with growth and are way too dense. I just haven’t had a chance to get in and thin them. These were planted at the same time as the porch tomatoes. There are no yellow leaves, except where an animal (my cat?) keeps snacking on them.  One of the biggest plants is showing what looks like Blossom End Rot on most of its fruit. The other 10 plants look fine.

See my hugelkultur post to see exactly what these are growing in. They too were given an egg-shell-powder lined hole. This location gets full sun >12 hours.

That’s comfrey at the bottom left and cukes encroaching from the left.

Many of the tomatoes on this particular plant look like this. I suspect BER.



To help answer some of the questions raised and add a picture or two.   I cut off the main trunk (and I use that word generously!) of one of the potted tomatoes, and bisected it. Everything inside was clean green. There was darkening on the outside but it did not seem to have penetrated.

I took a picture of the inside of the suspected BER tomato. There was nothing too nasty inside–just dark.  I think we can conclude this is definitely BER. I scoured the plant and all the smaller fruit is clear of it.

Only one plant has this dark fruit and it is from a Super Beefsteak. It is also the tallest, lushest plant. I think the analysis that it just grew too fast makes sense.

Susan: Thanks for the link, I will check it out.  I think there is plenty of light (about 9 hours) on the porch.

Mike: I am going to copy your facebook post below. It was chock full of info and it will be lost on FB, but I can refer back to it here. Never heard of that Bacterial Canker. The stem wasn’t black inside but it could be early.  I have thrown the leaves into the trash for the landfill–none composted. 🙂

Thanks to everybody for contributing. I really appreciate it.

Now I have another mystery in a different crop–corn.   I planted 6 blocks of corn, all the same kind and all the same variety. 5 of the 6 look the same, but one of them is almost 2 feet taller and much deeper green. These are planted in beds that I made this spring–sheet mulch style layers:  cardboard, straight manure, straw, seasoned compost. To the best of my memory all 6 beds were constructed identically.  But this one bed is on steroids. If the police come by they are going to think there is a body buried there!  (<–joke)


Final update: So while I was in the garden this evening re-examining tomatoes I happen to notice BEANS!  First of the season, so that’s what I had for dinner!  😀

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17 Responses to Tomato Troubles

  1. Mac Pike says:

    Wow I was wondering what you were worried about until you got to the last picture — that is just plain nasty. If you examine the decaying fruit, in the brown portion, are there any tiny holes, by any chance? Your stems, leaves and flowers still look very good, might be a tad crowded.

    The ‘maters on the porch, have you grown 3 to a pot before? My first thought would be too many ‘maters and not enough room for roots. How big is that pot?

    Last, and this is my own crack pot theory I have NO support from anywhere on it, I’m wary of newspapers, there are so many toxins in newsprint & paper that could be leaching into the soil when it rains or when it waters.

    No real helpful hints on the main garden plants, if it’s blight, good night, and what could you do about the crowding at this point except de-sucker those suckers? Be interested to know if there are wee holes in the brown spots.

  2. Laura says:

    Guessing lack of nitrogen on the leaves and scraggly plants, add some fish stuff or blood meal. (just in case – cut through a main stem and check for discoloration; if discolored get rid of it all far away from your farm – icky stuff – forget name – do not compost). Blossom end rot indeed on the fruits. Shouldn’t be lack of calcium with the egg shells right there. Maybe set out ub too chilly temps when young. Pick off the fruits and discard. It does’t spread because it’s not a disease but physical damage.

    (remember, I’m old and forgetful so all this can be totally wrong)

  3. Susan Beal says:

    I’m sure it’s a nutrient deficiency…..Believe it or not, Laura may be right about the calcium. I encountered a similar problem several years ago, and I added ground up tums to my soil, and it seemed to help. Lack of magnesium is another possibility. The solution for that is simple: Epsom salts. Nitrogen controls leaf growth…..and given how scraggly the plants look, that’s a distinct possibility. Fish emulsion is a great source of nitrogen…and if you know anyone who fishes, you can even put fish carcasses in the soil….. Here’s a link to my trusty Tomato Problem Solver from Texas A&M University. They pretty much cover every type of potential problem. One thing I also noticed is that you’ve got three plants in a relatively small pot….Indeterminate tomatoes grow a lot bigger than determinate ones because they produce the crop over an extended period of time, whereas determinate tomatoes produce a bumper crop at one time, and then kind of trickle off with the production. I also think the pot looks much too small for tomatoes of that size. if you took two out and planted them in individual pots, that might help. Those three plants are fighting for the nutrients in that small amount of soil. I hope this link will help you!

  4. Becca says:

    Sounds like good advice to me, Laura…and Julie, your raised bed looks great, you have given me some ideas with that, thanks 🙂

  5. Susan Beal says:

    If they are on the porch, could it also be that they aren’t getting enough direct sun?

