What’s Happening to My Tomatoes?

I’m officially declaring that the summer of 2023 in Quebec is a load of… manure! Nice, big, smelly, still-warm manure. How else to put it? I can’t take it anymore! Neither can my tomatoes.

Phew! That felt good. Do your tomatoes look like mine? Here’s why it’s not your fault…

I swear that in previous years, I couldn’t even see the soil… but now, all you can see are wilted leaves and weeds…

A Plant for Warm Temperate Climates

With our Canadian winters, the window for growing tomatoes is pretty small, yet we usually have a great harvest, because our sunshine is perfect. Did you know that near the Equator, where the days have 12 hours of constant sunshine, that’s not enough? In fact, tomatoes need between 16 and 18 hours of sunshine a day.

We often hear that the tomato is a tropical plant, but it’s actually a plant of temperate climates. It likes days at 25°C (77°F) and nights at 15°C (59°F), with an average temperature of 18°C (64°F). Average humidity suits it perfectly, and in its natural habitat it receives between 600 and 2,000 millimeters of rain a year.

Granted, the wild plant may not have exactly the same needs as the cultivated one, but these are still the broad outlines for growing Solanum lycopersicum, i.e. the tomato.

Photo: cottonbro studio

A Summer of Horse Sh… Manure!

Let’s take a look back at the summer of 2023, in Quebec, and see what went wrong for tomatoes.

June 1: we started off with a bang, breaking heat records across the province. 34°C (93°F) in Montreal. 32°C (89°F) at my place. Just to give you an idea, the date of last frost risk at my place is June 15. Needless to say, planting a tiny, fragile seedling in such intense conditions isn’t ideal!

I remember a time this summer when we broke so many heat records in a row that it became a laughing matter: ” Hey, we’re breaking the heat record for this period! The record was set yesterday… and the other one was set the day before yesterday!”

In fact, this warm trend continued right up to the end of July. I’m not telling you anything new, I know. But you should know that the Ministry of the Environment declared that the heat wave from June 29 to July 5 was historically one of the worst to have hit Quebec. 70 deaths were attributed to this heat wave. So imagine your tomato plants being comfortable at 18°C (64°F). For the month of July, we’re talking about average temperatures 1 to 3°C (3 to 7°F) warmer in virtually all regions. Night-time temperatures, among others, were the year’s outlier, not often dipping below 20°C (68°F).

Tomatoes should be cooked in the pan… not on the plant!!!

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

I’m not a tomato. It’s a fact: I’m human, but deep down, I’m still a bit of a tomato when it comes to the weather. You know those people who love the heat, a beer by the pool, a bead of sweat on their back? Well, I prefer air conditioning.

What I like is basking in the sun when it’s 20°C and wrapping myself in a comforter as soon as there’s a cloud. But the worst thing is the humidity. As soon as it gets a bit humid, I start sweating like mad and hate summer.

All in all, we’ve all been disappointed this year: the bathers, the tomatoes and me.

Where’s the sun? Ah, yes… behind that huge storm cloud.

To a certain extent, the sun’s rays do penetrate the clouds, yes, but there’s a limit! Several times this summer, it was so dark outside that it felt like nightfall, even though it was the middle of the day. We’re a long way from getting the 18 hours of sunshine we need!

Oh! and by the way, in the province of Quebec, in July alone, we had 300 millimetres of rain… Remember that tomatoes receive between 600 and 2000 millimetres OF RAIN A YEAR!

On a positive note: I didn’t water my garden all summer! And I didn’t go out to tend to it either…

In Short, Tomatoes Didn’t Have Their Best Year!

That’s it: not enough sun and far too much heat. Plants native to our region, or those that have become established in our environment, had a magnificent summer! I hope your gardens are diversified enough for you to have been able to harvest something else, because as far as tomatoes are concerned, we’ll take a rain check!

Moral of the story: Mother Nature has the last word, even if you’re the most thoughtful and considerate gardener you can be, so don’t be discouraged and try again next year!

Audrey Martel is a biologist who graduated from the University of Montreal. After more than ten years in the field of scientific animation, notably for Parks Canada and the Granby Zoo, she joined Nature Conservancy of Canada to take up new challenges in scientific writing. She then moved into marketing and joined Leo Studio. Full of life and always up for a giggle, or the discovery of a new edible plant, she never abandoned her love for nature and writes articles for both Nature sauvage and the Laidback Gardener.

2 comments on “What’s Happening to My Tomatoes?

  1. I’m in central New York and was doing the “seedling shuffle” until mid-June due to low night temperatures. We have had a cool and rainy summer and my tomatoes all look sad and diseased but my six Sungolds are currently producing about a kilo a day. Still waiting on romas to ripen. Mother Nature is definitely the one in charge.

  2. Christine Lemieux

    Here in Nova Scotia we had some of the early heat, then rain, rain, rain! So much we are surprised when it isn’t raining and we get 2 days without in a row! Some areas received 3 months worth of rain in ONE day!! My tomato plants are skinny and almost all the leaves are brown and withered. Some of this is disease, spread by too much rain!

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