By Sharon OmahenUniversity of GeorgiaWhen it comes to growing prizewinning tomatoes, it’s the size ofthe fruit, not the plant, that counts.As summer gardening season heats up, University of GeorgiaCooperative Extension specialists are answering the most commontomato-growing question: How can my tomato plants be 8 feet talland not produce any tomatoes?”That’s the question I answer the most,” said Bob Westerfield, aUGA Extension consumer horticulturist with the UGA College ofAgricultural and Environmental Sciences. “It’s like I have acrystal ball. I know right away that the gardener is using liquidfertilizer.” Hands-on researchTo make sure he’s ready for each season’s vegetable diseases andconditions, Westerfield plants a home garden and a work garden.The home garden provides fresh vegetables for his family. Thework garden is for research and provides fresh vegetables for thelocal food pantry.”My work garden is a kind of trial garden,” he said. “As a UGAconsumer horticulturist, I want to be ready for home gardeners’questions. I test new varieties, too, in case something pops upI’m perplexed by.”Besides tomatoes, he plants the most commonly Georgia-grownvegetables including green beans, okra, cucumbers, squash,peppers, corn, pumpkins and potatoes. He also grows winter cropslike broccoli, cabbage, collards and cauliflower and spring cropslike lettuce and carrots.”A side benefit to my research garden is the produce we donate tothe Five Loaves and Two Fish Pantry near the UGA Griffin campus,”he said. “Most of the people who get these vegetables are reallyneedy and don’t have the resources, or the knowledge, to plant ahome garden. Fresh vegetables are welcome treats from the cannedfoods they typically get through the pantry.”UGA Master Gardeners statewide donate a portion of their harveststo the needy through the Plant-a-Row for the Hungry program.”Plant-a-row generates thousands of pounds of vegetables that aredonated to pantries across the state,” Westerfield said. “Mygarden is just a small piece of this program.” Liquid’s hard to calibrateWesterfield says it’s very easy to give your tomatoes and othergarden vegetables too much of a good thing when you use liquidfertilizers, like the ever-popular Miracle-Gro. Liquidfertilizers are hard to calibrate, and they’re absorbed into theplant very quickly, he said.”Too much nitrogen will cause the plant to put out incrediblegrowth but hold back on reproducing,” Westerfield said. “You wantthe plant to reproduce, because that’s where the fruit comesfrom. Too much fertilizer will also cause the blooms to abort.And no blooms means no tomatoes.”The key to growing tomatoes, he said, is to fertilize at plantingand not again until the plant produces dime- to quarter-sizedfruit. Diseases cause problems, tooThe other common tomato problem Westerfield gets questions on isblossom end rot. “In this case, people call in a panic becausetheir tomatoes are turning black on the ends,” he said.Blossom end rot is a sure sign of a moisture or water problem inyour home garden. “Usually it occurs when there’s a lack of waterwhen the fruit is forming,” he said.Blossom end rot can also be a sign of low calcium in the plant.Westerfield recommends treating the plants with dolomiticlimestone and watering plants evenly.When it comes to diseases and viruses, prevention is the bestcure. The best preventive measures, he said, include plantingdisease- and pest-resistant varieties and using sound culturalpractices.If, despite your best efforts, your tomato plants becomeinfected, Westerfield’s advice is simple and direct. Pull them upand get rid of them.