Yellow Leaves on Tomato Bush

Q. My tomato bush is 4 feet high, why are the leves turning yellow at the bottom and center of the bush?

A. It could be any one or a combination of several things.

1. What are you feeding your plants. lack of any of 4 different nutrients could cause some yellowing symptoms, including nitrogen, zinc, manganese, and iron. Those symptoms are somewhat different, so you need to learn the specifics of how each one affects the plant.

A great set of books to make you an expert on deficiency symptoms is The Garden Doctor 3-volume set, by Dr. J. R. Mittleider. They can be purchased on the website in paper, or for only $20 more you can have the entire Mittleider Gardening Library on CD ROM as a Searchable Database.

Ideal Growing Temperatures

Ideal temperatures for growing tomatoes are above 70 degrees daytime and 55 degrees nighttime, and below 95 degrees daytime and 80 degrees nighttime.

A 15 degree differential between daytime and nighttime temperatures is best.

Temperatures outside the above ranges will substantially reduce or stop fruit-set and also contribute to other problems, such as cat-facing, blossom-end rot, etc.

Blossom-End Rot – Causes and Cures

Q. I have started to spot the dreaded Blossom End Rot on SOME of my tomatoes. A plant may have a few tomatoes with the black spots on the bottom and then the others on the same plant are fine. The leaves and the entire plant look very healthy.

I am watering regularly and feeding weekly. However, we are experiencing very high temperature currently (in the 95-100 range) and I am wondering if this is the reason, or is it lack of calcium, or too much nitrogen, too much water, not enough water…maybe all of the above? What would be the best approach to saving the tomatoes?

A. The wet and slimy blossom-end rot is a disease, and is probably not what you are seeing.

The DRY blossom-end rot is caused by stress to the plant when the fruit is maturing. Any stress, including a nutrient deficiency can contribute to this condition. Calcium and boron are common culprits.

I believe you should consider putting another application of Pre-Plant Mix onto your tomato rows, and working it into the top 2″ of the soil. We tell people that one application of Pre-Plant is sufficient for each crop, however, a tomato “crop” is continuous throughout several months – not like a cabbage crop that is finished in 75-90 days.

On the other hand, in hot weather like you’re experiencing the stress could simply be heat-related.

I recommend you consider putting some 25% shade cloth placed directly above the plants. If you can shade them a bit during the hottest 2-3 hours of the day it may relieve some of that stress.

Also, don’t hesitate to water a second time each day in that kind of weather. You don’t need a LOT of water (1″), but it needs to be available to the plant constantly, as the plant must transpire (sweat) to stay cool in hot weather, and it uses as much as 95& of its water to do that.

Growing Tomatoes Vertically – How Far Apart Are the Overhead Wires/Pipes?

Q. I am wanting to try double density on my tomatoes this year and can’t locate the distance between the suspension pipes on the T-frames. Is 18 or 24 inches about right?

A. Tomatoes can be planted as close as 6″ apart, but 8-9″ is recommended until you become very competent and regular in your pruning and suckering.

The width of the “T” top recommended is 32″, and the pipes or wires should be placed about 1″ in from the outside edge. This gives you a separation of 30″. Pipes are held in place with two nails, one on each side of the pipe.

How to solve the White Fly problem

Q.  last year I planted tomatoes the plants were full of little white flies. The tomatoes had a sticky black to the touch. What did I do wrong?

A. Perhaps we should ask ourselves what did you fail to do. White flies are a real nuisance on tomatoes, and you need to discuss control measures with your local gardening expert – perhaps a garden center, nursery, or your County Agriculture Agent.

And after you’ve been told what to do, be sure you follow instructions religiously! the best advice in the world is worthless if it’s not followed.

Questions and Answers on How To Grow Tomatoes Using T-Frames

The comments and questions are from a new Mittleider gardener in the MittleiderMethodGardening group in, and my responses are in parentheses.  It is instructive, and shows someone is really paying attention!

Over the past couple of weeks I have signed on to this group and
obtained an enormous amount of help and information. I have also read one of Dr. Mittleider’s early books. What I have found is that I read something in a post or article and then forget where I read it. I am planning to garden using the 18” beds (not grow boxes) for my garden. Here is what I have gathered in summary. Please check and see if I am correct.

1. Grow beds in the garden should be 18” wide and 30’ long. Aisles should be 3 1/2’ and ends 5’. (Any length is ok – just remember to feed Pre-Plant 1 ounce per running foot and Weekly Feed 1/2 ounce per running foot).

2. They should be 12” in the middle with 3” ridges on each side. (The actual planting area will be between 10” and 12”, and the ridges take up about 3” horizontally on each side, but they need to be 4” + high).

3. I can plant two rows of small crops in each 18” row if I plant at the base of the ridges.

4. I need to only plant 1 row of vining plants such as tomatoes,
beans, melons, squash, etc. offset to one side.

5. Watering is done with the PVC method, three holes, one in the
middle other two at 45 degree offsets. (Watering can be done with a hose also. Just tie a large towel over the end of the hose – with the end open. This cuts the pressure but allows the full flow of water.)

