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Tomatoes in Containers: Trials and Tribulations

I've tried growing them in the ground with very little yield. I grew grafted varieties with much better success, but I can no longer find my favorite variety in grafted form. Besides, a tomato is not only a big plant, it's a big commitment. So I quit growing them a couple of years ago. That is, until I discovered a purported "new breed" of tomatoes. They have full-sized fruit grown on a plant that's a lot less rangy than the more typical tomato.

I Started three varieties from seed, including 'Tasmanian Chocolate' from Renee's Garden Seeds.

Tomato Tasmanian Chocolate
Tomato 'Tasmanian Chocolate' at its prime in late July.

I was really impressed with 'Tasmanian Chocolate' for its early fruit set. I watched the beautifully formed tomatoes as they grew larger and larger while still green. And then the weather got really hot. And then windy. And since the plant was in a pot, however large, it dried out quickly. I'll admit that I let it completely wilt about twice during this long-term jungle weather event. Tomatoes like heat, but they also like lots of water, so I was worried about it dropping all of its fruit. It didn't. 

Instead, it started to form spots on some of its fruit. And then the bottoms began to "cat face."

Cat-facing isn't a disease, but a symptom of unfavorable growing conditions when the fruit is forming. It could be fluctuations in temperature or moisture, excessive nitrogen, aggressive pruning of the plant, and/or a growth spurt during extreme heat. In the case of the 'Tasmanian Chocolate', it was the fluctuation of moisture, and possibly the pruning. The plant was already turning brown in spots, and I was pruning those leaves off. But I wasn't cleaning the clippers off each time and was likely spreading any disease it might have been harboring to the whole plant. 

Cat face on tomato

Oh, and there was another issue with the 'Tasmanian Chocolate' tomato. Around the same time I noticed the black spots at the bottoms of some of the fruits, I found a humongous tomato hornworm. I wasn't looking for it; there were no chewed up leaves, the first sign of its presence. The reason for that is, the caterpillar wasn't feeding because it was being eaten by larvae of a Braconid wasp. The female wasp uses her pointy ovipositor to deposit her eggs just under the hornworm's skin. Gruesome no?

I found three more hornworms, all with the larvae attached. I knocked them off the plant, because I really didn't want to look at them.

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