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Bad year for tomatoes

Nothing whets the appetite more than a tomato sandwich made from a softball-size garden-grown ripe tomato and a couple slices of loaf bread covered with mayonnaise and a dash of table salt.

Their popularity is expressed early and often at Hartselle Farmers Market by fruit and vegetable shoppers, who begin asking for the perfect tomato three to four weeks before the first harvest.

The supply is usually plentiful at this time of year. This year’s crop of tomatoes, however, seems to be an exception.

The quantity of commercial growers is below normal, and quality is lacking. Blame is credited to adverse weather conditions – namely, cooler-than-normal temperatures and heavy rainfall.

Complaints from growers include leaf fungus, blossom end rot and dead plants for no obvious reason.

I found these tips on keeping tomato plants healthy and productive in an old clipping from “Southern Living” magazine. If you grow tomatoes for home use, you might want to keep them in mind in the future:

—Check plants daily to detect problems and treat them before they get out of hand.

—Mulch prevents soil from splashing on stems and leaves. It will minimize the spread of diseases. It also helps keep out weeds and grass. Wet three or four layers of old newspaper and place them around plants, then cover with two inches of mulch.

—Don’t remove suckers when plants begin to fruit. Extra foliage blocks the sun and prevents sunscald.

—Add lime to soil to help prevent blossom-end rot. If blossom-end rot occurs, spray plants with calcium chloride according to label directions.

—Don’t over-fertilize your plants or you will have too many leaves and too few tomatoes. Sprinkle fertilizer 1 to 2 feet around plants and avoid touching stem or foliage. Newly-planted tomato plants should be fertilized with 20-20-20 liquid feed. After the first fruit appears, fertilize with 10-10-10 granular fertilizer, repeating every four weeks.

—Water plants after fertilizing or put out fertilizer before rains.

—Extend the tomato-growing season by planting a few green tomatoes before the first frost. Wrap them individually in newspaper and leave them in a fairly dark and cool area. Take out a few at a time and place them on a windowsill to ripen.