My Rotten Heirloom Tomatoes

August 27, 2015 | By | Comments (7)
Rotten Tomatoes


Heirloom tomatoes are the rage nowadays, as everybody and their cousin with the goiter hail them for their superior, seductive flavor. But what happens when you get sucked into the hype and your special tomatoes disappoint? Join a convent? No — listen to the wise words of Grumpy.

Grumpy recently received this heart-breaking email from a faithful reader: “We tried heirloom tomatoes in our garden this year for the first time, and this growing season in southern Tennessee seems to have been one of the hottest and driest on record. In trying to keep the ‘maters happy, I would dump a bucket of water on the plants every couple of days. Instead of ripening slowly, though, the tomatoes would seem to go from half-ripe one day to rotten the next. Are heirlooms this tricky to grow or was my watering the problem? I did mulch the plants with straw.”

Answer: I think your tomatoes are feeling the effects of the extreme weather.  Abrupt swings between wet and dry soil can lead to a condition called blossom end rot, in which large rotten spots form on the end of the tomato opposite of the stem (see above). And you’re correct about heirloom tomatoes sometimes being finicky. These plants often fail to set fruit when the temperature rises above 90 degrees (‘Arkansas Black’ and ‘Cherokee Purple’ being delightful exceptions.) Although many have superior flavor, they’re not as vigorous, productive, or disease resistant as the new hybrids. (In fact, one of the most praised heirlooms, ‘Brandywine,’ doesn’t grow well in the South at all.) But many folks decide the extra trouble is worth it.

Cherokee Purple tomato

‘Cherokee Purple’ tomato. Photo:

Mulching is a good idea, as it reduces moisture loss from the soil. Try to keep the soil evenly moist and hang in there. Your plants should do better once the worst of summer is over.

Related Article You’ll No Doubt Enjoy
“Best Heirloom Tomatoes To Grow”




  1. Vonda Coy

    Will adding calcium based plant food after the tomatoes are already coming in stop the rot from continuing or do I just wait out the dry weather. I’ve been trying to water, enough, but may have too much.

    June 26, 2016 at 6:50 pm
  2. lnda

    sprinkle epson salts around the bottom of your plant it will get rid ofthe problem
    almost immediately

    August 30, 2015 at 6:01 pm
  3. Kit

    Mine did this as well! Mine didn’t get a ton of sun either, as I had them in a bed under a tree, trying to protect from too much sun.
    thanks for the info!

    August 29, 2015 at 5:19 pm
  4. biscuits and such | Lovely Internet 8.28.15

    […] My 100% heirloom garden is driving me crazy because it turns out, heirloom tomatoes are just not heat hardy. And this summer has been […]

    August 28, 2015 at 11:35 am
  5. Bob B

    I had this problem and went to a garden center with one of the tomatoes. I was told that this was caused by the lack of calcium in the soil. I put tums in the soil near the roots of the plants and this problem stopped. You might want to try adding calcium to your soil around the tomato plants.

    August 28, 2015 at 6:07 am
  6. darlene gillett

    thought tomatoes didn’t like ‘wet feet’. Ours doing horrible. May also be not enough sun, next year will have to find a new spot for them

    August 27, 2015 at 7:36 pm
  7. Kathleen

    Yup. “Heirloom” often refers to a variety that would thrive in a specific area & seeds were passed down from one generation to the next.
    Just because it grew well in one locale doesn’t mean it will in another.

    August 27, 2015 at 10:08 am

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