  6. Julie, chlorosis (yellowing of the leaves) is most likely nitrogen deficiency or can be lack of light. Other mineral deficiencies may be present too, because of inadequate root development.
    Those plants are too big and crowded in the pot, tomatoes need room to develop huge root systems. Our tomato plants develop stalks that are 1-1/2 ” in diameter, and the root structure is about 20″ across !
    Transplant them into three pots, big deep pots–add 10-20% peat moss to your soil mix, and bury as much trunk as you can when you transplant them to encourage powerful new, additional root growth up the trunk and throughout the pot of soil for superior plant vigor.

    Potted soil can in FACT be REALLY poor quality (almost barren, shame on them!) even if helped with compost, so after you transplant the balled rooted plants (not bare root at that size ) keep them OUT of direct sunlight for a few days,. Your little potters need a lot of nitrogen, so After a couple of days If they don’t show any sign of wilting go back to direct sunlight, DO fertilize the plants with manure tea, (DO add some epsom salts to that and a small amount of wood ash (potash) ) and it’s probably not a bad idea to move them back into direct light exposure gradually. Fish emulsion is also good for nitrogen, but use manure, you have chickens and sheep! “:)

    The ugly one Looks like blossom end rot for sure, Pick and discard elsewhere, not in your compost. and check the bad fruit for slug holes too, just in case. Slug slime can cause a tomato to rot from a single, simple hole –to the whole fruit . For slug control try using ‘used’ coffee-grains sprinkled heavily around the base of the tomato plants.
    BER can be caused by always-wet crowded conditions, so remove all sucker growth, any unnecessary non-producing branches and open up the air circulation. Tie the vines up if necessary to get them up off of the ground .
    * By the way, if you ‘deep bury’ some of those suckers you remove, you can start new tomato plants “:))) Yes, they root in a glass of water.

    I’ve been in the chemical industry,(paints, inks, adhesives) and — I’m TOTALLY with Mac on the “don’t use printed newspaper, magazines etc for mulch” . It is a BAD idea, I don’t know why some gardeners still promote that! Print inks are full of cadmium and other heavy metals you do not want in your tomatoes or in your garden. . For mulch, use straw or grass clippings or old rotten hay instead. We mulch our whole garden very thickly with hay with great results.

    The hugelculture growth is too thick, it would be a good idea to de-sucker it for sure, tie up the branches, open it up for air. The plants look beautiful!
    (ps. by the way, that Comfrey can be chopped up, steeped and makes fine fertilizer too after sitting in the sun for a week. . Stinky but effective supposedly.)
    Looking good, Julie, thanks for sharing those pictures! ~R

  7. authormjlogan says:

    Hi Julie, Left a comment for you on your post in facebook. It’s um, kinda long.


  8. Julie Helms says:

    From Mike:
    Julie, I look at your potted plants and think, there’s nothing left of the foliage. The way the leaves are yellowing with brown edges and how you had to not just remove a leaf or two, but entire stems, speaks of a system wide disease. In the picture of the three potted plants, the lower leaf shoots on two plants appear to have yellowing leaves which are beginning to curl.

    My first question is, what kind of tomatoes are these? Is the amount of foliage on the tops of the plants normal? It seems sparse.

    I think it is important that you determine what this disease is. Hopefully, you have not been adding the dead leaves to the compost pile. Don’t.

    Partly, determining what is causing your troubles is ruling out certain diseases to narrow the possibilities. One option is to call your county AG agent and ask if you can stop in to see him, and bring a shoot with the diseased leaves on it. Judging by a couple of pictures and not seeing the actual plants, I can make good, educated guesses, but not a final determination.

    This does not look like Septoria Spot or Early Blight. If this was Late Blight, in the type of weather you’ve been having, these plants would already be a black, gooey mess. It also does not appear to be any of the mosaic virus’.

    Your weather also pretty much rules out Verticillium Wilt, but not Fusarium. However, Fusarium usually does not appear in neutral or high pH soils, and with your addition of rotted compost combined with potting soil, I think it is unlikely you have a low pH.

    I see some brown on the shoot in the picture of the diseased leaves and that does not bode well, for it probably means the entire plant is infected, but is not showing signs yet. I think there is a good chance these plants are infected with Bacterial Canker.

    Anything that has touched these leaves or the soil is now also infected with the bacteria. Wash tools, gloves and containers in a bleach/water solution of about 1 to 2 parts bleach to 8 to 10 parts water. Dispose of wooden stakes by burning, deposit soil where nothing will be grown for several years. After working with the diseased plants, wash your hands and change your gloves before working with other plants. Other members of the nightshade family, including potatoes, peppers, eggplant, and weeds will harbor the disease.

    If this is bacterial canker, the fruits will develop small (1/8 inch) white blisters that will eventually burst (think pus). The fruits of infected plants tend to be inedible.

    If these were my plants, I would remove them from anywhere near my garden, enclose them in plastic garbage bags and put them out with the trash. Do not compost any parts of these plants. If you want to try to save one, cut the other two away and split a stem with a sharp knife to look for brown in the tissues, and also signs of red or brownish yellow tissues. Badly infected plants that are dying can have a yellowish, oozy liquid in them.

