Vegetable gardening is very popular these days, and even more so since the COVID outbreak.    Anyone new to this hobby is quick to hear some terms being thrown around when describing different types of vegetables. Knowing the meaning of these terms gives prospective gardeners some key information that helps them pick varieties of vegetables most suited to their needs. All living creatures, known to man, are classified according to species and genus. So for instance, all tomatoes are classified as Solanum lycospersicum.  

To start off, I already used the term “variety”. This term is used rather loosely in horticulture and is incorrectly interchanged with “cultivar”. Both refer to the differences in the species of plant you have chosen. Varieties refer to naturally occurring deviations from the original species. They typically come true to seed. Cultivars have been purposely cross-bred from two or more different species. Plants must be either vegetatively propagated or started from hybrid seed each year. These varieties or cultivars have names and are associated with specific characteristics.  For example when I say “Sweet Millions” tomatoes, a person familiar with this cultivar knows that they are cherry tomatoes, indeterminate, very flavorful, and highly productive. For the sake of this article, I will stick with tomato examples, but these terms could apply to many vegetable species and cultivars. 

Tomato ‘Sweet Millions’. Photo by dmp2018

Our tomato plants contain both male and female flower parts. Because of this, they are easily pollinated by wind or bees. This is problematic for greenhouse tomato growers, so they will hand pollinate the tomatoes with paint brushes or even special electronic devices that shake the flower to accomplish pollination. Fortunately for us outdoor gardeners, we do not need to do anything special for pollination to occur. 

Two different types of vegetable pollinator wands for use in the greenhouse setting. Photo by mrl2021.

Probably the best place to start is talking about “open pollination.” This is essentially how Mother Nature does things. There is a large population of organisms that have genes for individual traits, or characteristics. If we stick with our tomato example, think of: size, color, growth habit, disease resistance, plant height, etc. In my example, the population of tomatoes living in the wild in a certain area would have a lot of genetic diversity. As we all have experienced, the weather can vary from year to year. Genetic diversity in the population is nature’s way of ensuring that some organisms will survive and reproduce. Likewise, different parts of the country (or the world) will have different weather, climates, and microclimates.  Certain traits or characteristics are an advantage or a disadvantage depending on where you are living.  Over time, a population of tomatoes will see an increase in the genes that help it survive in the local environments. These would be considered different varieties of tomatoes.   

Some growers like to have open pollinated plants. They see which tomatoes produce the best and then save seeds from those plants to be planted the following year. In this way, the gardener is essentially developing a variety of tomato that is perfectly suited to living, growing, and even thriving in that particular area of the world. In addition, the gardener may also select for certain traits he or she prefers, like low acid, yellow tomatoes for example. Over time, the gardener may select and replant only the seeds of the plants that conform to certain pre-determined criteria.  Eventually the plants will breed true, or have the same set of characteristics, year to year.

This little cherry tomato was not planted by the gardener. It came from last year’s hybrid varieties. If desired, seeds could be saved and a new variety selected over time. Photo by mrl2020.

For the next term, I would like you to think of a young man that proposes to his girlfriend and while doing so presents her with his Grandma’s diamond ring. This piece of jewelry was passed down through the generations in his family. We call this ring an heirloom. Well there can be heirloom plants as well. These are varieties that have a specific set of characteristics and have a documented history. One of my favorite examples is the Brandywine tomato. This variety dates back to the late 1800s, and is noted for its exceptionally unique flavor, reddish pink coloration, and potato-shaped leaves. Heirloom varieties are open pollinated as well. What sets them apart from regular open-pollinated varieties is their documented history of being passed down through the generations, by name, with those specific characteristics. Many people fall in love with the idea of planting something so “valuable” that has been passed down through the generations.  Unfortunately, many of the heirlooms are not disease resistant and have a hard time growing in our modern world. Growing in containers with soilless media or in new planting areas are best suited to heirloom plantings. As long as there was no cross pollination (closely planted varieties of the same plant or active bees could do this), you should be able to save the seeds and get the same variety the following year.

