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Garden tomato diseases high this season

Audrey Kittrell 07/20/2011 @ 11:23am Editorial Intern for Successful Farming magazine and Agriculture Online

Tomatoes may be the most common garden vegetable for their low maintenance and high utility in summer salads, salsas and pasta sauces.  But this growing season, tomatoes are not proving as fruitful as expected.  According to University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, Rhonda Ferree, diseases are claiming a higher number of tomatoes than normal.

“Many tomato growers are experiencing leaf diseases this year such as septoria leaf spot and early blight, producing small spots on the lower leaves,” Ferree said.  “In wet weather conditions, they can defoliate plants from the bottom up.  When leaves are lost, the tomato fruit is exposed to sunscald, which results in whitish areas on the fruit.”

To combat leaf diseases, Ferree suggests improving air circulation in the garden, and removing tomatoes and vines at the end of the growing season.  U of I Extension also recommends mulching your garden, which will reduce anthracnose (appearing as small, circular, sunken spots) and fruit rot, plus conserve moisture and control weeds.

Fungicides labeled for tomato use are a good investment against disease, according to Ferree.  “Look for a product that specifically lists that it controls tomato diseases and follow the directions carefully,” she said.  “These fungicides often need repeated applications at certain intervals to work properly.”

Ferree warns that when using fungicides, the most important thing to remember is to follow harvest intervals to be sure the produce is safe when you eat it.

Can’t wait to enjoy the fruits of your labor?  Luckily, the hotter-than-normal temperatures bump up suggested harvesting times.  U of I Extension says when the average daily temperature is above 70 degrees, pick tomatoes just as they are turning color.  Keeping the fruits at 68 degrees will allow them to color further, and have better flavor than those ripened on the vine at high temperatures.

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