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Tomatoes Not Setting Fruit? This Weekend, They Might!

Posted by okiedawn Z7 OK (My Page) on
Sat, Jun 28, 08 at 9:22

Lately, in several different threads, we've discussed the high temperatures and humidity and how they've kept many large-fruited tomatoes from setting tomatoes this year.

If your tomatoes have been affected, this weekend's lower temperatures will give your tomatoes at least at good chance of pollinating and setting fruit, especially on Sunday.

You can improve their chances in a couple of simple ways.

1) If your tomatoes are caged, trellised or staked, grasp the cage, trellis material or stake, and gently shake the plant. This can loosen up clumping pollen and cause it to move around in/on the flower and pollinate. This works best if you do it during cooler early morning temperatures, or cooler evening temperatures, especially shortly after sunrise or shortly before/after sunset. Doing this a couple of times a day really does help improve fruit set, especially on the occasional "cooler" day like we're going to have this weekend.

2.) If your temperatures are on the borderline of those that allow pollination--max. temp. of about 92 to 95 and min. temp. lower than 75 (but higher than 55), shaking alone may not be enough but you can improve the odds by "cooling" down the pollen and flowers with a brief spray of water from the hose during the hottest part of the day (or night). You don't want to hit the plant with such a hard stream of water that the flowers fall off, obviously, though! Do this at least twice daily when temperatures are right at the threshold of being "too hot" and it can cool the flowers just enough that they will set fruit.

3.) Some people use an electric toothbrush (I've never tried this one myself) to "vibrate" or "shake" the flowers to improved fruit set. If you are interested in trying this, there is a thread on this topic on the Tomato Forum that describes how it is done.

4.) Some tomato experts recommend that, on certain plants like Brandywine which is notorious for not setting fruit in hot weather, you emasculate the Brandywine flower and use a Q-tip to transfer pollen from a DIFFERENT variety to the Brandywine. You still will get Brandywine fruit from this fertilization, if it takes, but seed saved from THAT tomato could give you a cross-pollinated fruit if you plant that seed next year. If you want to know how to do this, do a search for "emasculate flower" on the Tomato Forum. One of the guys on the forum linked a video that shows how. Emasculating a flower and manually transferring pollen is one way that home gardeners/tomato hobbyists can do deliberate cross-pollination in an attempt to "breed" a tomato plant that is a cross of two or more different varieties.

You can use the above techniques to improve the odds of fruit set any time, but they are especially effective when we are having the occasional slightly cooler weekend.

I'll be shaking my cages and thumping my flowers this morning! Actually, I've been doing it all week, and it must be working--yesterday I noticed some brand new baby tomatoes on several large-fruited plants, like Brandywine Sudduth, True Black Brandywine and Jerry's German Giant last night. For new fruit to set when our highs have been in the upper 90s is amazing, almost miraculous.

Dawn


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Tomatoes Not Setting Fruit? This Weekend, They Might!

Thanks for posting this, Dawn. I was beginning to wonder why the heirloom bed, Black Krim and Brandywine, was not setting much fruit. I'll definitely have the boys out there shaking branches tomorrow! Thanks for the tip.

We've harvested about 80 tomatoes from our Early Cascades and Early Girls over the past 2 days. We've also gotten a few yellow squash, zucchini, bunches of okra, leaf lettuce is waiting to be harvested as well as kale and mustard, one jalepeno, and a few cherry toms. Still waiting on the cucumbers and having fun watching how quickly our pumpkin vines are growing.

One question about fruit set....Are all of the indeterminate tomato plants fruit setting restricted to that temperature range?? I thought they kept producing while the determinate toms do not. I guess I'm wondering how any new tomatoes will set from here on out with the temperature range restrictions for fruit set. I'm not sure if I'm making sense at 1:00 a.m. or not. :)

Thanks again, Dawn, for your tomato tips!


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RE: Tomatoes Not Setting Fruit? This Weekend, They Might!

