If you are growing your own seedlings, start with organic seeds. Many of the major seed suppliers offer a variety of certified organic seeds.
If you are purchasing transplants, you will need to find a trusted supplier – I have had great luck at my local farmers’ market (don’t be afraid to have them explain their organic practices).
Tomatoes are extremely hardy and perform well under a variety of conditions: sandy loams to heavy clay loams, 5-6 hours of sun (8 is better), in-ground, raised beds or containers… you get the picture. Regardless of your growing environment, there are several steps you should take to maximize fruit production.
Prepare your soil: do not till soil, use a rich garden mix, work in quality compost and a balanced organic starter fertilizer a week or so prior to planting – this allows soil biology to establish. Make sure your starter fertilizer has potassium (HEALTH) which will support strong root development.
Your selection and timing of organic nutrients is dependent on the condition of your soil – soil tests are easy to obtain from county extension services. One of the great aspects of using organic products is that over fertilizing is generally not an issue – these nutrients break down slowly and do not leach into the environment.
Planting – Dig a deep hole and plant approximately 2/3 of your seedling to just below the top ‘Y’ – plants will root along entire buried stem. Add a quality gentle organic fertilizer (Organic Balance or Tomatoes & Vegetables) to the bottom of your hole prior to planting seedling.
A quality balanced organic fertilizer will typically provide the correct balance of macro nutrients needed throughout the growing season. Soils that are deficient in specific nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium – can be amended with nutrient-focused formulas (Organic Grow and Organic Bloom) or your favorite single ingredients. Tomatoes are heavy feeders – continue to add organic fertilizer throughout the growing season. Tomatoes love fish fertilizer (Organic Fish and Fish & Kelp) throughout the season.
Foliar Feeding – foliar spraying of diluted liquid nutrients (fish, kelp or both) has shown evidence of improving overall plant health and increased production in tomato plants, particularly if introduced at flower set – this should not replace root feeding as the root system is the plant’s primary source of nutrient uptake. Apply during morning hours.
Pests & Disease – the presence of pests or disease on plants is often an indicator of an unhealthy plant – this is much less of an issue in an organic garden. Since 2006, I have been maintaining records of my organic garden environment and have never had a significant disease or pest problem. If issues do occur, organic gardeners have several options: mechanical removal (pick the pest off your plants), garlic spray, insecticidal soap, and beneficial insects among others.
Watering – while this varies significantly with your environment, there are a couple of important rules of thumb.
- water the soil at the base of the plant – wet leaves promote disease and pest infiltration (drip irrigation systems or soaker hose)
- water deeply, 2-3 times per week
- over-watering is as bad as under-watering: yellowing leaves, curling leaves or soft roots may be an indication
- applying mulch around your plants a few weeks after transplanting will help retain moisture (and keep the weeds under control)
Healthy tomato plants require a wide assortment of nutrients beyond NPK – over 70 trace elements are present in healthy soil – organic fertilizers often provide these additional components.
Stake or trellis your plants and train them early. Keeping the plants off the ground has many benefits – easier to spot pests, disease and fruit; allows for better air circulation and drying of water off fruit and foliage.
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