(If using the automated watering system you need the three holes described – each one drilled with a #57 drill bit (much smaller than a 1/16th” bit) in Schedule 200 PVC pipe – every 4” along the entire length of the bed or box.)

6. The T-frames are made of 8’ posts set into the ground 15” with 32” tops. The should be set no more than 10’ apart.

7. QUESTION: How many strands of #8 wire do you recommend at the top? (Two strands of wire are used – one on each side, near the edge of the T.)

8. QUESTION: How do I get my vines to the wire strands on the T-frame? If I was using the grow boxes I see that I could attach a string or wire to the box and the other end to the wire. However, since I am using the beds, I don’t have anything to attach to. (You use baling twine. First, run tie-wire along the base of the T-Frame, nailed to the T-Frames at ground level the full length of the bed. Tie the twine to the wire or pipe, etc. at the top, then drop it down and tie it to the wire at the bottom. Run strings from both sides of the T-Frames town to the same wire. Then guide the plants up the strings, alternating between the near and far sides of the T-Frame)

9. I am doing a “trial run” this fall. I will be starting with three rows. I am in central Alabama. (where, exactly? I have a part-time home in Birmingham, and would love to meet you if we can work it out.)

10. QUESTION: If I cover each bed with the plastic greenhouse
mentioned will that significanlty increase my growing season (in
Alabama) and ultimatley the produce I gain? (So long as you can avoid frost getting to your plants, you can keep them growing, and thus producing. you must remember to keep feeding them until 8 weeks before you expect to stop production.)

Spacing, Pruning and the Building of T-Frames to Grow Tomatoes Vertically.

Growing Tomatoes Vertically Using T-Frames

Here’s how to grow tomatoes the way “the big boys” do it! Do it right and your yield will amaze you as well as your neighbors. Use one T-Frame every 10 feet maximum. Between the T-Frames use heavy-gauge wire, galvanized steel pipe (1/2″ is adequate) or even 2 X 4’s on edge. If your growing season is short and you want to build a frame strong enough to support a plastic covering in early spring and late fall, use the 2 x 4’s. Then arch PVC on top using 45 degree slip fittings, and cover the entire structure with 6 mil clear greenhouse plastic for the world’s least expensive greenhouse. This works best tying two adjacent beds together into one greenhouse.

Graphically illustrated instructions for building and installing T-Frames are also contained in the Mittleider Gardening Course – advanced section, Chapter 15. This chapter is available free on the Food For Everyone Foundation’s website at

For a 30′ Soil-Bed or Grow-Box, buy 6 – 8′ treated 4 X 4’s. Cut two of them into 6 equal-sized pieces 32″ long. Four 32″ lengths become the top of the Ts.

The other two 32″ 4 X 4 lengths then are cut into 4 equal-sized braces using 45 degree-angle cuts as follows: Measure and mark 10 5/8″ along the bottom edge, then 3 5/8″, then 10 5/8″, then 3 5/8″. On the top edge, measure and mark 3 1/2″, then 3 5/8″, then 10 5/8″,then 3 5/8″. Draw lines between these marks, then using a table saw cut on the lines. Pre-drill through the top center of the 32″ tops, then use a 6″ spike to nail into the 8′ post. Screw or nail the braces to both the top and the post.

Bury the T-Frame 15″ in the ground at 10′ (or shorter) intervals just inside the ridge on one side of your Grow-Bed, or inside the side frame of your Grow-Box. Use #8 gage wire and eye-bolts between the T-Frames, 1/2″galvanized pipe, held in place by two nails placed 1″ and 1 ½” in from the outside edges, or 2 X 4s on edge.

To extend your growing season several weeks in both spring and fall, use 2 X 4’s on edge to tie the T-Frames in two adjacent beds together, and make an arched canopy with 7’-long 3/4″ PVC and 45 degree Slip fittings every 2′, then cover in early Spring and late Fall with 6 mil clear greenhouse plastic. Some heat may be necessary to protect from hard frosts, so consider an electric heater or other heat source.

Growing Tomatoes Vertically – How Close to Plant

How close together should you grow your tomato plants? The answer depends on several factors, and ultimately it is all up to you. If you are growing vertically and using T-Frames, with tomatoes growing up baling twine string, you can plant them as close as 8″ apart.

The key to success is in how diligent, accurate, and consistent you are in pruning the sucker stems! gently guide your plants around the string at least once every week in the spring, and every 4-6 days in the summer, and take off all sucker stems also at least that often. This will give yoou a single-stalk plant with large hands of tomatoes every 5-7″ all the way up the stalk, and your fruit production will amaze you, with anywhere from 15# to 30# of fruit per plant.

On the other hand, if you neglect to take off all the suckers, your plants will become big, bushy masses of leaves and branches. The plants will compete with adjacent plants – and even with their own sucker branches – for light, and you will have a big mess on your hands, with much less fruit for your efforts.

So, if you are not diligent in pruning, even 14″ apart is too close together. I recommend planting your tomatoes every 9″, with ONE ROW ONLY in your beds, and then guiding every other plant up baling twine strings to opposite sides of T-Frames.

