Do you remember the “death scene” in The Godfather.  I know there were several of them, but specifically the scene in which Don Corleone has a massive heart attack while running through the tomato patch with his grandson.

Have a look at it again, and notice how incredibly healthy the tomato plants are in that scene.  They’re taller than Marlon Brando and loaded with fruits.  We should all be so lucky to have tomatoes that look like that.

It does seem at times that robust and healthy tomato plants are something that you only see in the movies.  The most popular of all vegetable garden plants, tomatoes also can be afflicted with a variety of ailments.  With the earliest types beginning to size and colour here’s a rundown on what to look for and how to avoid tomato troubles this summer.

Falling blossoms-this is usually brought on by sudden changes in weather, or by dry soil.  It’s common for fruit not to set early in the growing season, particularly when the weather is cold and damp.  There isn’t much you can do, but more blooms are always on the way so don’t be too concerned.

Leaf rolling-a common affliction but usually not a concern, sometimes caused by cool weather.  Tobacco mosaic virus, however, can also cause rolling, along with mottled leaves.  The result is spindly, pale plants that should be removed from the garden.

Sun scald-even sun-loving fruit like the tomato can get too much when fruit looks like it’s been sunburned.  It occurs when too many leaves are pruned off to help mature the fruit or when leaf spot diseases affect the health of the foliage.

Early or late blight-two fungal diseases which are troublesome, but not fatal.  Spots on leaves look as if they’re water-soaked, progressing to more widespread browning.  The best defence is good air circulation through the plants, and watering at the base, not overhead.  Pick off the affected leaves as they occur.  Late blight can take out a plant in a matter of days.

Blossom end rot-this is the problem that most gardeners will encounter if they regularly grow tomatoes.  Sunken black or brown spots appear on the bottom of the fruit.  The root reason is a lack of calcium, which prevents the fruit from ripening fully.  Uneven watering is usually the culprit, so mulch your tomato plants to keep moisture in the soil, or make sure the soil is kept evenly moist, not wet.  Fertilizers with added calcium, like Off the Vine, can be helpful.

Fruit cracking and catfacing-both of these afflictions, which affect the appearance but not the taste of the fruit, are weather-related.  Cracking can appear after a change from hot, dry conditions to cold and wet.  Catfacing is caused when there is a prolonged cold period during blossoming, which affects the development of the fruit.

The tomato patch in The Godfather was one of many sources of friction between director Francis Ford Coppola and the studio executives.  The plants were brought in from Chicago at some expense for the scene and expenses were always a contentious issue during the filming of the movie.  The studio wanted to scrap the scene entirely, but Coppola held his ground.


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