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Garden Harvest Given to At-Risk Children

The cafeteria at Centers for Youth and Families overflows with organically grown tomatoes, peppers and more, and the staff barely has room for the harvest donation from Moss Mountain Farm. In the coming weeks, they’ll see even more produce arrive to provide nutritious meals for children in treatment and summer programs at Centers.

IMG_5208Moss Mountain Farm, owned by P. Allen Smith, has been fortunate enough to share its bounty with neighboring outreach programs. These hundreds of pounds of summer vegetables have been given to nonprofits in Little Rock and Conway. The Centers for Youth and Families was one location chosen to receive a donation because of a shared project to install a therapy garden on the campus. Centers for Youth and Families provides treatment for family issues and emotionally disturbed or at-risk youth in a residential setting, and studies have shown therapeutic gardening, sometimes called horticulture therapy, provides relief for stress and mental and developmental disabilities.

“On behalf of The Centers Foundation, it’s always an honor to receive donations from corporate and community partners like this, that will go on to benefit our children and youth. What makes this donation even more special is that it’s also symbolic of Centers for Youth & Families roots,” said Doug Stadter, president and CEO of Centers.  In 1884, Elizabeth Mitchell couldn’t bear the thought of children in need and began to taken them into her home. She quickly inspired others to do the same. Her actions led to the formation of the organization now known as Centers for Youth & Families. “More than 130 Years later, this is a great reminder of the importance of helping children and youth who need it the most,” Stadter added.

IMG_5200Centers believes the garden project would greatly benefit its patients, and while planning for that project continues, the Acre Garden at Moss Mountain Farm overflowed with a summer harvest of Bonnie Plants and those grown from Sakata Seeds. The farm produced crates and crates of Juliet, Yellow Jubilee and Sungold tomatoes as well as Banana and Yes to Yellow peppers, among others. The cafeteria at Centers proved to be the ideal landing spot for the farm’s harvest. And this donation will have the dual purpose of prepping the staff at Centers for an influx of fresh produce from its on-site gardens once the project is completed.  Smith and his farm plan to continue weekly donations as long as the harvest allows.

“Thanks to the generosity of the Moss Mountain Farm Foundation, children in our residential treatment program, emergency shelter and summer program are enjoying farm fresh, organic produce this summer,” said Stadter. “Providing a nutritious diet and teaching our kids the importance and fun of healthy eating is an essential part of our work at Centers for Youth & Families. We’re grateful to P. Allen Smith and the Moss Mountain Farm Foundation for being such a great partner in our efforts to build happier and healthier children, families, and communities across Arkansas.”

In addition to Centers, Moss Mountain Farm’s Acre Garden also supplied 125 lbs of fresh tomatoes, peppers and okra to St. Peters Food Pantry in Conway.

Health Benefits of Five Fav Vegetables

This is the perfect time to plant vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash and more, for a big summer harvest. There’s nothing more gratifying that walking out to your garden to pick a ripe, fresh tomato to slice up for that evening’s menu. Homegrown vegetables taste better than anything you’ll find at a supermarket, and are loaded with great vitamins and nutrients. Here are a few of my favorite Sakata vegetables and their amazing health benefits.

 

‘Aspabroc’-Baby-Broccoli

‘Aspabroc’ Baby Broccoli
This early spring or fall crop resembles a broccoli raab with an asparagus stem, and offers a mild taste. Aspabroc is easy to grow and requires little space. It is fat free, cholesterol free, very low sodium, and an excellent source of vitamin A and vitamin C.

 

 

Tomatoes

Tomatoes
This delicious, savory fruit is always welcome in my vegetable garden. Tomatoes come in all shapes and sizes, from small cherry tomatoes perfect for salads, to big, beefy ones you just want to slice and eat. They are low in sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol, and are a good source of vitamin E, Thiamin, Niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin A
and dietary fiber. As an excellent source
of vitamin C and other antioxidants,
tomatoes can help combat the formation
of free radicals known to cause cancer.

 

 

Zucchini

Zucchini
This summer squash is a great addition to salads, pastas, pizza—just about any dish really! It has a versatile flavor and is low in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol. It is a good source of protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, Thiamin, Niacin and dietary fiber.

