Monday, November 15, 2010

Happy 'Mater Pictures ...

Things were getting a little grouchy around here, so I thought I'd post some pictures of happy tomatoes.

The top two pictures are Victoria Supreme (an oblong paste tomato), and the bottom picture is yellow pear. How fast a tomato sets fruit depends on the variety—most labels include a "days to harvest" number, which is an approximation of how many days you'll have to wait from planting the tomato until you can start harvesting fruit (if you plant your own seeds, this figure is typically calculated from the day the plant goes into the ground, not the day you plant seeds—add a few weeks for seeds). Most tomatoes range from about 60 days (early harvest) to 80 or 90 days (late harvest). If you want to keep a steady stream of fruit all season long, plant tomatoes with staggered harvest dates ... or just wait another few weeks and do a second planting.

If your tomatoes have been in the ground for a while and aren't setting fruit, there are a few possibilities:

  1. Some blossom drop is pretty common early in the season. As long as it's limited, don't worry.
  2. If you're growing in a very sheltered area, you might want to help them along by hand-polinating your flowers with a Q-tip. Tomatoes are pollinated by the wind, so they need turbulent airflow to spread pollen. People growing in covered patios sometimes have problems with pollination.
  3. The plant could be sick—blossom drop is more common among tomatoes that are suffering from diseases or bug attacks. Check the plant carefully for spotting, discoloration, streaks, and of course, bugs.
  4. Excessive nitrogen in your fertilizer. Using a regular foliage fertilizer can encourage leaf growth at the expense of fruit. Make sure you're using a tomato or vegetable fertilizer (I'll do a post on fertilizer labels soon because this is a pretty big topic).
  5. Excessive heat or humidity. I'm including this for the sake of being complete, but the weather so far this season has really been pretty good. When I walked outside this morning, I thought it was a perfect tomato morning :)
If none of this sounds right, or you want to give you plant a boost, you can buy a tomato set spray. This is basically a hormone that encourages tomato plants to set fruit even in adverse conditions. I've used these before during especially hot years and it works.


  1. The other way to encourage sheltered tomatoes to pollinate is by gently shaking or vibrating the plants. I've heard of people using an electric toothbrush - just holding the wand against the stem to get things shaking. For my indoor plants, I just give them a prolonged shaking every morning for as long as they're in flower.

  2. Hi E!

    Good point. I've fertilized indoor tomatoes by blowing on them really hard. Are you growing hydroponically?

  3. Nope, I'm growing in a locally-sourced vermicompost/coir/perlite mix. I fertilize with compost tea and powdered milk on alternating Saturdays.

    So far I'm just doing patio-type plants - I just barely have room on my window shelves for Orange Pixies (they hit the top of the window frame!), although I'm dying to try Yellow Pear (which I'd probably have to prune to keep from taking over the living room).