Dawn,

Thanks for the tips. I got up early this morning and watered (saw on the news that you probably got some rain!) and gently shook my tomato cages. I desperately need some tomatoes to set. Since we got our crops in so late, and then with the neighbor's chickens eating the first plants, we have not had a good crop of tomatoes this year. Usually by this time, I am starting to can tomatoes and salsa. But this year we've barely began to get enough to eat. This is the worst tomato crop we've ever had, so anything that will make tomatoes set in this heat, I am willing to try!
I really screwed up by not replacing all the tomato plants that the chickens ate/pecked most of the leaves off. I replaced some of them, but being the tightwad that I am, I didn't replace the ones that seemed to be making a comeback. What a mistake. Of those plants, I think there are only one or two tomatoes on them! LOL. Live and learn... At least now that we have a garden at our new home, I will be able to put in some early tomatoes next spring in walls of water. There will be no late plantings for me after this year. :)

Thanks again for all the tips. I wouldn't have thought to do any of those things if you hadn't posted. I really appreciate the help.

Dawna


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RE: Tomatoes Not Setting Fruit? This Weekend, They Might!

Hi Becky!

You're welcome.

Oh, I am so excited that you are harvesting tomatoes and other veggies too!!!!! I do think that, before next spring rolls around (if not sooner) you are going to have to change your User Name from "Gardeningwannabe" to "Successfulnewgardener" to more accurately reflect your status. (smile) Congratulations to you and your family for your succees in such a very difficult gardening year. I am glad all your hard work is paying off and I know this has been quite a learning experience....and look how far y'all have come!

I won't say pollination and fruit set on ALL indeterminate tomatoes are negatively affected by high heat and high humidity, but it is true of almost all indeterminates. And, the larger the fruit, the worse it seems to be. So, smaller tomatoes like cherry, grape, currant and many paste (Roma type) tomatoes generally will set all summer on indeterminate plants. Even on plants with some of the smallish (2 to 6 or 8 oz.) tomatoes, like Fourth of July, Porter, Porter Improved and Bloody Butcher, fruit continues to set in heat. On plants that make larger fruit, it is less and less likely you'll set good fruit set in hot temperatures. That is why I go to drastic lengths to get my tomato plants in the ground as early as possible, sometimes a month before our last anticipated frost here in Love County. (And I do so with the knowledge that I will have to cover them up if temperatures beneath 40 are expected or if freezes or frosts are expected.) It is, literally, a "race" every spring to get the tomatoes planted early enough that they can set fruit before it gets too hot.

There are SOME indeterminates that set fruit in higher temperatures. In my garden, that usually includes Nebraska Wedding, Arkansas Traveler, SOMETIMES Red Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter, Dr. Wyche's Yellow, Persimmon, Russian Persimmon, Porter (not quite cherry tomato sized, but close) Mule Team, Black Krim and Earl's Faux (origininated from seed saved from a Brandywine, so is very similar) among the heirloom and heirloom derivatives. There also are some hybrids that sometimes set fruit at higher temperatures, including Carnival, Celebrity, Better Boy, Big Boy, Merced (hard to find as its' seed producer has dropped it, but some people found it this year), Brandy Boy, Porterhouse, Bucks County (Burpee) and Little Brandywine (Burpee). The problem is none of them are consistent.....some years they produce in heat and some years they don't. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.

There ARE some hybrids that have been especially bred to produce in spite of the heat. The earlier ones that I tried in the mid- to late-90s were able to produce medium-sized round red things that looked like tomatoes, but had poor flavor to no flavor at all. I have mostly avoided those types. However, a lot of those have been discontinued and newer ones are now on the market. I am trying some of those in my fall garden (will be planted in early to mid-July, depending on the current plants' continued performance AND the weather) to see how they produce and if the tomatoes taste good. These include Sun Leaper, Sun Chaser, Heat Wave II, Solar Fire and Solar Set R. I will let y'all know how these special heat-setting types as the summer/fall progress.

I often explain to people who are new to gardening OR new to gardening in Oklahoma that "sometimes we go from too cold to too hot almost overnight". If you recall all the late freezes that continued in to the first week of May this year, and the weather we then had--hotter than usual and incredibly windy, then you know what I meant by that statement. In a year like this, we are lucky to have any fruitset at all. MANY people in MANY different states who post on the Growing Tomatoes Forum are having a lot of trouble getting fruit to set on their plants because their weather went from "too hot to too cold seemingly overnight" also. It is just one of those years.

