What’s Wrong with My Tomatoes?

It is easy to see there is a problem with this tomato plant, but it may be difficult to know how to help it. This plant is lacking Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K). I would err on the side of caution and encourage the owner to treat it as though it has Tomato Mosaic Virus until the tomato plant looks healthy again.

Tomato plant displaying nitrogen deficiency through yellow mature leaves

Nitrogen Deficiency in Tomato Plant
We can see the nitrogen (N) deficiency in the very yellow older leaves. As this deficiency continues the plant will become short, spindly and will wilt under mild water stress. Luckily, this deficiency can be remedied within days of applying nitrogen.

Adding Nitrogen to Soil

There are many ways to add nitrogen back to your soil and prevent it from happening in future crops. Nitrogen is a common fertilizer that can be purchased. If you prefer to naturally add nitrogen to your soil simply add composted manure or coffee grounds to your garden. You can also add nitrogen to the soil via companion planting or cover crops. Green manure crops (like Borage) or nitrogen fixing plants (such as peas or beans) work great for this.

Tomato Plant Showing signs of Phosphorous Deficiency via purple underside of leaves
Signs of Phosphorous Deficiency in Tomato Plants
We can see the Phosphorous (P) deficiency in the purplish undersides of the leaves. If this plant does not receive Phosphorous, the older leaves will develop a brown netted veining. Plants with a Phosphorous deficiency tend to look like young unstressed plants because their growth is stunted.

Adding Phosphorus to Soil

Adding phosphorus to your soil will improve the quality of your crops, root growth, stalk strength, and will allow your crops to mature earlier. Ground bone has been added to soil to replace Phosphorus for hundreds of years. Today it is common to add phosphorus to your soil by applying bone meal or rock phosphate.

Signs of Potassium Deficiency in Tomato Plants
The Potassium (K) deficiency is a little more difficult to spot because it can easily be confused for tomato mosaic virus. We can tell that this plant has a Potassium deficiency because of the tip burn on the leaves, dry tan scorch on the matured leaves, curling or the green leaves and the blotchy fruit.

Adding Potassium to your soil

Potassium helps plant fight diseases, grow faster, use water better, and take in other nutrients. There are many ways to naturally add Potassium to your soil. Simply add:

  • Composted fruit and vegetable waste
  • Ground up citrus rinds
  • Banana peals
  • Kelp meal or seaweed
  • Wood ash
  • Greensand
  • Granite Meal

Signs of Tomato Mosaic Virus in Tomato Plants
This plant could possibly have Tomato Mosaic Virus, and I would treat it as though it does until the plant looks healthy. My primary reason for suspecting TMV is the necrotic spots in the fruit of the tomato. I would take precautions because TMV is highly contagious, has no cure, stays in the soil for up to 50 years, and can infect tomatoes, tobacco, beans, cucumbers, squash, roses, potatoes and peppers. You can control the possible spread of this disease by:

  • Not smoking when transplanting
  • Changing into clean gloves after you’ve had contact with the plant
  • Boiling any tools that have come into contact with the plant for 5 minutes then washing with detergent
  • Swiping your tools with bleach is NOT enough to kill this virus
  • Make sure your other plants are healthy and free of nutrient deficiencies

If the tomatoes on this plant continue to exhibit blotchy fruit with necrotic spots after being treated with nutrients, I would assume it has contracted Tomato Mosaic Virus and take the following precautions:

  • Burn all parts of the plant
  • Clean the entire area
  • Do not plant any plants that are susceptive to TMV in the area
    • Tomatoes
    • Tobacco
    • Beans
    • Cucumbers
    • Squash
    • Roses
    • Potatoes
    • Peppers

Do you have a question about your vegetables? Email me a picture at info@modernhomestead.co and I might feature you on the blog.

Does Organic Mean Pesticide Free?

Do you buy Organic food? If so, why? Are you hoping to avoid pesticides?

The U.S. organic industry is booming! In 2015, organic food in the U.S. made over $43 billion in annual sales and it’s continuing to trend upwards. Avoiding pesticides is the number one reason people shop organic. But here is the thing, organic farmers do use pesticides and fungicides to treat their crops. In fact, there are many chemicals that are approved by the US Department of Agriculture for use in certified organic agriculture.

So what is the difference between the pesticides used in organic and conventionally grown food? It is the origin of the pesticide. Most organic pesticides must come from a natural source, as opposed to synthetic pesticides that are common in conventional agriculture. But does naturally derived pesticides mean that they are better for the environment or less carcinogenic? Scientific American writes, “It has been assumed for years that pesticides that occur naturally (in certain plants, for example) are somehow better for us and the environment than those that have been created by man. As more research is done into their toxicity, however, this simply isn’t true, either. Many natural pesticides have been found to be potential – or serious – health risks.”

Organic Farmers Use Pesticides Salad on Fork

And while certified organic farmers may be using primarily naturally occurring pesticides, the U.S. Department of Agriculture does allow,”some synthetic substances are listed as exceptions to the basic rule and are allowed for use in organic agriculture.” For instance, farmers may use specific synthetically derived pheromones or animal vaccinations and continue to receive their organic certification.

There are several critics of the Organic Certification process. Michael Pollan (you may know him from his many books or the Netflix series COOKED) tells Organic Gardening Magazine many organic farmers are “organic by the letter, not organic in spirit… if most organic consumers went to those places, they would feel they were getting ripped off.”

Which brings up these questions, what is stopping us from knowing what is happening to our food? What if instead of purchasing our certified organic produce at triple the cost, we went beyond organic? What if we traveled to our backyard and pulled our own tomatoes that we grew ourselves? Or we made a visit to a local farmer and supported them? What if we looked beyond the marketing and started a food revolution? I have a feeling we’d find what we are looking for in our produce: more biodiversity for our environment, less disease for ourselves, and a more stable local economy. Who is ready to start a revolution?