Heirloom tomato, ‘Cuore di Bue’ Photo by dmp2019

This brings us to the next name to learn, and that is “hybrid”. A hybrid variety is formed by crossing two specific parent types. These parent varieties are usually kept secret. This produces a certain set of characteristics in the offspring. Examples include ‘Big Beef Hybrid’, ‘Better Boy Hybrid’, ‘Lemon Boy Hybrid’, etc. These can be particularly useful, and have specific qualities for which a gardener is looking. A gardener must pick carefully, as some of these hybrids are selected to transport well, delay ripening, or some other trait desirable for commercial production but not the fresh picked home-grown experience. The big advantage of hybrid tomatoes is the disease resistance they can have, although not all hybrids have the same disease resistance profile. I prefer to patronize companies that describe the disease resistant characteristics of the hybrid seeds I am purchasing. The downside to growing hybrids is that if you save the seeds and replant the following year, they will look nothing like the parent plants! They essentially would be like starting with an open pollinated version year one and it could take many, many years to get a tomato that breeds true (has a consistent set of characteristics from generation to generation).  Some people do not like to use hybrid seed as it forces you to buy new seed from the seed company each year. Others believe it is a small price to pay for disease resistance and known characteristics one can count on. Knowing the specific attributes of the plants before planting can be highly important for the home gardener and commercial grower alike.

Tomatoes that are ideal for transport to retail settings have different characteristics selected for compared to the home garden varieties. Photo by mrl2021

The next type of tomatoes has been used by commercial field and greenhouse growers for years.  Within the past ten years or so they made their way into the retail markets. These are “grafted” tomatoes. The grafting process goes back for many thousands of years for various reasons depending on the crop species. For tomatoes, simply put, we cut the above ground portion off and stick it onto the root stock of another variety. This can be done with our heirlooms. The top portion retains the qualities of taste, color, and style while the bottom root portion of a different variety, attribute’s resistance to many soil borne pathogens. The reason these have not really caught on too well in the retail market is the price. There is a lot of labor involved with this process, and for every one plant you sell you actually have to grow two plants (one for the top, and one for the roots). While a packet of thirty seeds or four plants may sell for three or four dollars, a single grafted plant of the same variety can sell anywhere from eight to thirteen dollars.  This is assuming you can find what you are looking for locally as none of those prices include shipping!

The final topic I wanted to cover was Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs.  These organisms have had their genetic material altered in a way that is not natural. Normally, we get new gene combinations through egg and sperm formation and the resultant reproductive event that follows. With genetic modification, genes can be altered, removed, or added in. Scientists can also cross genes from different species of plants or animals. Plant hybridizers have been crossing closely related, but nonetheless different, species for centuries. As such, the public is generally not as resistant to this “more natural” activity. For example, you can cross two different species of Echinacea coneflower in order to create a new color variety. Where the public gets worried, is when a gene from a distantly related organisms is inserted into the genome of another. For example, Glofish were made by inserting a gene from a coral into a fish.  There is no realistic way that would happen in nature. Due to the fears described above, there are currently no GMO tomatoes being sold on the market. This is not due to any known hazard to humans, but rather due to the public being wary of a technology that is new, by a process unknown to many, and not having enough time to see what will happen with these “experiments” long-term. There are, however, many other examples of vegetables that are GMO, like soybeans some corn, and canola for example.

So given all this information, what category of vegetable do you pick? Well, the simple answer is that it depends on what you want to do, and how good you are as a gardener. For anyone new to the endeavor and looking to plant tomatoes, I would recommend starting off with the disease resistant hybrids. These are generally the most forgiving. Once you have a good idea of how to grow the plants, maybe you would want to try an heirloom variety or two in addition to your regular stock. Open pollinated plants can be fun as well as you can save your seeds each year and select for certain traits, but you need patience and time. This gives you the power to essentially create something new and unique suited to your specific needs or desires. No matter what you decide, get out there and plant! As I always suggest, get a soil test first for best results!        

Matt Lisy

As far as us gardeners are concerned, few pleasures in life compare to biting into that first sun-ripened tomato. After getting off to a rather dry start and needing supplemental watering, many of us found our gardens more on the too wet side and wishing some of that rain would go to California where it is really needed. I even found some slugs crawling up the tomato stakes instead of hiding beneath the mulch! Apparently, even they were looking for higher ground!

standing wtr around raised beds

Standing water around raised tomato beds. Photo by dmp.

Vegetable gardeners in New England know that tomatoes face several diseases including blights, leaf spots, anthracnose and so on. We deal with this problem in different ways. I try to grow some disease resistant cultivars, like ‘Peron’ and ‘Defiant’. Both are reported to be resistant to several diseases with ‘Defiant’ touted as having late blight resistance. Having resistance does not mean the plants will not get a disease; just that it often won’t kill them (or at least won’t kill them as quickly!). ‘Defiant’ gets some early blight, leaf spots but typically if I continue removing the infected foliage on a weekly basis; it grows out of them and produces well into the fall. The rainy weather has curtailed some of my weekly clean ups so all my tomato plants look a little worse for the wear.

tomato row w hardly any leaves

Tomatoes with few healthy leaves due to disease/wet weather. Photo by dmp.

