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Bad year for the tomato?
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This year has been a very unusual one for gardening. With the slow start to the growing season, and then the drastic fluctuation on temperatures and rainfall amounts, some growers were lucky to just get produce onto their tables, let alone have their plant survive the entire season. I was up at a horticulture update this last week and even the research station in Hays had problems with their flowers, fruits and vegetables surviving and producing for them.
One of the hardest hit plants was tomatoes. K-State Research center in Hays planted six plants of ten varieties this year in a test plot. As of last week, not a single variety had every plant survive, and the entire group of plants from the variety Defiant died. Two-thirds of the tomato plants have died, and there was no fruit to harvest until September 1st. There are several different explanations for this. Heat and drought probably had the most effect on the plants. With temperatures above 93 during the day, or in the mid-seventies at night, tomatoes will not set-on. Another reason is the cooler temperatures into May this year. Cool wet soils encourage root rot, and with the lower temperatures and moisture, the plants put on more leaves than the roots could support when it warmed up in the summer. This caused the plants at the center suffered from leaf curl. Leaf curl is where the surface area of the leaves is too much for the roots to handle. They transpire more water out than the roots can bring in. The leaves curl to lessen the surface area, but over time, this can also hurt production. Between the damage to the roots from rot on plants, coupled with a mostly dry summer, the tomatoes did not have enough of a system to maintain the plant through the growing season and produce.
For a silver lining so to speak, the research center in Hays was able to collect valuable data about some newer varieties in this area. It may have not been a stellar year for tomato production, but they gained information on plants that may not do well in this area, and can now pass that information on to you as recommendations for a better chance of a productive crop in your garden.
Alicia Boor is the Agriculture and Natural Resources agent for Barton County K-State Research and Extension. You can contact her by e-mail at or calling 620-793-1910