Growing my own produce in my backyard is one of my favorite things of summer! Vegetable gardens are great exercise, give you an excuse to eat healthier, and are very enjoyable but they can be a lot of work as well. There are always problems in our vegetable gardens, usually they are temporary or easily fixed.
The weather this year has not been favorable to our plants. We have been facing low production due to heat that followed the cool, wet spring. Even though our plants are producing, the tomatoes were not ripening up. The hot weather contributes to this as well. When temperatures are consistently as hot as they were in mid-July, tomatoes may develop but they don’t turn red. According to Purdue University, the pigments responsible for the red color in our tomatoes are not produced when temperatures exceed 85 degrees. So, when we see long stretches of very hot weather, our tomatoes will not ripen. They should be turning color and becoming mature now. If they aren’t maturing and becoming ready for harvest, there may be another issue in your garden.
Blossom end rot is also starting to show up in our gardens. Blossom end rot is when the blossom end (the end not attached to the plant) begins to rot. This is due to uneven watering, which is seen quite often in the early part of the growing season where we see stretches of drought surrounded by 2-3 inch rains. Again, this should fade through the season as the plants grow through it. However, this year the constant rainy weather may cause blossom end rot to last longer. You can still eat the other end of the tomato and discard the rotted end or give your plants time, the next harvest should be better.
Cracks are also starting to appear in our tomatoes due to the wet weather. Uneven watering can cause other problems in our gardens. The heat wave followed by a 3 inch rain like what we saw a few weeks ago, can cause cracks to form in the developing fruits on tomatoes. Our fruits can grow rapidly due to rapid intake of water which can build up pressure in developing tomatoes. Cracks typically appear on the top of the tomato, often in rings, and are not harmful to us if we eat them. Check for insects that may have gotten into the cracks of our fruits before eating. The open cracks often attract insects to the fruits.
Mulch is a great way to combat these issues. Many of our problems in our gardens stem from uneven watering or plants that got too hot and dry to deal with the stresses of the environment. Mulch can keep moisture around the plants and keep the roots cooler to help with these issues as well as reduce competition from weeds. Grass clippings make a great mulch. If the grass has been treated with any herbicides this season, look at the label to know if it can be used as a mulch. If you are unsure about the herbicides applied to your lawn avoid using the clippings from your grass if it was treated with a herbicide this year. Grass clippings break down quickly so they should be reapplied often. Straw is also a great mulch for the garden and it wouldn’t need to be reapplied as often. These types of mulch can then be tilled into your garden at the end of the season or before next season to add nutrients back into your soil.