 

 

Swiss-Chard

Swiss Chard
This colorful greenery packs a powerful nutritional punch. One cup provides more than 700 percent of your daily vitamin K, and more than 200 percent of daily vitamin A. Swiss chard is rich in the antioxidants alpha and beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and choline.

 

 

Winter-Squash

Winter Squash
These hearty vegetables harvested in the fall are nutrient-dense and low in fat. The most popular winter squash, butternut squash, is heart-healthy and delivers tons of dietary fiber. It is super rich in potassium and vitamin B6 for bone health and proper functioning of both the nervous and immune systems.

What Causes a Tomato to Crack?

What causes tomatoes to burst while growing?

Tomatoes can burst or crack when the plants go through a dry spell and then receive excessive moisture. The water causes the fruit to expand faster than the outer skin can grow so it splits. These cracks often radiate or encircle the stem.

It’s pretty easy to prevent your tomatoes from cracking. Just give them consistent moisture, especially when the fruits are forming. A layer of mulch will help keep the soil evenly moist.

You can also try varieties that are breed to be less prone to cracking. A few crack resistant tomatoes include Cherry’s Delight, Creole FA, Mountain Pride VFF, Marglobe, Peron and Red Calabash.

Cracked tomatoes are edible. They don’t keep very long and should be eaten quickly, but that’s not much of a problem for a homegrown tomato, is it?

How to Treat Blossom End Rot

Every year I try to grow tomatoes with little success. The undersides always turn flat and black. A neighbor told me they had blossom end rot. What causes this problem and how can I prevent it?

Blossom end rot is a deficiency of calcium. The problem starts at the bottom of the tomato as a pale, brown spot that turns black and flattens the bottom of the fruit making it look most unappetizing. It’s certainly no tomato I would want to eat. We’ve all heard the old adage, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." There are several things you can do to prevent blossom end rot from destroying your tomatoes.

Planting. When you plant your tomatoes add a few crushed eggshells to the planting hole. This will add calcium to the soil.

Watering. Another condition that seems to contribute to blossom end rot is irregular levels of moisture in the soil. Tomato plants take in nutrients, including calcium, through moisture. Inconsistent watering deprives them of these nutrients. So water regularly, every 4 to 7 days is usually sufficient. During droughts or if you are gardening in containers you may need to water every day. To prevent leaf diseases, water the soil, not the leaves, keeping the foliage as dry as possible. To keep the soil consistently moist, cover it with a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch. You’ll find this also helps keep weeds down. Keep the mulch away from the stem of the plant.

Spraying. Now these are things you can do for your plants at the time of planting or when they are young. Once the plants mature a bit and actually set fruit, another thing you can do is spray them with liquid calcium. This is readily available at garden centers and nurseries. Just follow the directions on the label and spray it directly on the plants.

Selecting the Right Tomato for You

Have you ever found yourself at the garden center staring at rack upon rack of tomato plants all begging you to take them home? With so many choices it’s hard to know which variety is best for your garden. Well, I have three questions to ask yourself that will make picking out a tomato easier.

What size is your garden?

Limited Space or Raised Beds

If you grow vegetables in raised beds or a limited space, choose a variety that stays fairly small. Look for determinate, bush and dwarf varieties. Although these plants stay more compact than some of the indeterminate varieties plan on staking them to give them the support they need and make room for more vegetables.

  • Better Bush (Determinate) – This plant produces medium-sized tomatoes on sturdy stems. It’s also a good choice for growing in a container. Grows 3 to 5 feet tall. Matures in 68 days.
  • Husky Cherry Red (Indeterminate) – This is a dwarf, indeterminate variety that will produce sweet, cherry-type tomatoes in continuous waves all summer. Grows 3 to 4 feet tall. Matures in 65 days.

Large Area

If you have plenty of space then you can grow any tomato variety, but you are in the unique position to select those that need room to sprawl and sturdy support. Many of these tomatoes are indeterminate and will give you tomatoes to harvest all summer.

