There are generally two kinds of tomatoes: the determinate kind or the indeterminate kind. The former, upon reaching maturity, flowers and fruits abundantly in a single batch. It then eventually dies. Its existence is best described by borrowing — and slightly editing — the dialogue in perhaps one of the best sci-fi films of the 80s, Blade Runner, “a candle that burns twice as bright only lasts half as long — and you have burned so very, very brightly, (determinate tomato).”
Indeterminate variants, on the other hand, live longer and gradually fruit throughout their respective lives.
And then there are the hybrid and heirloom types. The former are cross-pollinated versions which reflect the best traits of the parents. The catch here is that the next generation (if you replant the seeds of the hybrid) is that the offspring will likely have traits that are far from ideal reflected in many ways: fruit size being one of them. Some hybrid offspring may even be sterile.
Heirloom varieties, on the other hand, don’t have the downside of hybrid tomatoes. But neither do they have its best traits such as bigger size, resilience to disease, and ability to withstand pests.
Mother nature, indeed, doesn’t like her creations to have their cake and eat it too.
About pests, tomatoes are the favorite of leaf miners, mealy bugs, white flies, and powdery mildews. One can utilize homemade non-toxic pesticide to combat these annoyances. The usual go-to are the chilis and garlic concoction with some organic detergent (for the less picky, dish washing detergent will suffice) and some oil.
When all else fails, there’s also neem oil added with soap and water. Unlike the other pesticides that shoo away or kill pests upon contact, neem oil works differently. It’s biological warfare (urban farm-style). Once pests eat plants sprayed with neem oil, their bodies undergo chemical reactions. They eventually starve themselves to death.
For crawlers, like black ants that bring aphids that then sucks the life out of plants, the usual remedy is called diatomaceous earth. This is a powdery substance from ground fossilized diatoms.
They are harmless to human beings (and safe for dogs too) but are akin to microscopic knives for soft-bodied insects. When ants, for example, come across diatomaceous earth, it’s like they journeyed through a field that stabbed them a thousand times.
There are also pH-related pest control methods. For example, powdery mildew (these are the white stuff found underneath the leaves, often confused with aphids or white flies) hate an alkaline environment. Mix potassium bicarbonate (alkaline) with sufficient water and spray on the underside of infested leaves.
Besides pest problems, unlike leafy crops, tomatoes demand lots of nutrients. The usual deficiencies are potassium and calcium, especially for aquaponic setups. When tomato flowers fall off (the stem attached to the receptable weakens and yellows), that’s often a sign of lack of potassium. As for the fruit, if it suffers blossom rot, the culprit is likely lack of calcium.
There’s still much to say about tomatoes, but let’s discuss that at a later time. However, as parting words, lest the reader is discouraged from growing them, it must be said: there is no equivalent (in contrast to the store-bought kind) to the joy of growing your own tomatoes, seeing the flowers turn to fruits, witnessing the fruits turn from green to sun-ripened red, and then enjoying the rewards of a fresh harvest.
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