When heat and high humidity, or a combination of the two, shut down pollination and fruit set, you can use the tricks described above to try to help improve the situation. I shake my plants (GENTLY) twice a day every day in the summer no matter how hot or cold it is--it can't hurt and sometimes helps.

For what it is worth, Brandywine is one of the PICKIEST plants when it comes to setting fruit in high temperatures. So far, in my garden, they have only set a few, and I had them in the ground in April. I am growing the Sudduth Brandywine.

Dawna,

You are welcome. And, yes, we did (FINALLY!) get some rain here and it was about time. We'd only had one measley inch so far this month, and we normally have at least 4" in June, and overnight we got 1.5". So, we're still lower than average for June, but 2.5" for the month is better than 1". Did the rain miss y'all?

I'm sorry you aren't getting good fruit set. It is just one of those years....and YOUR year was complicated by those chickens! Maybe you'll get some additional fruit to set while the cooler temperatures are here this weekend.

As far as replacing the tomatoes, that is always a judgement call that is hard to make. I've completely replaced frozen or freeze-damaged tomatoes some years and still had poor fruit set. I've left damaged ones to recover and have gotten good fruit set some years and lousy fruit set other years. So, I never know what to do....or not do. I think it is just the luck of the draw.

And, I hope the tips help. This is a topic of CONSTANT conversation on the Tomato Forum this year, so I just thought I'd carry a few of the tips "home to Oklahoma". (I always read the Tomato Forum but hardly ever post thre due to a lack of time. Poor pollination and fruit set are a pretty widespread problem in the USA this year.)

Maybe we'll get lucky this summer and have a couple of days once or twice a month that are cooler like this weekend had been. If we do, the plants should continue to set fruit during those cool spells.

Dawn


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RE: Tomatoes Not Setting Fruit? This Weekend, They Might!

I certainly hope all this works. In western OK all I have setting blooms are jalapenos. Tomatoes, squash and green beans are just not working this year. I took all of your advise then drank the juice from the forbidden fruit, shook the cages and did the mystical dance while in trance and chanting. I'll be checking for new blossoms and fruit each day. I just know they will magically appear.


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RE: Tomatoes Not Setting Fruit? This Weekend, They Might!

Ccecilm,

Well, I think I would be a basket case if I were gardening in western Oklahoma because it would seem to me that your soil and your summer heat and summer rainfall (or lack of such) would make it a very difficult and frustrating experience. No matter how hot, dry and miserable it is here in extreme south-central Oklahoma, I know that y'all are usually hotter, drier, and more miserable.

This has been a very difficult gardening season as it got too hot too early, and I can sympathize with you. My beans, though producing less than usual, have shown a little improvement the last week or so, so I have hope.

Is your garden in full sun? If I was trying to raise tomatoes if western Oklahoma, I think I'd do what I could (and it isn't always possible or feasible) to get them morning sun, maybe up until about 2 o'clock, and then shade them OR I'd plant them in a full sun area, but errect some sort of shade canopy over them (could be wood or metal posts with actual shade cloth, or sheets, or a double or triple layer of cheese cloth) to shade them from roughly 10 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m. In that much shade, they'd have improved chances of producing tomatoes.

Do you have success getting a tomato crop "most" years, and this year is worse than usual? Or, is it always hard to get tomatoes to set fruit and mature in western Oklahoma? I know Windsurf Girl (Lynn) raises tomatoes and peppers and other crops successfully in western OK, and I find that AMAZING because the growing conditions there can be so brutal!

I hope all these tips "help" you. If getting good tomato fruitset is an ongoing problem there, you might have better luck if you switch to some of the hybrids developed specifically for hot and dry conditions. These include Sun Master, Sun Leaper, Sun King, Solar Fire, Heat Wave II and several others. If no one in your area carries them, you might have to raise them from seed. I plant some of these type of hybrids every year in late June to mid-July for a fall harvest, and am usually harvesting ripe tomatoes from these plants from mid- or late-September through the first freeze.