Growing Tomatoes Vertically – How to Prune

In order to harvest a large amount of healthy home-grown tomatoes in a small space indeterminate plants should be used and grown vertically using stakes, or more preferrably, T-Frames and baling twine strings. This requires that you allow the plant to have only one or two stems, and eliminate all others by pruning.

Let’s first discuss how to remove all the sucker stems. This is the major function of pruning tomatoes.

Where the leaf branch grows out from the main stem (in the crotch) pinch off the new growth that comes out of that area. But make sure you don’t pinch out the top growth. When in doubt stay away from the top of the plant.

Also, stay away from the blossoms that grow about an inch above the leaf node or crotch. Those become your fruit.

To maximize your tomato yield, you must manage the plant’s growth. This could be compared to the biblical pruning of the vineyard.

A single plant, taking up less than one lineal foot of space, can produce 15 to 30# of fruit – but only if you keep it to one or two main stems. Remember, we’re doing “Modified ” here, and the hydroponic and greenhouse growers know what they are doing when they prune to one main stem per plant.

Prune the sucker stems from Indeterminate varieties only! Right at the point where each leaf grows out from the stem, a new (sucker) stem will appear and begin to grow. Take it off, and the sooner the better. Don’t let the plant waste energy growing the sucker stem. But DO NOT remove the leaf – only the sucker stem growing between the leaf and the stem!!

Once your plant has several sets of leaves, it will begin producing blossoms. THESE BECOME YOUR TOMATOES. They appear about one inch ABOVE the leaf joint, or node as it’s called. NEVER take off the blossoms. Remember, that’s your fruit!

Both pruning and guiding your tomatoes up the baling-twine string should be done religiously, at least once each week for every plant.

You should prune all leaves that touch the ground, and you may also need to prune some leaves, or parts of leaves, to prevent them from overlapping with the leaves of adjacent plants and competing for essential sunlight. Minimize your problems from over-crowding of your plants by allowing adequate space for each plant to grow to maturity in full sunlight.

Tomatoes with cracks – Cause and Cure

Q.  Almost all of my tomatoes have big cracks in them.  What causes that and is there something I can do to prevent them?  I’ve been following your gardening advice for two years now and am very pleased with the improved yields in my garden. Thanks.

A.  Cracking is caused by fluctuations in soil moisture, caused by uneven or infrequent watering – particularly after the fruit has reached the mature green stage and is beginning to ripen.   At this stage of growth the skin becomes thicker and more rigid.  When the water supply is then restored, the plant will resume bringing nutrients and moisture into the fruit.  This will cause the fruit to enlarge, which in turn splits the skin and results in cracking.

Some people believe you shouldn’t water after the fruit begins to ripen, and if you want only those few fruits that are already grown, then you can perhaps ripen a few tomatoes without additional water.

However, indeterminate tomatoes will produce fruit for MANY months, until frost kills the plant, so stopping the water permanently is not a good solution – for cracking or anything else.

The single best control for cracking is a constant water supply to the root zone of the plants.   This requires watering daily – and sometimes even more often in very hot weather.

Jacob Mittleider’s Last Garden – redlands, California 2005

Q.  I saw a picture in the YahooGroups MittleiderMethodGardeningGroup Photo file named: Mitts Tomatoes 2005. Those were the most beautiful tomato plants I have ever seen.

What I would like to know is, were they grown next to a fence and tied off to make them so tall and straight?  I didn’t see any tomato cages or stakes.  We are building box gardens this year and I really want my tomato plants to look like Mitts.  Also can anyone tell me what mixture to use in my boxes.

A.  The tomatoes were grown under T-Frames and guided up baling twine strings.

The soil mixture we used was sawdust and sand (I helped Dr. Mittleider with building and filling the boxes).

Jim Kennard

Curled Leaves and Dry Leaf Edges – Cause and Cure

Q.  What is causing our tomatoes to have curled leaves?  Could it be too
much water?  We are watering with two PVC lines per 10’x34″ vegetable box.

Have been watering twice a day as the temperatures have been in the 90 degrees many weeks (live in southern California). We notice the water does come out from the bottom of the boxes into the surrounding soil – boxes are 12″ deep but the soil is about an inch below edge of box – Dr. M’s books say to level but we find that the water runs off too quickly when soil is that high.

Also, some of the plants have rusty or dried leaf edges, What could cause that? We looked in the three volumes of Dr. M’s -The Garden Doctor, and it showed too much fertilizer can cause dry leaf edges. Do you think that is the case?

A.  Curled leaves could be because the leaves are old; it could be because of the heat; it could be a general deficiency; it’s highly unlikely that it’s too much water directly.

If you’re watering twice per day I recommend you consider applying less fertilizer and do it twice each week. Very frequent watering can leach the fertilizers out of the Grow-Boxes, and you can end up with a general deficiency and slow your plants’ growth.

Unless you’re applying more fertilizer than prescribed your dry leaf edges are not excess fertilizers.  Lack of potassium can cause dry leaf edges, and I suggest you try applying some potash fertilizer one time between regular feedings, using 12-16 ounces per 30′-long bed.