There are lots of mid-sized and tasty tomatoes on ‘Defiant’ right now but almost all of them have a condition known as yellow shoulder. This is a physiological disorder and while the affected portions of the tomato are showing up yellow on my tomatoes, they may be green, white, or grey on other varieties. These areas are also tougher and not as palatable. The specific cause for this disorder is not known but it is believed to be related to high temperatures, which we certainly were experiencing, lack of potassium, high soil pH and/or perhaps too much magnesium relative to calcium in the soil

tomato yellow shoulders

Defiant tomatoes with yellow shoulder. Photo by dmp.

It’s always fun to try a new tomato variety or two and this year I planted ‘Tasmanian Chocolate’, a unique dwarf with full-sized, 8 to 10 ounce, mahogany red tomatoes on plants about 40 inches tall. The tomatoes are slightly lobed and delicious, but right now all the fruits are terribly cat-faced. This is another physiological condition where the exact cause hasn’t yet been pinpointed. Supposedly, it starts in the early stages of flower bud development. This disorder has been attributed to low temperatures (below 60 F, which I have not experienced), high amounts of nitrogen in the soil and excessive pruning. If anything, any nitrogen in the organic fertilizer I applied around Memorial Day has been washed out with all the rain and mostly I have just been pruning out diseased leaves Herbicide damage was also given as a potential cause but I have woods on two sides of the property and my next-door neighbor has not applied any. I will try this tomato variety again as it is very tasty and does not seem as prone to leaf diseases as some other tomato varieties.

Tomato catface 2

Catfaced Tasmanian Chocolate tomatoes. Photo by dmp.

Then there is ‘Ildi’, a yellow cherry tomato. I like to grow one yellow, one orange and one red cherry tomato mostly because they look so lovely in salads. ‘Sun Gold’ is my go to orange cherry with its exquisite flavor and prolific production. For a red, this year I grew ‘Matt’s Wild Cherry’, which has oodles of half-inch, tasty red tomatoes.

yel jel bean, sungold sw mill, Fair Blue

Cherry tomatoes – Sungold, Sweet Million, Yellow Jelly Bean and Fair Blue. Photo by dmp.

‘Yellow Pear’ had been an old yellow cherry tomato standby and even though it did not crack that easily and outgrew most disease problems, the flavor was rather bland. So, I tried ‘Ildi’ last year and was happy with the flavor and decided to grow this variety again this season. Huge clusters of flowers had formed and I was all ready to enjoy hordes of yellow, sweet tomatoes when I noticed almost all the flowers aborted and only 4 or 5 tomatoes managed to mature per cluster. I believe this is due to the heat we’ve had over the last few weeks and perhaps also lack of pollination due to cloudy, wet weather. Tomatoes are self-fertile but wind and bees do help.

Tomato Ildi aborted blossoms

Only 3 tomatoes in this cluster of ‘Ildi’. Photo by dmp.

Despite the weather and some creature that has been stealing a tomato or two, there are still plenty of tomatoes to be had for fresh eating and for sharing. They say the average American eats about 20 pounds of fresh tomatoes each year. I’m trying to do my part using huge, thick slices of ‘Amish Gold’ for my BLTs.

Tomato Amish Gold BLT

BLT with tomato ‘Amish Gold’. Yumm! Photo by dmp.

Good gardening to all,



Cracks in tomatoes, black rotten spots on the bottom of tomato fruit, and a hard yellow or white area on the inside walls of ripe tomatoes are all physiological problems, not caused by insects or disease.  It is a sad sight for gardeners investing so much time and energy to see the actual fruits of their labor turn into less than perfect tomatoes.


cracking of tomato, joey Williamson HGIC,

Cracked Tomato

Let’s start with why tomatoes crack. Higher moisture levels after a dry period, such as lots of rain after a time of drought, will cause the inside cells to swell and grow faster than the outside skin will grow, resulting in splitting of the skin. To prevent cracking, keep soil evenly moist by watering, and use a mulch to prevent evaporation and keep soil cooler. Cracked tomatoes are still very edible, but not so pretty. Sometimes the cracks are deep, allowing rot to happen inside the meat of the fruit. Plan to use split tomatoes before rotting happen.