Dawn


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RE: Tomatoes Not Setting Fruit? This Weekend, They Might!

Dawn,
Thanks for the sympathy and advice. My garden is in full sun but I have never experienced failure of this magnitude ever. The season started off very badly with heating and cooling going on every other day for weeks and weeks, now it is just hot and dry. I'll look for some of the hybrid tomatoes you mentioned next year. In the mean time I'll just keep on dancing and chanting.
-cecil


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RE: Tomatoes Not Setting Fruit? This Weekend, They Might!

Cecil,

You're welcome.

This year has been perhaps the worst summer I can remember with regards to the heat making it difficult for ANYTHING to set. Well, if anyone remembers the summer of 1980, when parts of the south and southwest had record high temperatures for MONTHS, that one might have been worse....but I still remember having tomatoes and beans all summer from the garden that year.

Heat-related gardening problems are a widespread phenomenon in 2008--certainly not restricted to Oklahoma and Texas, but all across the country--even in some zone 5 and 6 areas that normally get good fruitset all summer long.

Hang in there, keep dancing and shake, shake, shake those tomatoes!

And, remember, YOU have not failed, and YOUR GARDEN has not failed....let's place the blame where the blame is due.....the weather has failed us all. I hope this is just a La Nina-related quirk and not the beginning of long, excessively hot summers like Texas and other parts of the country experienced in the 1950s, which was (barely) before my time.

Dawn


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RE: Tomatoes Not Setting Fruit? This Weekend, They Might!

Hi Dawn,
I've been posting about the lack of tomatoes setting in some of the other messages, and after doing some of the same shaking and dancing, I now have one (1) black krim tomato that has set. W00t!
I'm still dancing, shaking, shaking and dancing with the cherokee purples, old germans, and pink caspians. Of course, the cherry toms are floozies, and needed no encouragement whatsoever...

Steve


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RE: Tomatoes Not Setting Fruit? This Weekend, They Might!

Hi Steve,

Hey, put on your dancing shoes and keep it up! I shake my plants almost daily, and sometimes twice a day, almost every single day in the growing season.

When I was picking tomatoes today (mostly cherry, grape and currant-sized ones, but about 8 or 10 big ones as well), I noticed some very tiny baby tomatoes, so my plants are continuing to set fruit.

As for those promiscuous little floozies....they don't need any encouragement at all, do they? Last week I dried about 300 of them in the oven (my new convection oven has a "Dehydrate" feature that is awesome and easy to use). Then I sealed them in a freezer bag and put them away for winter. In the winter, I will pull them out of the freezer and sprinkle them over salads. I'd sun-dry them, but I think our humidity mostly stays too high for that here. One year I did sun-dry some successfully by pulling up the entire Principe' Borghese plant and hanging it upside down in the barn, but it was a very, very dry drought year with consistently low humidity.

This morning I picked about 200 cherry, grape and currant tomatoes, and I didn't even make it halfway through the rows of tomato plants before it got hot. I'll pick more early tomorrow a.m. and probably dry a batch on Thursday because we'll be away at a funeral tomorrow. I also think that on Thursday, I'll be able to pick enough Roma types (at this point mostly Burpee's Big Mama and Jersey Devil) to make a pot of spaghetti sauce.

My Black Krims and my Cherokee Purples, which are two of our absolute favorites, seem to be setting less than any other plant....but that's OK, because I have a lot of other varieties.

Dawn


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RE: Tomatoes Not Setting Fruit? This Weekend, They Might!

I got about 30 Early Girls and 20 Celebrities today, plus 7 very (.8 to 1.2 pounds) large Brandywines (pink and red). I also had a few more of other varieties. Probably 30 pounds total. I am about halfway through my harvest of these varieties.

All of these I planted very early and the fruit set early. Of the ones I planted a couple of weeks later (some the same varieties), I have almost no fruit. In fact the later Brandywines have 0, 1, or 2 only on them. The only later ones that have set much are, you guessed it, Roma and various cherries.

