Without question, the No. 1 vegetable planted in the home garden is the tomato.
Because tomatoes are easy to grow, produce large numbers of fruit and can be used in many ways, they have long been a home garden favorite. However, the heat and humidity of the past few weeks has many anxious gardeners asking "Where are the tomatoes?"
Here are some reasons why your dinner salad is without those fresh home-grown delights.
Ample spring rain and mild growing conditions earlier this season helped tomato plants set an abundance of fruit. However, many of them are now just sitting there and not turning red.
The optimum growing and ripening temperature for tomatoes is 85 to 90 degrees. At temperatures above 100 degrees, tomato plants "shut down" and just try to stay alive. Fruit development slows and often stops. The ripening process will not begin again until temperatures have cooled off.
Therefore, if your plants are full of green fruit, be patient. As the temperatures drop, the fruit will start to ripen.
Similarly, tomato flowers abort in hot, dry conditions, so you may have noticed that tomato plants have not set any small tomatoes recently.
Here again, when the heat breaks, plants will bloom and set more tomatoes that can ripen before a fall freeze.
Another common problem with ripening tomatoes is blossom-end rot, which appears as a brown leathery patch on the flower end of tomatoes.
Usually an early season physiological disorder, it is showing up late in the season. Blossom-end rot is caused by a lack of calcium in the developing fruit. Calcium moves through the plant with the water. On hot, windy days, water is directed to the heat-stressed leaves and bypasses the fruit, leading to blossom-end rot.
Adding calcium to the soil is unnecessary because the plant will eventually outgrow the condition. But with this year's extreme heat, many plants have been slow to do this. Regular watering will help tomato plants outgrow blossom-end rot, but excess water may create root-rot problems.
Nothing beats the satisfaction and flavor of a vine-ripe, home-grown tomato. However, with the summer heat and drought, that enjoyment is a bit delayed.
Eventually, the weather will cool and tomato plants will pick up where they left off and continue to ripen the fruit that has set.
Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.