Blossom End Rot on Tomatoes, J.Allen Photo

Blossom End Rot, photo by Joan Allen.

Blossom end rot is expressed by a black, sunken area on the bottom, the blossom end, of the tomato. It is caused by a lack of calcium reaching the fruit. The soil could be lacking calcium which can only be determined by having a soil test done for nutrient levels. UConn does a basic soil test for $12.00 at New England is not usually lacking calcium in its soil, it is more likely the cause of blossom end rot is an interruption in the delivery of calcium from the soil to the fruit via water uptake. This is caused by irregular watering, letting the soil dry out, then watering or having a big rain event. Occasionally, high levels of potassium or magnesium fertilizers will compete with calcium uptake by the plants. Only use a balanced fertilizer to avoid an excess of individual nutrients and provide even water levels to the soil to avoid blossom end rot. Portions of the tomato not rotted are also still edible if you cut away the bad part.


Yellow Shoulders,

Yellow shoulders disorder occurs on the top part of the tomato when areas never turn red, but stay yellow. The flesh underneath can be tough and corky. It can occur only on the top portion or can occur as a grey or white wall just under the skin around the whole fruit.This problem is caused by a number of different circumstances or combinations of them. We do know it is a problem at the cellular level that happens very early as the fruit is forming.  Cells in the area are smaller and not aligned normally, and the green chlorophyll areas do not develop red pigment. Causes are thought to be high temperatures over 90 degrees F at time of fruit formation, and possible pH levels over 6.7, and potassium, magnesium and calcium competition among each other. Again, a balanced fertilizer is needed.

tomato with white walls, yellow shoulders, photo by Becky M.

Tomato with white walls, yellow shoulders, photo by Becky M.


The take away message for all of these physiological problems are to have an adequate soil fertility and soil pH without over fertilizing, and have even soil moisture. Hope for summer temperatures to stay at or below 90 degrees F and your harvest baskets will be full of beautiful, delicious tomatoes.

-Carol Quish


August is supposed to be the month of non-stop tomatoes. Occasionally things go awry to interrupt those carefully laid spring visions of bountiful harvests, sauce making, and endless tomato sandwiches. Blossom end rot can appear to put an end to the crop production by damaging the ripening and developing fruits. We are seeing and receiving calls in a  higher number than more recent years from backyard gardeners complaining about black rotten spots on the bottom of their tomatoes. The spots start as a thickened, leathery spot which sinks in, always on the bottom of the fruit.

Blossom end rot on tomato,

Blossom end rot on tomato,

Blossom end rot can also occur on peppers.

Blossom end rot on peppers, photo taken by client

Blossom end rot on peppers, photo taken by client

Blossom end rot is a physiological condition due to lack of calcium. Calcium is needed by plants for  proper growth in all functions of cell making, but is most important for cell walls. Without enough calcium either in the soil, or if delivery of uptake of dissolved calcium in soil water is interrupted, cell division stops in the fruit. Tomatoes are especially sensitive to a lack of calcium.

Interruptions in uptake of calcium can happen by repeated cycles of soil drying out, receiving water, then drying out again. Times of drought and hot, humid weather make the problem worse. Plants lose water through their leaves through a process called transpiration, similar to the way we sweat. They then pull up water through their roots. If there is not enough soil moisture, plants wilt. This break is water delivery also limits calcium delivery. Tomato, and to a lesser degree pepper fruits, respond by developing rot on the bottom, the end where the blossom was before the fruit started growing.

High humidity and multiple cloudy days reduces transpiration, thereby reducing water uptake. This leaves plants not able to bring up new calcium rich water to the site making new cells of the fruit. Another interruption of delivery of calcium resulting in blossom end rot. This means that even if you have enough calcium in the soil and you water the soil regularly, the plants still may not be able to move enough calcium to where it is needed to produce a fruit.

Have a soil test done to make sure soil has enough calcium and that pH levels are around 6.5 so nutrients are most readily available. Water regularly so plants receive 1 to 2 inches of water per week for optimum growth. Feel the soil around the root zone to make sure water is soaking in and reaching the roots. Humidity and cloud cover are not obstacles we can help the plant with, so monitor the fruit for rot spots and remove. There are calcium foliar sprays which claim to deliver calcium to be absorbed by the leaves for use by the plant. This won’t help after the rot has already developed, but may help deter future spots on still developing tomatoes.

