More than 40 million home gardens will be going in this spring and nearly all will have a tomato plant of some variety -- heirloom or hybrid.
Tomatoes are by far the most popular edible plant home gardeners grow. There are thousands of varieties out there and more appear every season.
Park Seed has just released a new tomato seed series called "Heirloom Marriages" that crosses favorites such as Brandywine with other open-pollinated varieties such as Big Dwarf. The elusive goal is to get the heirloom flavor and texture in a plant that is a heavy producer, ripens quickly and is disease-resistant.
For many tomato growers, keeping plants healthy until harvest is the most frustrating of tasks. Tomatoes can be attacked from the roots up to the top of the stem: wilting, rotting, stunting, damping off. The fruit can turn black, yellow, mottled, mushy or never appear at all.
The list of symptoms is long and the possible causes are depressingly complex: insects, parasites, fungi, viruses, bacteria, nutrition, weather, too much water, too little water, nematodes. It goes on and on.
Fortunately there is a new tool that is as essential in the garden as a trowel: Tomato MD, an inexpensive interactive phone app (Android/Apple-iOs) that allows fast identification of a plant's problem: root, leaf, stem or fruit. The app is set up to take you through the most difficult part of dealing with a sick plant: what's wrong and what is causing it. There is an index of diseases, insects, mites; an extensive photo gallery of the most common diseases; a list of diseases listed by their characteristics. Control solutions and other possible hosts for the problem are suggested when applicable.
The $3 app comes from the publishing arm of the American Phytopathological Society, a 100-year-old nonprofit that focuses on plant health management.
Most of the society's 300+ publications have been designed for professional farmers and growers but this app has the home gardener in mind. But if you want to definitively know the cause, there is a list of labs where you can send your sick plant, along with instructions on how to package the plant for shipment.