By the way, the kids and I took the excess and sold it all at the local farmers market this evening. I took my jumbo Brandywines just to show off but someone offered me $1.50 each for them so now I will have to wait a few days for more for myself. Maybe we sold it all for less than it was worth, but the kids were sure excited to sell out. They are ready to get out and help tomorrow.


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RE: Tomatoes Not Setting Fruit? This Weekend, They Might!

Scott,

Don't you love it when the harvest rolls in? So far, my favorite tomatoes taste-wise have been Brandywine Sudduth's (as always), True Black Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter and Valena Pink. They are also the only ones that have been in the same size range as yours--mine are running from about 12 to 20 ounces, which is remarkable in a year when we've only have 14" of rain here.

The plants I planted earliest (and managed to keep from freezing) also have been the heaviest producers. Every year, I plant as early as I can (sometimes, perhaps, unreasonably so) because I fear having exactly the kind of weather we had this year....from "too cold" to "too hot" literally overnight. Planting early carries a lot of risk of freezing but it also gives you the best chance of getting a big harvest.....or any harvest at all.

Big Beef and Royal Hillbilly are both putting out loads of red ripe ones now in addition to the varieties I already mentioned, and so is Fourth of July, which I grow solely to give away.....they aren't the best-flavored (but the heirlooms have me spoiled) but there are tons of them to share with people who are perfectly happy to have ANY tomato that is home-grown.

My biggest producer is a tiny red currant tomato called Tess' Land Race Currant. The plants are about 9' tall and 4' to 5' wide and I have never seen anything like them. Each is covered in hundreds and hundreds of tiny red tomatoes. I believe we will get thousands of fruit per plant from the two of these that I planted--they make Sweet Million and SunGold look like low-producing slackers. I didn't even pick them on Tues., but will today. When dried, they are smaller than a raisin and very tasty. I also eat them by the handful when I am in the garden. My Black Cherry tomato plants are just as tall, but only 3' wide, although I like their tomatoes more.

Some of the plants for which I had the absolute highest hopes, like Porterhouse and Cherokee Green, were eaten by the deer and haven't produced a single tomato because he ate all the growing tips, blossoms and small fruit. Maybe they'll produce later in the summer now that he has been kept out by the new fence and the plants have regrown some.

I cannot believe you sold your Brandywines.....I don't even give them away to our closest friends!! Well, one year I gave some to DH's best friend, who promptly branded it the best tomato he'd ever tasted.

I'm glad the kids are all enthused about helping. Feel free to send them here to pick tomatoes after you wear them out there! : )

Dawn


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RE: Tomatoes Not Setting Fruit? This Weekend, They Might!

I have one 16oz pink Brandywine that I will eat tonight. It better be good.

Between helping pick the berries and tomatoes and now the setting of fruit on the melons and cucumbers they planted, they are pretty pumped. Just a hint for anyone else out there with little kids. Start them off digging potatoes and looking for the biggest ones. That is my favorite memory from when I was a kid. From there it went to finding corn earworms and tomato worms. Then it was showing some vegetables in the fair, and now as an adult I just like to grow things. I'm hoping a few of my kids will follow that path.


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RE: Tomatoes Not Setting Fruit? This Weekend, They Might!

Scott,

I had a Brandy Boy for breakfast this morning and it was delicious....maybe about 12 to 14 oz., just guessing.....I didn't get out the scale and weigh it.

Picked more tons of tomatoes today (about 45 big ones and about a gallon of small ones), and need to do one more picking in the morning to get all the ones in the three rows of red tomatoes. Then I will dehydrate some and turn others into sauce, save a handful for fresh eating, and maybe give a few away. It is a month late, but the heavy harvest season is finally in full swing! And, yes, this is why we start those seeds in the dead of winter!