-Carol Quish




As much as I try to accomplish tasks in a timely manner, life just seems to get in the way and things occasionally get done later rather than sooner. So it is this year with starting my tomato seeds. Here it is April 16th and I have just planted the seeds in their cell packs this evening. They then went under the grow lights with a plastic dome placed over the cell packs to keep the moisture in. As long as one has a light source, starting most seeds inside is not a difficult task. Always use clean containers, fill them to the top with moistened soilless growing media and keep it moist but not saturated. Remove any plastic coverings once the seeds start to germinate and keep the light 2 to 3 inches above their leaves while the seedlings are young.

Many different tomato varieties to choose from!

Many different tomato varieties to choose from!

I plant two tomato seeds in each cell of a 4-cell pack and will then thin to the strongest seedling. If the seeds are 2 or 3 years old, then 3 or 4 get planted in each cell. Tomato seeds last 3 to 4 years for me which is both good and bad. Hating to waste anything, I use up all the seeds from the varieties I have on hand before I order more seeds (unless the plants performed very poorly which was the case for a green cherry tomato I tried a couple of years ago). So I don’t get to try new varieties as quick as my heart desires, usually only 1 or 2 each year.

Two or 3  tomato seeds are started in each cell.

Two or 3 tomato seeds are started in each cell.

Some tomatoes I can’t live without and grow them every year. These include 3 cherry tomatoes – ‘Sungold’, ‘Sweet Million’ and ‘Yellow Jelly Bean’, all of which look and taste so sweet and summery in my salads, and my canning tomato, ‘Polish Linguisa’ which I make tomato and chili sauce from. These four I grow each year and they account for about 12 plants in total. So I have room in the garden for about eight or so more tomatoes and here is where the fun begins.

Sungold tomato picture from White Flower Farm

Sungold tomato picture from White Flower Farm

My 2013 selections include some I grew last year and have leftover seed for, and 3 new tomato varieties. First the repeats: ‘Djena Lee’s Golden Girl tomato came as a ‘Free Trial Offer’ from Totally Tomatoes (they lie, they have a plethora of peppers too!). I grew one plant last year and loved it so much that I am growing it again. It is an indeterminate heirloom grown by Djena Lee and given to the Reverend Morrow in 1929 who kept this variety going. For 10 consecutive years, it won first prize at the Chicago Fair and I can see (taste) why! It is an orangey-yellow fruit that starts maturing about 80 days after transplant. I love the tangy but sweet flavor and that it did well in my garden last year.

On the other extreme, a second heirloom, ‘Peron’, billed as the sprayless tomato because of its disease resistance, died on me somewhere around the middle of August – from which disease I am not positive. It was introduced in the 1950’s by some Gleckler seedsmen and was supposed to have 3 ½ inch globe shaped fruits, none of which I got to harvest. It is an open-pollinated variety ready in about 68 days from transplant. I will give it one more chance.

Late blight struck my plants again last year although it was towards the end of the season. ‘Yellow Jelly Bean’ was able to almost outgrow it with its vigorous, indeterminate habit and I was harvesting those yellow, oval tomatoes well into October. But I saw that Johnny’s Selected Seeds was offering ‘Defiant PHR F1’ which is supposed to have high resistance to late blight and moderate resistance to early blight along with 6 to 8 ounce globe-shaped fruit and I am giving it a try. ‘Defiant’ is a determinant hybrid that matures in about 70 days from transplant.

Another hybrid I am trying this year is ‘Ultimate Opener’. Every gardener is searching for that earliest ripening tomato (although they would have started them already if more diligent than me!) and according to Pinetree Seed catalog descriptions this tomato should ripen in 57 days from transplant. The medium-sized, 8 oz. tomatoes are produced on strong, disease resistant plants that reach about 6 feet in height.

Last, but not least, is a Polish heirloom from Russia called ‘Soldacki’. It is from Krakow but was brought to Cleveland around 1900. Pictures show lovely and flavorful, dark red, ribbed fruits and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into a sun-ripened fruit. Being indeterminate in nature, they will require staking or caging and fruit should mature in 75 to 80 days.

Soldacki tomato by Seed Savers

Soldacki tomato by Seed Savers

I’ll report at the end of the summer on garden successes and failures. If you have been thinking about starting tomatoes from seed, you still have time but get to it soon. Once you start shopping for tomato seed you will be amazed at the incredible selection you have to choose from. Go for it!

Good gardening to you!