  • Mr. Stripey (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – How about a beefsteak tomato that can weigh as much as 24 ounces? In addition to the hefty size, the fruits are an attractive yellow to orange with irregular red stripes. The high sugar content makes Mr. Stripey tomatoes extra tasty. Grows 8 to 10 feet tall. Matures in 80 days.
  • Sungold (Indeterminate) – These cherry tomatoes are so sweet you will find yourself eating them right off the plant. Sungold produces through summer and into fall. Grows 4 to 5 feet tall or larger. Matures in 55 to 65 days.

Containers

You can grow tomatoes even if you only have room for one container. For the best results select a container that is at least 20 inches in diameter and a tomato variety that stays compact.

  • Bush Goliath (Determinate) – This variety produces large 3 to 4 inch tomatoes on compact, robust, 3 foot tall plants. Fruits are sweet and perfect for serving sliced with a dash of salt and pepper. Give this plant support with a tomato cage or stake. Grows 3 feet. Matures in 68 days.
  • Sweet n’ Neat Cherry (Determinate) – Diminutive plants that will produce clusters of tomatoes in the smallest of spaces. Plant in a 10-inch pot and enjoy homegrown cherry tomatoes. Grows only 10 inches tall and 8 inches wide. Matures in 48 days.

Choosing a Tomato Variety

What is the climate like in your area?

Mild Summer Weather and/or Short Growing Season

Most tomatoes need warm temperatures to set fruit and time to ripen. If your garden is in a region where summers are cool and/or the growing season is short, select varieties with an early ripening season that are known to set fruit in cool weather.

  • Black Prince (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – This tomato hails from Siberia so you know it will do well in a cool climate. Dark fruits have a rich flavor. Grows 6 to 9 feet tall. Matures in 70 days.
  • Early Girl (Indeterminate) – Harvest vine ripened tomatoes in only 50 days. Fruits are a good size for multiple uses including that summer classic the tomato sandwich. Grows 6 to 8 feet. Matures in 50 days.

Hot Summer

Tomatoes like warm weather, but they don’t like it too hot. When the day time temperatures stay consistently above 95 degrees F many tomatoes will stop setting fruit until the heat breaks. Gardeners in hot summer regions can get around this by planting heat tolerant varieties.

  • Heatmaster (Determinate) – Both heat tolerant and disease resistant, this tomato is perfect for the hot, humid garden. Firm, medium-sized fruits are good for eating fresh from the garden. Grows 3 to 4 feet tall. Matures in 55 to 75 days.
  • Solar Fire (Determinate) – This is a tomato that was bred to take the heat. Plant it in spring for a summer harvest and, if you live where the growing season is long, again in midsummer for a fall harvest. Grows 4 to 5 feet. Matures in 72 days.

Tomato Arkansas Traveler

How do you like your tomatoes?

I don’t know about you, but I can eat tomatoes prepared in any number of ways. Fortunately there is a tomato for every recipe.

Sliced

  • Mortgage Lifter (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – Huge beefsteak tomatoes with a mellow taste. A slice of Mortgage Lifter makes for the perfect BLT sandwich. Grows 6 to 10 feet tall. Matures in 70 to 90 days.
  • Arkansas Traveler (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – This plant will keep on producing fruit through heat and drought. Crack-resistant tomatoes are mild in flavor. Grows 6 to 8 feet tall. Matures in 75 days.

Salads and Salsas

  • Super Sweet 100 (Indeterminate) – Bite-sized, sweet tomatoes are ready for picking 65 days after planting. This tomato will continue to produce until the first fall frost. Great for gardeners with space and those who live where summers are cool. Grows 8 to 12 feet tall. Matures in 65 days.
  • Celebrity (Semi-determinate) – This plant stays 3 to 4 feet tall and produces fruit right up to the first frost. A large, all-purpose tomato with good flavor and a meaty texture. Matures in 65 to 70 days.

Sauces, Soups and Canning

  • Bradley (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – If you’ve ever been to the Bradley County Tomato Festival you know this plant produces some delicious fruits. Pink in color and mild in flavor. Grows 4 to 6 feet tall. Matures in 75 to 85 days.
  • Roma (Determinate) – This is the classic tomato for paste, sauces and cooking. The fruits are meaty and flavorful with less juice and fewer seeds than other varieties. Grows 4 to 6 feet tall. Matures in 73 to 80 days.

