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Beat the heat with your tomatoes

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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When Martha and the Vandellas came out with "Heat Wave" it sold over a million copies and propelled the group to Motown history. John Sebastian of The Lovin' Spoonful says he sped up the three chord intro from "Heat Wave" to create their hit "Do You Believe In Magic." And the heat wave of summer is coming whether we gardeners like it or not.

We aren't the only ones to droop in the heat. Tomato flowers often refuse to pollinate and simply drop off the plants when days reach 85 degrees F to 90 degrees F and nights stay above 75 degrees F. This brings a halt to tomatoes from the garden for awhile.

You can't do much about the air temperature, but you can keep your plants and yourself happier even in a heat wave.

Try to work in the garden during the coolest part of the day, early in the morning or late afternoon.

If you are setting out plants try to give the new transplants several hours before the hottest part of the day hits. Also plan ahead.

Have your water source ready either with a hose or watering cans filled before you set any tomato plants out.

This will let you water them right away as soon as they are in the ground. Every minute counts, especially during hot weather.

If your soil is hot and dry water the ground before you even set the plants in. Let the water drain, which will cool the soil. Plant your tomatoes, and then water again to prevent transplant shock.

Prolonged hot spells will force your tomato plants to go into survival mode and basically shut down. A good test is to poke your finger an inch or so into the dirt every day to see if it is damp. If it is dry, quickly water your tomatoes.

By keeping your soil evenly moist you can prevent tomatoes from cracking. Mulch will keep the ground cool and retain soil moisture.

You can also add calcium in the form of eggshells to keep the fruits smooth. Just add crumbled eggshells to a water bucket, and let it sit a few days, then water your tomato plants with this calciumrich water.

This can also help prevent the tomato flowers from dropping off. During the hottest, driest days you may need to water your tomatoes every day.

The easiest and most efficient way to water tomatoes is with a drip irrigation system.

Tomatoes are self-pollinating, but you can help them along by shaking the blossoms to release the pollen. Along with heat, high humidity can stop tomato production because the pollen itself will become too sticky to be of use.

Be sure your tomatoes are healthy by keeping them not just well-watered but well fed. A good, slow-release organic fertilizer will help. Another culprit can be the relative acidity or alkalinity of your soil. Tomatoes do best with a soil PH 5.8-7.0.

Some tomatoes do better in hot weather than others. You might try heirloom tomatoes such as the red beefsteak Brandywine OTV, the classic pink Arkansas Traveler, and an Italian heirloom with wavy-skinned, huge fruit, the Costoluto Genovese. For more colorful tomatoes that do well in the heat there is Eva Purple Ball with its deep red or maroon purple skin, the striking white-skinned Great White Beefsteak, the aptly named Purple Calabash, and of course every kid's favorite, the prolific Yellow Pear tomatoes that will produce buckets of cheery, pear-shaped, bright-yellow tomatoes right up until frost.

Even if your tomatoes somehow survive and set fruit they typically won't have the energy to produce red pigments, so instead of ripening to red they may just turn orange. If the temperatures go really crazy, staying over 100 degrees F during the day, and only cooling to the 80s at night tomatoes might just stop ripening at all. Luckily you can pick your tomatoes and have them ripen off the vine indoors.

Tomato plants, like the gardeners who tend them, can simply get exhausted by the heat and get sick easier. Be sure to pick off and destroy any dead or yellow leaves right away. Hand pick any bugs you can find.

Plant good old-fashioned heirloom tomato varieties that can take the heat, keep them watered, and pick any fruit that lingers without ripening. Then during the next heat wave you can believe in magic.

Copyright 2016 Cape Gazette, Lewes, Delaware. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: May 31, 2016

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