Compared to many New England (and East Coast) residents, I am very thankful that except for some water in the basement and a large ash tree that uprooted and fell almost surrealistically in the narrow space between the chicken coop and my three bin composter, we survived Tropical Storm Irene pretty much unscathed.

Tree down from Irene

A lot of my flowers toppled over and that is a bit unfortunate as our local Garden Club holds a flower show every year on Olde Home Day (Labor Day). All members create several floral arrangements, from backyard flower beds and borders, and usually visitors are greeted by several hundred flower arrangements set up in the basement of the Charlton Federated Church. Visitors enthusiastically comment on the veritable explosion of colors, creativity, scents and floral inspirations each year. While we gardeners/floral arrangers are quite resourceful, Irene may have us scrambling a bit this year for ideas!

Coral Fountain Amaranth on its side

The day before Irene was predicted to hit our area, I collected as many tomatoes as I could figuring any I left would be blown off the vine or cracked because of the excessive water. All 14 tomato plants had some ripe or near ripe fruit so this also gave me an opportunity to sample and compare the 10 varieties I grew this year.

The collection before the storm

Cherry tomatoes always rank high as they are most prolific plants, can be snacked on like candy, used in green salads, and also added to any number of hot or cold dishes. ‘Sungold’ tops my list with its sweet, golden-orange, 1-inch fruits. The tomatoes begin to ripen about 57 days after transplanting. Its only fault is that it is thin-skinned so pick all fruits, orange or yellow, before any severe rain event. Despite this minor defect, my garden would not be complete without this most delicious of all cherry tomatoes!

Two other must have cherry tomatoes are ‘Sweet Million’ and ‘Yellow Jelly Bean’. These two, along with ‘Sungold’ not only taste terrific but are just so beautiful grouped together in salads. Also these three varieties are indeterminate in growth habit, which means they just keep growing and producing tomatoes until stopped by a hard frost. Last year I was picking cherry tomatoes well into October. They do have some typical tomato disease problems but because of their indeterminate growth habits, they usually manage to outgrow diseases like early blight, septoria, and anthracnose as long as you can routinely remove any diseased lower leaves. Spraying routinely with a sulfur or copper based, natural fungicide would be prudent as well in our humid, disease-promoting summers.

A new cherry tomato I tried this year is ‘Green Grape’. How lovely, I thought to have orange, yellow, red and green tomatoes in my daily summer salads! These tomato plants are determinate in growth habit, meaning they reach a certain growth stage, set flowers and fruit, and stop growing. At first they seemed immune to most tomato diseases. But then, they seemed to get this one disease that turns the leaves black and kills them. No spotting diseases, like septoria and early blight, for this variety! I thought this was good until I picked off about half of its leaves that were blackened and dead before Irene hit while collecting any potentially ripe fruit. I still can’t quite figure out which fruit are ripe as even the ones that look like they might be are still quite tart. I did notice some fruit changing to a more yellowish-chartreuse color and they tasted more pleasant.

Four small, early to medium, midseason tomatoes I harvested some fruit from were ‘Polfast’, ‘Marglobe’, ‘Champion Hybrid’ and ‘Golden Girl’. In general, the yellow or gold tomatoes are less acidic but still have a pleasing mild, tomato taste. I thought ‘Golden Girl’ was juicy and enjoyable and a nice salad addition and since she is indeterminate in growth habit with a typical maturity of 80 days, I am hoping for a continued harvest for the next month or so.

‘Polfast’ and ‘Marglobe’ have small to medium-sized red tomatoes on determinate plants. ‘Marglobe’ has been around for quite a while because of its sumptuous tomato flavor and disease resistance. The fruits of both of these varieties are most enjoyable and I have used them fresh and skewered with chicken on the grill and as an ingredient in tomato-zucchini casseroles. I will definitely consider growing both again.

‘Champion Hybrid’ gave me about a half dozen tomatoes before Irene and because it is indeterminate in growth habit, I am hoping for a dozen or so more. ‘Champion’ has been producing about one-half pound fruit which are solid and meaty and so far rank number one for my family for BLT’s which we have been indulging in on a regular basis this time of year.

For my canned tomatoes and chili sauce, I am anticipating a decent harvest of ‘Cuore di Bue’ and some unknown plum tomatoes that just sprang up in my watermelon patch. I think these ‘oxheart’ tomatoes, whether of Italian, Russian or other nationality are the absolute best canning tomatoes. They are quite ‘bottom heavy’ with ridges, and range, depending on the variety, from 4 to 8 inches or more across. Oxhearts are meaty, don’t contain many seeds, and are my favorite sauce tomatoes.

