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Taking care of tomatoes

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Tomatoes love summer. Plants popped in the ground in October and November grow strongly in warm weather and the first little fruit are already appearing in some gardens. Keeping up with feeding and watering over the coming months will ensure bumper crops of delicious sun-ripened fruit right through till autumn.

It’s time to be on watch for pesky bugs, as summertime is also party time for pests and diseases.

Early blight is a fungal disease which starts by causing distortion of the new growth, followed by brown or black spots. Late blight is caused by a microorgan­ism called Phytophtho­ra which thrives in a warm moist environmen­t. Brown patches appear on the leaves and can spread very fast. When tomato leaves turn yellow and wilt the plant may be under attack from other soil dwelling fungal diseases, usually in cool wet conditions.

Aphids and clouds of tiny whitefly can breed like fury as the weather warms up. But by far the most destructiv­e of the sucking insect pests is the Tomato and potato psyllid (TPP). The adults look like tiny cicadas, about 3 mm long. Yellowish nymphs appear on the underside of the leaves. Their excreta looks like grains of sugar. The worst thing about this sap-sucker is that it injects bacteria which severely weaken the plant with significan­t loss in yield. TPP is hosted by many plants in the tomato family, including weeds, and it also attacks kumara.

Keep an eye out for tomato fruit worm (aka corn worm), a caterpilla­r that eats holes into fruit, leaving black excreta in its wake. The adult moths feed on nectar and lay eggs by night, hiding away during the day. Pick off any caterpilla­rs and dispose of damaged fruit to prevent population build up.

Despite appearance­s, some tomato problems are not caused by anything living. Blossom end rot, for example, is the plants response to lack of calcium uptake, usually as a result of an inconsiste­nt water supply. Dark brown hollow patches form at the base of the fruit.

 ?? ?? A healthy, well fed and watered tomato plant has the best chance of warding off attacks from summer pests and pathogens.
A healthy, well fed and watered tomato plant has the best chance of warding off attacks from summer pests and pathogens.

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