Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tomato Growing Tips from an Organic Square Foot Gardener

how to grow organic tomatoesGardening Tips for Planting and Growing Incredible Tomatoes

 

Growing healthy tomatoes in an organic garden isn't rocket science. With these simple tips, a bumper crop of tomatoes on your seasonal table will have neighbors wondering why your chemical-free plantings are flourishing while the non organic tomatoes they're growing are struggling on the vine.
Plant Tomatoes In Great Growing Soil
 
I'm an organic, square-foot gardener and use a combination of sphagnum peat moss, vermiculite, and homemade compost as my growing soil. The soil drains when there is enough water thanks to the vermiculite, so it's impossible to over-water plantings and rot the tomato roots, and the formula by its nature never requires additional plant food.

Add Calcium When Planting Young Tomatoes
 
I bury a handful of crushed eggshells when planting tomatoes to add organic calcium to the soil. It may sound a bit odd, but an old-timer gave me this advice when I mentioned growing black spots on otherwise healthy tomatoes. "Good for the bones," he said. When I returned home, a quick search verified his suggestion. I ended up adding shells with my next tomato planting, and have done so ever since with excellent preventative results.

Move Tomato Plantings Every Year
 
When growing tomatoes in the same spot year after year, soil diseases begin to take advantage, so I'll rotate their planting position in the garden the following year with a bean or pea plant to organically bolster nitrogen and prevent diseases from setting up shop. With a well-recorded square foot garden journal, this is a snap. I think of the soil invaders as spending winter gearing up for next year's feast, only to be starved out with disappointment. Organic tomatoes are gypsies, after all, never happy unless they're traveling.

tomato growing tipsGrowing Various Tomato Strains
 
I mix up the types of organic tomatoes growing in the garden from year to year. Beefsteak, local heirlooms, a few varieties of cherry tomatoes, with a plum tomato planting now and then for tomato sauce. Each variety of tomato brings a unique taste and usefulness, and come Fall, every one will either be eaten or canned for the shelved larder in my basement.


Stagger The Tomato Plantings For Good Growth
 
Growing tomatoes have a tendency to ripen at the same time if planted at the same time, so I prefer to put plants in the ground at a rate of one, maybe two, a week. Cherry tomatoes go in first, with early, larger varieties that will quickly mature next, and the slow-growth organic heirlooms last. This ensures I have a constant, useable amount of tomatoes to draw from, and not a massive crop needing a harvest all at once, whether I'm ready for them or not.

Tomato Horn Worms
 
These are the ugliest little pests ever to deface a kitchen garden, so I revel in dealing with their nasty munching habits with a humane and organic solution. Left unchecked, these suckers would ravish my tomatoes, leaving nothing behind but wilted stalks. To keep horn worms under control, I check the plantings daily, and pluck the green-striped buggers off to grind underfoot. A bit of vigilance head's off any infestation, and using no chemicals means having no worries.

Grow Organic Tomatoes Upward, Not Outward
 
My garden plantings climb 6 feet as of this past season, but in the next I'm planning on 8 ft frames, as the plants this year went over the top and doubled back down. At the end of my beds, I drive in tall re-bar and stretch across chicken wire. As the tomato plantings grow, I pinch back the suckers and train the main stalk through the mesh to vigorously grow upward. This alleviates deep shade spots in a tomato bush, as well as fruit crowding, and makes organic harvesting a snap.

Don't Forget the Organic Essentials of Growing Tomatoes
 
Tomatoes love the heat, and thrive in a sunny spot with at least ten hours of sunlight a day. When watering, I don't use a sprinkler, but hand water or use drip irrigation to water the soil directly. This keeps water off the leaves, and controls powder mildew. Even in hot weather, I water only once every 4-5 days, saturating the soil each time. To be safe, I push my finger into the soil about an inch or two, and if the soil is dry, I'll soak it again.

Harvesting The Tomatoes
 
Harvesting organic tomatoes at the perfect time takes practice and experience. I won't let them over ripen, where the red skins begin to darken a bit and the 'meat' becomes spongy to the touch. A well-ripened tomato is firm, with a softer red glow than expected in the salad bowl. Once harvested, the organic tomato will quickly ripen further as it releases ethylene, so I try to harvest right before using I plan to use them. This goes not only for fresh recipes, but for canning purposes as well. As one old-timer told me, "A well-canned tomato puts summer on the table year-round."