Even Mighty 'Mato Can Come Down With Fungus

I loved the flavor, size and yield of the grafted tomato 'Pineapple' last year, so I planted another this spring. I prepared the soil in an area never before used for tomatoes (or potatoes or peppers), planted it and it grew like crazy.
August 2

By early August, fruits were reaching the size they had the previous year. They grew two or three to a stem but that didn't have any effect on their size. They were ripening a little at a time and I harvested a couple tomatoes that were bigger than my fist but smaller than a softball.

August 12
I admit to being a somewhat sloppy, after-the-fact staker, managing to add supports as the plant grows. I'd started out with two tomato spiral supports like these from Gardeners Supply.

It wasn't long before the plant outpaced the spirals. I added a really big stake. I turned my back to go inside, and the vigorous vine outpaced the 7-foot tall support.

"This is getting ridiculous," I muttered to myself. "Any higher and I'll need a ladder."

Picturing how unwieldy that would be, I decided to just let the vine bend gently toward the ground at the top of the stake so I could at least reach the fruit.

August 16 - propped up after the storm
But then came the storms. I should have known my methods wouldn't be enough. Four inches of rain in a 24-hour period has a way of softening up the soil. It was August 12 when the stakes leaned severely toward the ground and threatened to go horizontal on me.

I was able to prop the whole thing back up. It seemed the only damage done was at the soil level where the roots had become exposed.

In a pathetic attempt to cover the roots, I threw some compost over the ground. It rained some more.

Grafted vegetables must be planted with the graft above the soil line. Otherwise, the scion (the top part) will lose out to the rootstock. I staked the plant when I first planted it to offer support to the graft as it grew.

August 27 - Exposed roots
The photo of the base of the tomato shows the small stake I used when it was just a little plant. It also shows the roots of the rootstock exposed from a combination of plant movement and way too much rain.

Over the next 10 days, the warm temperatures ripened some of the tomatoes while others grew to good size. The leaves weren't looking that great and I removed them as they became really dried up and brown. The loss of leaves didn't seem to have that much effect on the fruit production.

August 27 - the day my tomato died
Tomato RIP: August 27
But when I looked out my window into the garden on August 27, I saw my tomato 'Pineapple' had given up. Toward the top of the plant, the leaves were around 70 percent brown and 100 percent curled. The roots of the plant were once again exposed, and by the end of the day, even the newest growth was completely wilted.

The disease triangle had finally completed itself. The triangle refers to the three factors that all must be in place before a plant can be affected. Those three factors are the pathogen (the disease), the host (the plant), and the environment. In this case, the pathogen was of a fungal nature, which is a guess because of the amount of moisture in the soil and the air. Which leads to the environment. Extremely wet weather is the perfect environment for fungal diseases. While I'm not certain, my guess is late blight, explained here by Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service. I'll accept some blame for the environmental side of the triangle. I should have had the stake in place before the multiple deluges.

But woe is me and woe are my plans for freezing excess tomatoes. I harvested what I could and put them in paper bags to ripen. Most did. If I find out the exact pathogen that cause my tomato to bite the dust, I'll post it here. Meanwhile, I'm wondering if anyone else had grafted tomatoes succumb to fungal disease this summer. I'd like you to officially join me in wallowing in self-pity.