We were invited to go by our longtime friend, Tom Richardson, who is the carpenter who helped us build our house while I took care of my cancer along with Mom and Dad, five years ago. But Mom is failing badly and I was not sure if Will and I could go. But at the last minute, just about, we decided everything was just kind of “on hold”, so we took off with Tom, planning on driving down on Friday afternoon and leaving for home the next afternoon.

We totally enjoyed the drive through pretty wooded hills, Amish farms, and plenty of lakes and rivers. And we really had fun the next day, meeting Ilene, Jake, and Sam Duffy, who I talked to through the years but never met, face to face. Let me tell you, they’re all wonderful. I met a lot of folks, signed enough books to give me writer’s cramp, and totally enjoyed the day. Our Backwoods Home “family” of readers and subscribers is really special. Unless something strange happens, we’ll definitely plan on being at the Energy Fair next year for a couple of days….and give readers a lot more notice!

Readers’ Questions:

Wilting tomato plants

We planted 86 tomato plants this year. Better Boy and Plum. They are all doing really well except, all of a sudden, we have 3 Better Boy that look like they are wilting. Can you tell me what may be causing this and how to fix the problem?

Teresa Roh
New Freedom, Pennsylvania

The most common cause of wilting tomato plants is lack of sufficient water. In garden cases, sometimes pockets of sandy soil will cause wilting in a few tomatoes because the water that sustains the rest has quickly soaked down below the root level of certain plants. Check that one out by watering the wilting tomatoes in the evening, very well, and see if they perk up by morning. If not, pull out the worst plant to “autopsy.” First, rinse the plant off well in a bucket of water. Look at the roots and see if there are any strange knots or “bumps” on them. If so, this could be root knot nematodes. These microscopic “worms” infest tomato roots, weakening and making the tomato prone to other infections such as Verticillum wilt or Fusarium wilt.

While there are preventative measures, there are no real “cures” for any of these diseases. However, if you can figure out what the problem is, you may be able to go ahead and treat the soil with beneficial nematodes, as sold by many companies, such as GardensAlive! to protect the surviving tomatoes (root knot nematodes). If there is disease in your tomatoes, pull the affected ones and burn them. DO NOT put them in your compost pile or you may spread the disease. Google these diseases for much more information than I can give you here. It is also possible that your tomatoes suffer from attack from a stem borer. Carefully examine the lower stem of the affected tomatoes for a small hole. Gently cut into the stem and extract the borer or inject some Bt (often sold as Dipel or Thuricide) into the hole to kill the borer. Tomatoes often recover from this pest.

Another thought: Are these quite young plants? If so, do you have cutworms in your garden? These are greyish, fat “worms” that often curl into a circle when disturbed. They cut or otherwise damage the young plant’s stem, just at ground level if the stem is not protected by a collar of cardboard, stiff paper or other material, used to keep the worm away until the plant is too tough to be chewed on.

You might take an affected plant in to your county extension office, usually located in the county courthouse, for examination. An “in person” examination might result in a better diagnosis.
Good luck and tons of tomatoes! — Jackie


  1. Hi Jackie,
    Never have sent fan mail to anyone before, but just wanted you to know how inspiring you are and to keep up the good work.
    Have been reading the magazine for years and enjoy your practical advice the most, and how you empower people rather then ever putting them down.
    I am planning to get out into the country once my chldren do not need to be near their dad; hopefully some grandchilren will benefit from that!

  2. Jackie, It looks like you all had a great time! I’m glad you were able to get away despite things not going so well with you mom. Thanks for all the good info – as always!

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