Friday, August 6, 2010

The Cilantropist GROWS: A Tomato Update...HELP!

Hello there again, I am quickly checking in on this lovely Friday to bring you a quick update on my tomatoes, to ask for some much needed help or advice! 

So let me explain.  I didn't really mention it too much here, but at the beginning of July I went home to Ohio for a wedding and little NY trip with my boyfriend.  I was gone for a total of 10 days, and during that time I left my precious tomato plants in the hands of He Who Shall Remain Unnamed.  (Not to be confused with He Who Shall Not Be Named.  This is not Hogwarts people.  If it was, maybe someone could cast a magical spell and resurrect my tomatoes.  But I digress...)  

I am not choosing not to name names because I may have some less than kind words to say about the way this particular individual took care of, or rather, did not take care of my plants.  When I left for vacation, my plants were thriving against all odds. (Check them out here, they were lovely.)  They had beautiful green, bushy leaves, and green tomatoes, both small and large, were growing profusely.  The plants still had plenty of shriveled flowers which would soon sprout new fruits, and I was sure that by the time I returned from Ohio I would be in good shape for a big harvest.  At this point the only threat to my plants were a few renegade caterpillars that were determined to make a meal out of all the leaves. 

Fast forward to the end of the vacation, and my return to San Diego after 10 blissful days away.  I came home to find drooping and dead leaves.  Brown stems.  Flowers that had still not produced fruit.  Tomatoes that were still green, and worst, were somehow shriveled-looking, like an alien raisin.  I wanted to just cry, and I actually might have, just a little bit.  In between uttering a stream of profanities of course.  

Because really, those tomatoes had been like my babies.  As I told you before, I magically grew them from seed at least 4 months before, and I had been lovingly tending to them ever since.  Unfortunately, He Who Shall Remain Unnamed didn't really care about my plants at all; apparently trusting a well-educated adult to look after a few tomatoes was an unwise decision.  As Brian from A Thought For Food said, "Tomatoes and friends just don't mix."

So as of now, some of the tomatoes are ripening, and others are just remaining green.  But, they are ALL small, the largest one being about 2 1/2-3 inches in diameter and most just about 1 1/2 inch in diameter.  A few of them that were shriveled have become more healthy and smooth, but for the most part they just have not grown.  I think the lack of ample water just sent them into a shock from which they could not recover... 

So my questions for you, my readers: Is there any hope for these tomatoes?  Can they be saved or coaxed into growing just a little bit more?  And if not, what should I do with all these tiny red and green tomatoes???  Any and all advice would be GREATLY appreciated!   Thank you in advance for all your help!!!   


  1. Looking at the bottom of the tomato in that last picture, it looks like it could be some sort of heirloom variety. Heirlooms tend to grow a wide variety of sizes of tomato on one plant. Mine currently have 3 inch tomatoes and 1 inch tomatoes and some that won't ripen all the way and others that will. Some are also pretty hideous and others look very typical.

    Some of these varieties also tend to start dying around the time their fruit ripens, as they produce one crop and have to be replanted. Mine are doing that right now and it is making me mad b/c I'm used to multiple crops. So that, too can be an issue.

    I don't think there's much you can do with regards to the already wrinkly tomatoes, but I think you coax the green and slightly red ones to, at the very least, ripen properly. We're kind of having a colder summer this year in So Cal (even San Diego!), which, now that you are watering your tomatoes probably, is the remaining problem. My suggestion would be to get clear plastic tarps--like painting tarps--and keep your tomatoes loosely covered. It'll produce a nice green house effect during the day and will shield them from the cold at night. We usually start doing this in October and our tomatoes last through December. But because this summer is cool, I'd try to do it now.

  2. oh, I'm so sorry :) I completely know how you feel when your 'babies' are suffering... I love my tomatoes (and other veg) from my own garden as if they were babies too! Can you use the green ones for fried green tomatoes? At least they would have served some purpose :)

  3. oh no! tell that guy to stay away from food bloggers for a while b/c he has a lot to answer for! :(

    i'm not an expert at tomato gardening, but maybe they need some nutrients to come out of their shock. it's like the plant has started sucking nutrients out of the tomatoes to try and live. you can mix 1 cup of wood ash with 1/3 cup of blood meal, then spread a few tablespoons on top of the soil (away from the stem) and water lightly.

    good luck - i really hope the miracle tomato plant makes it!

  4. Amanda, thanks for the comments, you are hysterical!
    But the tomatoes. OMG I'm so sorry! I used to grow tomatoes too so I know how sad you must be! I used to step on tomato horn-worms with a vengeance. But I'm definitely not an expert. I would give them some time and see how they turn up. Sometimes plants are surprisingly resilient. Good luck!

  5. okay... I will ask my farmer husband to take a look and see what he thinks.... bummer... He Who Is Not Being Named must have been in big TROUBLE - xoxo megan

  6. ohh don't worry, I know its hard to see them like that but still time to repair some of the damage.
    Give them plenty of water and I agree with Brie: Le Grand Fromage, you will need some nutrients to make up for the damage. I personally like "Tomato Food" from EB Stone. This will correct the Blossom end rot or phosphorus issues/soil issues and boost the plants vitality. However the small size of the tomatoes might be attributed to the shock of having no water. This may or may not be able to recover completely, Let me know how it turns out.

  7. I agree with Baking Barrister and Brie too. The weather had not produced enough sponge sun and warmth yet that tomatoes thrive on. Mine are not as happy a they usually are:( They probably need some extra nutrient and maybe a mulch:)
    Sorry about your babies, but I think they will bounce back:)

  8. My tomatoes look the worst this year than I have ever had. I've never had the shriveled skin though. Ugh... so frustrating, isn't it? My zucchini is not looking good either. I was just talking to he tomato guy at the market here in Carlsbad, and they said they lost over 1/2 of their heirloom crop to disease this year...

