Tomato crop two weeks late, growers say
Usually, the color of August is red — brilliant, delicious red that hints at an explosion of juice and seeds soon to come. August is for tomatoes, the prize of any garden, the reward for months of weeding and coddling, the best part of summer.
Except this year.
“It’s been a really weird tomato year,” said Bob Hammon, an area extension agent for the Colorado State University Tri-River Area Extension. “They’re really not ripening very quickly. I’ve talked to a lot of people and they’re saying that their tomatoes are still green.”
In a normal growing year, the third week of August is flooded with ripe tomatoes, but a cold, wet spring meant growers couldn’t get their tomatoes in the ground at the usual time.
“We bought this farm 20 years ago, and this is the first time in our history that we didn’t have any tomatoes in the ground in April,” said Leta Nieslanik, owner of Okagawa Farms in Grand Junction. “Usually, we start planting about the 19th, 20th of April, but the last freeze was May 3 this year and our tomatoes didn’t go in ground until May 4.
“Earlier this week, all we had were pinks. We had customers coming in wanting a ripe, ripe red tomato and we had to say sorry, we sold them all Sunday. We’re just now starting to get consistently ripe tomatoes.”
Spring was not only cold, but windy, and that wind brought beat leaf hoppers, insects that carry the Beet Curly Top Virus, according to Curtis Swift of the Colorado State University Tri-River Area Extension. The virus causes tomatoes to stop growing, and some area gardeners lost up to 25 percent of their tomatoes.
Mercedes Wills, a sales associate at Mount Garfield Greenhouse and Nursery, said her customers are complaining of various tomato maladies, as well as the simple fact that, on Aug. 20, the fruit is stubbornly green.
It’s not just tomatoes that were affected by the spring weather, Hammon said. Most crops on the Western Slope are late. Bob Gobbo, who farms in Fruita, said he normally gets four cuttings of hay per season, but if he gets a fourth cutting at all this year, he expects it to be very short. And into the depths of September, growers have to start worrying about freezes again.
Another concern, Hammon said, is that “demand really drops off nationally after Labor Day. People just don’t think about tomatoes as much.”
Nieslanik echoed his concern, even though September has always been the farm’s best month for tomatoes and chili peppers for canning. She said that’s one of the reasons the farm is open seven days a week, to accommodate canners. Barring a freeze, she said she expects to have tomatoes through September and possibly into early October.
“At this point, it’s just a matter of time,” Wills said. “If you’ve done everything you can for your tomatoes, then all you can do now is be patient and wait for them to ripen.”