    Having learned my lesson the hard way, I no longer put more than one tomato plant in any container and make sure there is plenty of space between them. I lost an entire crop one year because I didn’t want to give up a few seedlings. (Those little plants are like babies to me!!!)

    Having addressed the potted plant problems, lets look at your other plants.

    I see lush, green growth that speaks of a high nitrogen content in the soil. These plants are growing very quickly in your warm, humid weather with plenty of rain. The plants, desperate for nutrients to balance the nitrogen in the soil, are sucking the calcium out of the fruits and you have blossom end rot (BER). Is this your new H mound? That could account for high nitrogen levels. Remember, tomatoes produce better and enjoy soil that many plants consider less than optimum. High nitrogen levels are the bane of many nightshades, including tomatoes.

    I see potato leaf varieties. I’m curious what you’re growing.

  9. authormjlogan says:

    One thing you could try is to feed some higher nitrogen liquid fertilizer to the potted tomatoes. Not Too much. At this point, it could not hurt and as some have suggested, yellowing is sometimes caused by poor nitrogen levels. You put well rotted compost in there, so it seems unlikely that is the problem, but certainly worth a try.

    The browning edges on yellowed leaves, and brown spots on the stems is what leads me to think BC, plus your conditions have been right for it.

    The only thing that makes sense about the corn it there is something in the soil there that it likes, they get more water or more sun or…a body? Well Mac is still posting so we know it’s not him.


  10. Julie, for the corn, was that ‘bulk seed’ or individual packages of the ‘same’ species? It’s not unknown for mis-packaging of seed varieties to occur. Other than that,
    I imagine one of the layers could have been ‘ out of order’,, probably the compost, which was accessed faster so that bunch grew faster?
    Your corn looks huge already!
    I’m chuckling here, I can hardly wait for mine to grow more, it’s 10-12:” high now. I had cornstalks of one variety that were, last year, get this : 2″ across, like a small tree trunk. The leaves were almost 3″ across. The corn was close to 8′ tall and the cobs were almost 12″ long.
    We mulch our corn very heavily, with hay–leaving the rotten layer of hay on the bed every year, which made a HUGE difference in growth.

    • Julie Helms says:

      Ray, it was one large bag of corn seed– it can’t be that. You are right–something got put in a different order in the layers. I wish I knew what it was because it is obviously doing so much better! Them are long cobs you had last year-whew! This is our first foray with corn so we will see…

  11. Susan Beal says:

    Julie, I agree with everything Raymond said….If those potted tomatoes are on your porch, there’s a very good chance they aren’t getting enough light. That pot is incredibly small for indeterminate tomatoes, given how large they get. So you could have a nitrogen and light deficiency. Looking at
    the images of leaves on the Tomato Problem Solver, I’m not sure that you don’t also have the beginnings of a viral or fungal disease. Since that pot is clearly too small — even for one of the plants, I’d be tempted to repot the tomato in completely fresh soil, in a much larger pot, and add a
    nitrogen rich fertilizer like fish emulsion. Also, that yellowing is also characteristic of magnesium deficiency, and as I said before, you can use supermarket Epsom salts to remedy that.

    That bottom tomato that you bisected definitely looks like it has blossom end rot. What’s curious to me, though, is that you’d get it on a tomato that isn’t ripe yet. I’ve never seen it on green tomatoes. I’ve always encountered it on ripe red ones — unless of course, that was a green variety in the first place.

    If you have diseased plants, don’t compost them, and don’t compost any soil they were growing in.

    If you do decide to repot that container plant, be sure that at the minimum, you put it in a five gallon container. Also make sure that the container is very deep — otherwise, the weight from the top of the plant will cause the whole thing to tip over. I’ve had that happen many times!

    • Julie Helms says:

      Thanks Susan. I think I am going to bag them up and toss them. They may be suffering from deficiencies and I agree the pot is too small, but I think they have something that is spreading. So I will get over my hatred of tossing plants and do it. I will send them to the landfill, not my compost bin! Ironically they are growing next to a bed loaded with dozens of self-seeded cherry tomatoes that show no sign of damage–those cherries are such cheerful little guys….just takes too many to make a sandwich! 🙂

      • Awe, Julie, this could be a fine learning experience. I would isolate them out behind the shed, give them manure tea with epsom salts, and watch them. If they’re deteriorating from disease, it will show up and progress which still allows time to observe them. I would think that if they’re next to the cherry tomatoes which are showing no sign of damage, that’s the most likely answer, it’s a nutrient deficiency and crowded pots…just betting….lol

    • Susan, we have never seen BER on RIPE tomatoes, but I have seen green tomatoes with BER a few years ago. If I remember correctly they had some kind of surface damage though too, like that caused by slugs, and at that time we were NOT doing major pruning and defoliation, the growth was like a jungle, far too thick and the plants were wet 24 hrs/day.

  12. Mac Pike says:

    I dunno about keeping diseased plants to study, the problem there is you risk spreading the disease around too. (Give them to Monsanto to study, late at night, over their fence into their frankenmater patch)

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