  9. Whoo-hoo! They look lovely to me. I'm no master gardener, so sorry, no advice. But, yours are farther along than mine!

  10. I have no idea but am worried about my own tomatoes that were JUST starting to produce fruit before I left over a week ago.. Fingers crossed that both our "babies" make it!

  11. One thing that tends to make tomatoes very angry is too little watering... or too much watering... or inconsistency in watering, for that matter. What you're seeing may be the aftereffects of your friend's neglect, especially since you say that they seem to be less wrinkly now that they're under your tender loving care again. Just keep them on a regular watering schedule and they should improve.

    BTW, I wouldn't worry about the size variation. Most tomato varieties don't produce their crop all at once, so it's normal for some of the tomatoes on a bunch to ripen while others on the same bunch are still small and green. The little ones will usually catch up eventually. So far, most of mine are still small and green, with a few big and green ones taunting me. :(

  12. Unfortunately, I can't offer you much advice because I leave the plant growing to my wonderfully green thumbed boyfriend. I actually killed a plant that my mom (a master gardener) told me can not be killed.. ha but I do know that fried GREEN tomatoes are a fantastic side dish and a southern favorite! I'm sure Paula Deen could help you in that department :) I

    I hope they start to grow for you though!

  13. He Who Has Not Been Named needs to be punished. If you don't do it, hopefully karma will.
    I don't have any tomato advice for you, this is the first year I've tried growing them myself, but I hope they turn out ok!

  14. Oh no! :( I can only imagine how sad it must have been to come home to that. I know how much work you put into these tomatoes.

    I'm definitely not a green thumb so I'm probably not much help, but it looks like others have given some great advice for salvaging. And I'm sure the vine itself is still alive and kicking, so hopefully they will bring another batch later in the season or next summer.

  15. Oh Amanda...I'm so sorry...I want you to know you inspired me with that first tomatoes post. I had to buy a tomato plant after I read that. And my tomatoes are looking gorgeous, they are still green and I think it's because of the lack of sum. I only have sun in the morning in my balcony. Do you use a tomato plant food? I read that it's good. And I totally agree with Lynn Karma will show mister no name.

  16. A similar situation happened to us last year - only it was my husband who was left in charge - he came down with pneumonia (so had a good excuse) and didn't turn on the automatic sprinklers so they had no water for two weeks. Your tomatoes will ripen, but the plant growth is probably stunted and they won't produce as much. I did make some fried green tomatoes with a few.

    If its any consolation, this year has been a bad year for tomatoes - where I live anyway (Huntington Beach) because the extended months of marine layer i.e. June gloom that we've had. That's my story, and I'm sticking with it ;-) We've had a bumper crop most years.

  17. Sorry to hear this about your tomatoes. One of my tomato plants isn't doing so well either. Not sure if it's because it's not getting enough sun. My cherry tomatoes have been ripening but the larger ones haven't.

    It looks like you have more than one plant in the pot? I think tomato plants require a lot of growing room. I'm no expert by any means but my father also suggested that I prune one of my plants so that it wouldn't continue to get taller and produce more flowers. This way, the plant will focus its energy on the existing fruits, resulting in fewer, but larger tomatoes. Hope this helps.

  18. I agree with Shree and Isabelle, the inconsistent watering is the larger problem, particularly for container tomatoes. After you get back to a regular watering schedule, it should help. Proceed with caution on the added food "nutrients" because that could cause additional problems.

    Also, I think you should go ahead and pick those that are ripe to help the plant focus energy on the green ones that aren't affected.

    Re the other green tomatoes, you can make a lovely BLFGT (bacon, lettuce and fried green tomato sandwich) or a fun Southern relish called chow chow. Recipes are on my site.

  19. Sounds like a catastrophe! I don't know who on earth would do this!!...or do i?!

  20. I would just say pull off the green tomatoes and make green tomato salsa.

    Plants, since they are indeterminate organisms, tend to 'cut their losses' - if the plant was stressed while forming fruit, it is entirely likely that it will have stopped putting any more energy into those and will work towards new fruits. (So, they may ripen) Your best bet is to remove them all to stop the energy drain, give the plant a bit of fertilizer and water, and hope that it will form new blossoms.

  21. THANK YOU ALL soooo much for your help and outpouring of concern for my poor little tomatoes! It means so much to me that others seem to care about my plants as much as I do, and I appreciate all the heartfelt and wise comments! I have definitely given them more food and nutrients, and I have pruned off those areas that look like they may be sucking life out of the rest of the plant. I covered them for a bit against the cold, but now we have been having really sunny days so they seem to be naturally perking up a bit. They are still not getting any bigger, but the wisdom from all you tomato experts seems to tell me that might be just fine, and just the way they are.

    I am going to eat the first one tomorrow. I will tell you what I think. :)

  22. The caterpillars are so lovely and delicate. Isn't there a way to let them peacefully coexist without destroying them or your tomato plants? Maybe you could bring in a sacrificial plant... like butter lettuce or nutritious bait, like a jar of sweet prunes?

  23. Speakeasy: Haha, good point and you don't have to fear because I did not destroy the caterpillars. :) I agree that they should get to co-exist with my plants too, so I actually just removed them from my tomato plant and put them on another one. Good thinking, I like your attitude about nature!

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  29. I live in NORTH EASTERN CA. I have pulled up my tomato plants because of frost. I have them hanging in a room at the back of the house. The tomatoes are huge and were just starting to turn yellow/red. When I checked them this morning they pretty much all are shriveling and get mushy. Any suggestions?

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