Cuore di Bue

All the the oxhearts I am familiar with are indeterminate heirlooms. In fact, I was first introduced to them back in the mid 80’s while working as a horticulturist in a Massachusetts County Cooperative Extension Center. One of my clients had some questions and among them was whether or not I had tried growing a Russian oxheart tomato. When I said no, he promptly brought me one of his plants that he had started from seed brought over decades ago from his native country by his relatives! For many years I saved seed and continued growing this tomato. With time, it seemed to cross with other tomato varieties and the fruits were smaller and the plants more prone to tomato diseases. Now I tend to purchase new seed for different oxheart tomato varieties from various seed houses trying to find a close match. ‘Cuore di Bue’ tastes quite similar but the fruits are smaller. I will continue to grow this one but keep up my search for the original Russian oxheart that was gifted to me.

Aside from being an ardent tomato grower, I also am an ardent composter and you are welcome to join me along with other staff and volunteers at the 1st Annual Fall Compost and Garden Fair. Check it out at!

This summer we had an interesting tomato disease in the diagnostic lab.  It’s tomato pith necrosis, caused by the soil-borne bacterium Pseudomonas corrugata

Necrosis and wilt symptoms on tomato plant caused by tomato pith necrosis.

The earliest symptom is chlorosis or yellowing of the younger leaves.  As the disease progresses, leaves may wilt and become necrotic (dead).  Infected stems may or may not have visible dark lesions.  The sample received in the lab this summer didn’t have this symptom.  The primary symptom in this case was wilting and necrosis of the upper part of the plant. 

To investigate further and to check for wilt diseases of tomato, the lower stem was cut in half longitudinally.  The characteristic symptom of tomato pith necrosis, a chambered or hollow pith or center of the stem, was observed.  In some cases, this is white as shown in the photo.

White chambered pith in tomato stem.

More advanced bacterial colonization results in the browning and softening of this tissue.  The vascular system may also be brown.  This tissue is in the outer part of the stem and the sample’s vascular browning is pictured below.  Two wilt diseases of tomato caused by fungi, Fusarium wilt and Verticillium wilt, both cause browning in the outer, vascular tissue of the stem, but not in the pith. 

Stem section with both vascular and pith browning.

White and brown (decayed) chambered pith.

One symptom that is quite distinctive but that was not readily apparent in this case is the development of many adventitious roots on the outside of the stem near the chambered pith areas.  Adventitious roots are roots that develop from above-ground plant parts.  Sometimes, the infected tomato plant is able to grow out of this disease. 

 Conditions that favor tomato pith necrosis include low night temperatures, high nitrogen fertility and high humidity.  It often occurs when the fruits are nearing mature green, or just before they begin to redden. 

To prevent this disease, do not over-fertilize with nitrogen and space, prune and stake tomato plants to promote good airflow around them, reducing humidity. 


Now is the time to take action against tomato fungal disease. Late Blight (Phytophthora infestans) has been confirmed  in Connecticut for the first time this 2010 growing season. Last year Late Blight devastated many home and commercial plantings not protected by fungicides. There are organic fungicides and chemical fungicides labeled for use against Late Blight and other fungal diseases of tomatoes.

Cultural controls also go a long way in keeping tomato plants healthy and strong. The best defense is a strong plant, able to fend off attacks by pathogens. Late Blight resistant varieties of tomatoes are Legend, Santa, Juliet, Mountain Magic, and Plum Regal. Each year rotate planting sites within the garden. Proper soil pH and nutrient levels give the best start to transplants in the garden. Soil tests should have been done prior to planting to determine health of the soil and adjust pH. Tomatoes prefer a pH of around 6.5 but are adaptable. A well balanced fertilizer applied at planting time and again later when blossoms begin to appear is a good rule of thumb. Stake or cage plants to keep foliage and fruit up off of the ground. If tied to a stake and growing tall, remove the lower leaves up to one foot to lessen the chance of leaves coming in contact with the soil where several different disease fungi live. Mulch plants to provide a physical barrier between the soil and the plant. Some diseases live in the soil and are splashed up onto the leaves when it rains or when watered. The mulch stops this action. Mulches can be grass clippings, chopped leaves, bark mulch or plastic strips. Fungal spores that land on a leaf need moisture to germinate. Water plants in morning only so leaves can dry before evening. When watering plants, use soaker hoses or drip irrigation,and avoid overhead watering. Try to not get the leaves wet. This is obviously unavoidable during rain. Space plants far enough apart to promote good airflow and leaf drying. Slow the spread of disease by hand picking off any leaves as soon as you see a spot it and dispose  in the garbage.