I agree that gardening with kids is fun. When my son, and my niece and nephew who lived nearby, were young, we did all kinds of stuff....we planted bean teepees large enough for them to get inside of and pretend it was a "real, Indian teepee". We planted sunflower houses, and made hollyhock dolls....and grew miniature pumpkins (like Jack-B-Little and Baby Boo) and gigantic pumpkins. We planted moonflowers, so they could go outside and watch the flowers open every evening. We studied bugs and birds and earthworms.....we had fun! We all have fond memories of those days, but I am the only real gardener in the bunch. The "kids" are in their 20s now, and none of them has settled down and gotten married yet, but maybe when they do, they'll have a garden of their own to share with their kids.

Oh, and we grew gourds, which they loved, and we grew squash and cucumbers inside of bottles, and scratched their names into tiny pumpkins and watched the names grow along with the pumpkins. We grew birdhouse gourds and turned them into birdhouses. I could go on forever!

Dawn


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RE: Tomatoes Not Setting Fruit? This Weekend, They Might!

Quote from Dawn: "Do you have success getting a tomato crop "most" years, and this year is worse than usual? Or, is it always hard to get tomatoes to set fruit and mature in western Oklahoma? I know Windsurf Girl (Lynn) raises tomatoes and peppers and other crops successfully in western OK, and I find that AMAZING because the growing conditions there can be so brutal!"

LOL Dawn, I find it AMAZING most years too! It really is a challenge! I know my mother is having a really hard time with tomatoes this year but it seems mine are doing fine. After reading some of your posts I was thinking...I live on a windy hill - maybe the wind is shaking my tomato plants for me and that's why I'm getting tomatoes. :) Another way I hedge is to plant LOTS of tomatoes, I have 13 plants of 12 varieties for just me and my DH. So if I only get a few tomatoes off each plant I have lots of tomatoes. All my cherry tomatoes are producing fine - Galina, Sungold, ect. The Early Girl, San Marzano and Heatwave are also doing well. The Green Zebra is covered with almost ripe tomatoes. The Arkansas Traveler only has a few tomatoes and the Nebraska Wedding has yet to set any fruit. My cabinet is covered with tomatoes and I'm having bacon & tomato sandwiches for supper so I'm happy!


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RE: Tomatoes Not Setting Fruit? This Weekend, They Might!

Lynn,

Congrats! I hope the bacon and tomato sandwiches were yummy and that you get to eat tomatoes every day until you are sick of them!!!! (If it is even possible to get sick of them!)

I bet living on that windy hill might be shaking your plants for you. I know that a lot of people who live in city and suburban neighborhoods with wooden privacy fences,houses, garages and sheds have a lot more trouble with a lack of windflow than you and I do out here in the boonies.

I am so glad your garden is doing so well. My Nebraska Wedding is usually slow, so I am used to that, but it has FINALLY set some fruit and I think we've had one or two ripe ones.

Are you getting peppers yet? We are finally harvesting some Mucho Nacho, Grande' and Jaloro jalapenos after the deer ate them back almost to the ground (new 9' tall deer fence).

When people tell me that they don't think they can get crops in far western OK, I am always going to mention you as a successful example of someone who does raise veggies way out west!

Have fun enjoying those tomatoes!

Dawn


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RE: Tomatoes Not Setting Fruit? This Weekend, They Might!

I will try to post some pics of my garden this weekend. It's not pretty but it does produce.

I am getting a few peppers. The plants seem alot smaller than usual for this time of the year, but I did manage to pick a few jalapenos for fresh salsa this past weekend. I see quite a few small peppers on all the hot pepper plants and haven't really looked at the bell peppers very close.

Lynn


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RE: Tomatoes Not Setting Fruit? This Weekend, They Might!

Lynn,

Long ago I gave up on the idea of "pretty" and decided I'd rather have "productive". Well, since I interplant with a lot of herbs and flowers, it starts out pretty. Inevitably, though, foliar diseases and other stuff happens and, by the time production is in full force, stuff isn't quite so pretty any more.

For YEARS I struggled to have tomato plants that were pretty AND productive, and I finally gave up that entire "pretty" thing and I am much less frustrated now!

My peppers are finally worth picking. They have seemed slow and small, and the deer ate a lot of the first round--fruits, stems, leaves and all--but the peppers have really kicked into gear the last 10 days or so.

Dawn


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