Tomato Terms

Determinate – Tomatoes are produced on the end of stems and ripen at roughly the same time. The plants tend to stay more compact.

Indeterminate – Tomatoes are produced all along the stems. These types of tomatoes will continue to grow and produce fruit until the first fall frost.

Heirloom – A variety of tomato that has been passed down from one generation to the next or open-pollinated varieties that were introduced more than 50 years ago. Seeds from an heirloom tomato will produce the same tomato.

Hybrid – A variety of tomato that is the result of a cross between to other varieties. Hybrids are developed for certain qualities such as disease resistance. Seeds from a hybrid tomato will not reproduce that same tomato.

Tomato Sungold

Good to Know

Still not sure which tomato is right for you? Check out the Bonnie Plants Tomato Chooser on BonniePlants.com.

Growing Tomatoes

TomatoesIt may be hard to believe, but Americans once shunned this now classic fruit because it was thought to be poisonous.

The tomato is native to South America where they have been around since prehistoric times. Spanish explorers brought the plant from Mexico to southern Europe in the mid 1500s and from there it spread north and east.

Early Americans first grew the tomato as a curiosity, but thought that eating the fruit would be deadly because of its resemblance to nightshade. It wasn’t until the early 19th century that it became widely known that they were safe to eat, and since then it has become a one of our most popular fruits in the United States.

There are two broad categories of tomatoes, determinate and indeterminate. Now determinate just means the size of the plant grows to a determined height depending on the variety, say in the 2 to 4 foot range. Because of their compact habit they are perfect for growing in containers. Once they grow to a certain height, they flower and set all their fruit within a short period of time.

On the other hand indeterminate types of tomatoes don’t grow to just a limited size, they keep growing and growing, often 8 feet or more. As you can imagine these require more room to grow and they need to be staked. The plus side of growing indeterminate type tomatoes is that they produce fruit throughout the entire season. You can also find dwarf indeterminate varieties that produce the same amount of fruit, but as the name implies, are smaller in stature.

The best time to plant tomatoes seedlings is a few weeks after the last frost date in your area, when the soil has had a chance to warm up and night temperatures stay above 50 degrees F. In my zone 7 garden, located in the upper South, I plant tomatoes in May.

If you are going to grow your tomatoes from seed, start them indoors 5 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost.

When you purchase tomato plants from a nursery select those that are about 10 to 12 inches tall with a deep green color. You should avoid any that have blooms, holey leaves or crowded root systems.

Tomatoes need full sun to really thrive. Site them in an area that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. To steer clear of problems with disease choose a new location in your garden each year.

The soil should be medium-rich, loose and well drained with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0.

How far apart you space the plants depends on the type of tomato you’ve selected. Dwarf varieties should be spaced about 12 inches apart in a row. If you plan on staking your plants, space them about 24 inches apart. Set sprawling, indeterminate tomatoes about 36 to 48 inches apart.

Plant your seedlings about 1 inch deeper than they are sitting in the nursery container. This will help strengthen the root system and a better root system means healthier plants. Just be sure to remove any leaves below the soil line.

To discourage cutworms from taking out your young transplants, you should wrap the base of each seedling with a piece of aluminum foil. You can also protect them with a cardboard collar placed over the seedling and pushed 1 inch into the ground. A paper towel roll cut into sections works pretty well.

Building a Twig Teepee
Twine and Twig Teepee
Building a Twig TeePee
Secure the Top
with Wire
Building a Twig TeePee
Wrap Twine
Around the Legs

It is important to support your tomatoes as they grow. A simple wooden stake or bamboo pole will work. Use twine or some other soft material to tie the vine to the support. Tomato cages are also useful, especially for determinate and dwarf varieties. For the larger indeterminate types I find that commercial cages are a bit on the flimsy side, so I make my own out of concrete reinforcing wire. A 5 foot wide piece will usually do the trick. Simply bend it into a circle and hook the tines together where the ends meet. You want it to be about 16 inches in diameter. As a final measure I clip nylon netting to the cages to keep pests at bay.

Once you have planted your tomatoes keep them well watered until the roots are established. After that, deep soak them every 4 to 7 days. If it is hot and dry you may need to water every day, especially if they are in containers.