Other common fungal diseases in Connecticut that attack tomatoes are Early Blight (Alternaria solani) and Septoria Leaf Spot (Septoria lycopersici). All of these cultural controls help to prevent other diseases as well.

Fungicide is used as a preventive measure, stopping the germination of the fungal spores once they land on the plant. Conventional gardeners can use chemical fungicides. These include the active ingredients  chlorothalonil, mancozeb or manix.  Chlorothalonil can be used on the same day of harvest while mancozeb and manix restrict harvest to five days after application. Several different brands of those named active ingredient are available at better garden centers. Read and follow all label directions for use.

Organic fungicides include copper based fungicides, Bacillus subtilis and few others listed below.  Care should be taken when using  copper based fungicides  as they can cause damage to leaves and fruit. Follow all label directions.

Organic products with late blight on label
• Serenade ASO (Bacillus subtilis) 6 qts/A
• Serenade MAX (Bacillus subtilis) 1-3 lb/A
• Sonata (Bacillus pumilis) 2-6 qts/A
• Oxidate (hydrogen dioxide) 40-128 fl oz/100
• Sporan EC (rosemary, clove, thyme oils) 1-3
• Sporatec (rosemary, clove, thyme oils) 1-3
• Copper fungicides

(list from

Whichever fungicide is used, thorough coverage is essential and applied regularly to protect new growth.


Early Blight

Early Blight

Late Blight (Phytophthora infestans)

Late Blight (Phytophthora infestans)

septoria tomato leaf

Septoria Leaf Spot

I returned from a week of vacation to the find the gardens full of weeds! Everything grew like gangbusters in my absence. Those little weed seedlings grew to flowering stage in just a week! If we could only get the peppers and cucumbers to produce like that I would be happy. Mulch would have prevented many of the weeds from germinating in the first place. I also should have weeded well before I left instead of dealing with the larger weeds now. Hind site is always better.

I  gathered a large garbage bag full of seaweed from the beach. Once home I spread  it out on the lawn to rinse it thoroughly of salt and sand, let it dry in the sun and worked it into the soil of the beds of the finished peas, spinach and lettuce. I will replant different crops in these newly enriched beds. Leaf crops grow extremely well in seaweed amended soil. I love free fertilizers.

My tomato crop is slowly developing despite have spotted and yellowed leaves of septoria leaf spot fungal disease. Mulch would have helped here, too. Mulch provides a physical barrier between the soil and leaves above. The fungal spores of septoria live in the soil from year to year and can be splashed up onto the leaves of the tomatoes. Fungicides can be used before the infections happens to prevent the spores from growing on the leaves. Now it is too late. These spots start on the bottom leaves, progress to produce new fruiting spots that release more spores that land on higher leaves, moving the fungus from the lower leaves up the plant.

The non-stop rains and cool spring has brought the northeast the perfect conditions for another fungal disease, Late Blight, (Phytophthora infestans). This is the same fungus that caused the Irish potato famine in the 1850’s. We have identified the disease if both tomato and potato plants of commercial fields during the last two weeks. We will have to see how the remainder of the summer progresses relative to moisture to see how bad the outbreak becomes. Spores are spread by rain splash and carried by wind for up to several miles. The disease starts as a water soaked spot on the leaf,  stem or fruit, rapidly turning dark brown to black. The entire plant wilts and collapses.  Cornell has a great fact sheet here.

I would like to mention Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory located in South Deerfield, Massachusetts this week. They are a butterfly conservatory open year round that folks can visit to see and walk among the beautiful creatures with their native plants. Another ‘beautiful creature’ is George who works there. A mother called me at the center last week looking for a source to purchase ladybugs to release at the funeral of her nine year old daughter’s friend. With only two days notice on Thursday afternoon, no commercial ladybug provider was willing to ship them to her in time. On a hunch, I called Magic Wings and relayed the information to George. They do not sell ladybugs but ladybugs do live in the conservatory with the butterflies. He came through magnificently! Mother and daughter drove to South Deerfield on Friday to pick up the box of ladybugs and thank George in person. They also visited the conservatory and several butterflies landed on the daughter. Quite a special experience for a grieving family. We at UConn add our thanks to George and Magic Wings.