When you water, take care to not splash soil onto the leaves and stem as this promotes disease. And don’t skimp on the mulch. A good layer of mulch, 2 to 3 inches, will help keep the soil consistently moist, cutting down on blossom end rot, as well as prevent weeds from taking over. Just keep the mulch away from the crown of the plant.

Feed your tomatoes once a month with a blend that is high in phosphorous and low in nitrogen. Too much nitrogen will result in lots of leaves, but not much fruit. A ratio of 5-10-5 is good. Start fertilizing when the fruits first start to develop and stop as they reach maturity.

By following these simple guidelines you can make this the best tomato season ever.

Good To Know

Tomatoes will drop their blossoms when night time temperatures drop below 55 degrees F or exceed 75 degrees F.

If you live in an area with a short growing season choose an early maturing variety that will produce fruit in 50 to 65 days. Early Girl, Jetsetter, and Vita Gold are just a few varieties to try.

To avoid sunscald, do not remove leaves that are shading fruits.

Blossom end rot appears as a pale, brown spot that turns black and flattens the bottom of the fruit. It can be caused by lack of calcium or inconsistent moisture.

A Tomato for Every Recipe

If you plant three types of tomatoes – cherry, paste, and
slicing – you’ll have the right type of tomato on hand for
salads, sandwiches, sauces and canning. All you need are 3 large pots, potting soil, stakes, twine, fertilizer and the tomatoes.

Materials for Growing Tomatoes in Containers

  • (3) 20-inch Containers with Saucers
  • Potting Soil
  • (9) Bamboo Stakes
  • Twine
  • (3) Different Types of Determinate* Tomatoes

Steps for Growing Tomatoes in Containers

  1. Place empty containers in a spot that receives a full day of direct sun and in easy reach of a source of water.
  2. Fill containers with potting soil leaving 1 inch of head room. This space will make it easier to water.
  3. Plant 1 tomato plant per pot. Plant deep; bury 80 percent of the tomato for the best root development.
  4. Insert 3 bamboo stakes in each pot so they surround the tomato. Tie the tops together with twine. Wind the twine around the stakes to create a teepee trellis.
  5. Water the plants well.

Determinate Tomato Varieties

Determinate Cherry Tomato Varieties

  • Husky Cherry Red (Dwarf Indeterminate)
  • Patio FASt (Resistant to fusarium wilt (F), alternaria stem canker (A), and gray leaf spot (St).)
  • Baxter’s Early Bush
  • Cherry Grande

Determinate Paste Tomato Varieties

  • Rome Patio
  • Roma

Determinate Slicing Tomato Varieties

  • Better Bush
  • Bush Goliath
  • Bush Early Girl
  • Celebrity
  • Marglobe Improved

* Determinate tomatoes stay compact and produce an abundance of
fruit for a determined period of time. They are great for containers
because they don’t grow as tall as indeterminate tomatoes.

Rotating Out Tomato Crops

What can I do to revitalize my tomato garden? My space is limited so I have to use the same area for several years.

The problem with growing tomatoes or even members of the same family such as potatoes, peppers and eggplant in the same spot year after year is that the soil wears out while diseases and pests move in. This is why farmers will rotate their crops or leave fields fallow. It gives the soil a chance to rejuvenate.

It is recommended that tomatoes be planted one year and then rotated out for the next two years. I suggest you follow this advice and plant tomatoes in containers for the two year waiting period. They won’t take up much space and you may even find they are easier to maintain. Plus it gives you a chance to try some other vegetables in your garden.

Use a container that is about 20 inches in diameter with several drainage holes. It’s a good idea to layer the bottom of the container with gravel to improve drainage and give the pot some weight. All those juicy tomatoes can make the plant top heavy and it would be heart breaking to find the container blown over after a storm. Also be sure to provide sturdy staking to keep the plant upright.

Choose a bagged mix rather than garden soil. It will be disease and weed free and blended to provide a soil environment where tomatoes can thrive.

Once you get the tomatoes planted, you care for them just as you would if they were growing them in the ground. You may find that you have to water more often, but I figure this extra work is worth it.

Nine Common Tomato Problems

I am serious when it comes to my tomato patch. I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. I’ve learned that maximizing soil quality and paying attention to my tomatoes daily will yield the best crop. I’ve compiled my hit list of the 9 most common tomato maladies to watch for since forewarned is forearmed!

#1 Blights – the Quasimodos of Tomato Pathology!

Tomato Blight

Early Blight is a fungus that survives the winter on old vines and then rears its ugly head on your new plants. You will know it’s Early Blight when you see blackish-brown spots on the leaves, leaf drop off or see “sunburned” fruit. The best solution is to clean up old vines when the season ends, dispose of in the trash and don’t add it to compost pile. Rotate your planting areas and space the plants to allow for good air circulation.

Late Blight starts with leaves that appear water-soaked later turning brown and papery. The fungus is normally present when the weather is very wet enabling the spores to travel far infecting large areas. Like Early Blight, Late Blight is also preventable by rotating your crops annually and by maintaining good air circulation around your plants. If you think that you have Late Blight, same treatment – discard infected plants in the trash and don’t compost.

#2 Blossom-End Rot

blossom end rot tomatoes

Blossom end rot sounds like it should be terminal, but a tomato plant can usually pull itself out of this nosedive. The rot looks like pale, brown spots that turn black and flatten the bottom of the fruit due to a lack of calcium or uneven moisture. Lesson is, reduce extreme swings in moisture – avoid allowing them to wilt or overwatering tomato plants. If you don’t think fluctuation in moisture is the cause, get your soil tested. Too much nitrogen or soil that is too acidic or alkaline will limit the plant’s ability to absorb nitrogen. Lime will sweeten the soil and composted leaves will make it more acidic. Use a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen and high in phosphorous.

#3 Flower Dropsy

Flowers that form but drop before fruiting indicates that your weather is fluctuating too much. If the nighttime temperatures drop below 55°F or if the daytime temps are higher than 95°F with nighttime temperatures that don’t drop below 75°F, this can trigger blossom drop. Hot drying winds can intensify the problem. If the plant is not blooming during these periods, you have nothing to worry about however, if your flowers are dropping mulch to maintain moisture.

#4 Fusarium and Verticillium Wilt

No, this is not the next zombie movie the ‘tweens are watching. Both of these wilting conditions are caused by an incurable fungal infection – sadly, it’s just as deadly as being stuck in a Night of the Living Dead. Once a plant has either one, you should dispose of the plant immediately, do not add to the compost pile. Fusarium Wilt makes the leaves on one branch of the infected plant start wilting and yellow. Verticillium Wilt is yellowing between the major veins on mature leaves. Next year, select a tomato variety that is resistant to wilt.

#5 Bad Nematodes

Yikes! Like a ghost, this varmint is virtually invisible. Resembling some creature from the Black Lagoon – these microscopic eelworms are soil-born, so there is no “cure” for them. They infest the roots causing them to swell. The only aboveground symptoms are stunted plants and discolored leaves. Fortunately, your tomato plants will still bear edible fruit, but once you’ve discovered the culprit, you will have to wait to address the problem. A common fix is to simply plant marigolds to repel them.

#6 Shiny, Sticky & Deformed Leaves

Shiny, sticky & deformed leaves – no it’s not the name of your child’s garage band. It’s the usual calling card from an aphid, whitefly or spider mite attack. Ghoulish aphids suck the plant sap and excrete a sticky substance on the leaves and fruit. Look for the small, pear-shaped insects congregating on the top growth or on the undersides of the leaves. They can be green, yellow or blackish. Spider mites make small yellow specks and spin fine webs on the leaves, making them feel sticky. Whiteflies will fly up like a cloud when you brush the plant. Keep your tomato plants well-weeded but to overpower them you need reinforcements from a horticultural soap.

#7 Sunscald

tomato sunscald

Sunscald is what we all get when we sit exposed and unprotected for hours outdoors not being sensible about our UV ray absorption. Happens to tomatoes too! Your tomatoes may show yellow or white patches facing the sun. To prevent sunscald grow them in cages where they will produce protective foliage.

#8 Tomato Skins Splitting or Cracking

tomato cracking

Not pretty but definitely the lesser of the other 8 evils mentioned here because the fruits are still edible. Cracking or splitting happens because of sudden growth spurt from an increase in moisture after a dry spell. It can also occur when the fruit is overripe. Provide even moisture and choose plant varieties that are less prone to cracking. Cherry tomatoes are the guiltiest so pick them when they are ripe or almost ripe and/or just before a predicted rain storm to prevent cracking.

#9 Yellow Leaves

Yellow leaves, depending on where you are in the summer season can spell trouble, or not. Late in the season, it’s just the tomato shutting down. If early on in the season you notice yellow, uncurled leaves at the bottom of the plant that work their way up – that can signal a nitrogen deficiency or leaves turning yellow or brown higher up on the plant could be early blight.

It’s best to do a soil test to determine if it is a nitrogen deficiency. Depending on the soil test result, you may need to supplement the soil with well-rotted manure or compost, both of which are high in nitrogen. You can also apply a nitrogen-rich organic vegetable fertilizer.

Next year, proper soil preparation prior to planting, with good organic material or compost, will prevent this condition.

Good to Know

For a comprehensive reference for the other 99-problems that can happen with tomatoes, see the Guide to the Identification of Common Problems divided into these seven categories: Tomato Disorders, Green Fruit, Ripe Fruit, Insect Pests, Leaf, Stem and Root — full of imagery to help further diagnose your tomato troubles. Please go to http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/publications/tomatoproblemsolver.

How to Save Tomato Seeds

I want to know how to save tomato seeds. I seem to recall that I should let the seeds stew in their juices to get rid of disease problems later on and then let them dry out on a coffee holder. Can you explain the process for me?

I have received a surprising number of questions this summer about saving tomato seeds. I hope this is a sign that more people are growing their own tomatoes and perhaps getting interested in some of the heirloom varieties.

Saving tomato seeds is a little bit more complicated than other fruits and flowers because you have to ferment the seeds to reduce seed-borne diseases and remove the gelatinous coating that covers them.

Seed saving works best on heirloom tomato varieties because other varieties such as the hybrids don’t always come back true from seed. If you know the variety name of the tomato you can check its heirloom status online or by looking through seed catalogs. The added benefit of saving heirloom seeds is that you are guaranteed to have a supply of these sometimes hard to find varieties for next year and if you have enough to share, you are doing your part to preserve them for the future.

For the fermenting process you will need:

1 pound size clear plastic deli or storage containers with lids that have been washed and sterilized

round coffee filters

a permanent marker

heirloom tomatoes

small containers with tight lids for storing the seeds (I like to use baby food jars.)

To begin, label the deli containers with the variety name of the tomato seeds you are saving. Next cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze the pulp and seeds into a deli container. Fill the container about half way full; any further and there will not be enough room for the fermentation process. Loosely cover the container with a lid so that air can still circulate and place it in a warm location (about 80 degrees F) out of direct sunlight. When placing the containers you should also consider a location where they won’t be accessible to animals and where you won’t have to smell the fermenting tomato juice.

Depending on the temperature, the seeds should be through fermenting after about 3 to 5 days. Check the progress every day until you see is a film of white fungus on the top of the liquid. If you leave the seeds in the containers too long they will turn dark and begin to germinate.

Once the fermenting process is over you are ready to remove the seeds. Now, I won’t lie to you, this is fairly messy business and it smells pretty bad to boot! Start by removing the white fungus layer and then gently add some water. Swish the liquid around and carefully pour off the liquid. Don’t worry about losing seeds that are floating in the water, these are probably not viable. The good seeds will sink to the bottom. Continue this washing and pouring process until the water runs clear.

Now spread your coffee filters out flat and label them with the seed’s name. Paper plates will work for this as well. The idea is to use something that will wick the moisture away from the seeds, although you should avoid paper towels because seeds tend to stick to them. Dump the seeds onto a coffee filter and spread them out as evenly as space will allow. Place the seeds and filters in a warm location, out of direct sunlight with good air circulation. Stir the seeds daily to break up any clumps and in about 1 week they should be dry enough to store. Store them in a small container with a tight lid such as a film canister or mason jar in a cool, dry location. Your seeds should remain viable for up to 5 years.