Nothing says summer like that first vine ripened tomato from the home garden. Now is a good time to brush up on your tomato growing techniques.
Tomatoes contain the antioxidant lycopene, lots of vitamin C and many other nutrients. However, don't be fooled, not all tomatoes are created equal as a test done at USDA Agricultural Research Service in Albany CA illustrates. When 13 ketchup brands were tested researchers discovered that the organic ketchup contained far more lycopene than the non-organic. Also as an organic market gardener I can tell you that our customers tell us ours are the best tomatoes at the farmer's market. Flavor, texture and shelf-life surpass other tomatoes.
You have heard the saying, you are what you eat. Similarly tomatoes and other vegetables are what we feed them. So how do you grow a first rate tomato? First rule in organic agriculture, feed the soil. Healthy soil promotes healthy plants which promote healthy people. Now what type of tomato are you going to put in your healthy soil? There are a vast number to choose from.
Look over the seed catalogs and you will find tomatoes of different shapes, sizes and colors. Other choices include determinate or indeterminate; hybrid or heirloom; early season, mid-season, or late season; and disease resistance. I suggest you study over seed catalogs to discover what tomato varieties are best suited for your situation and preferences. You will find a wealth of information in seed catalogs that you will not find by going to your local garden center and buying plants. Burpee, Tomato Growers Supply, Totally Tomatoes, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Peaceful Valley are catalogs that I find very useful. Of all the tomatoes I have trialed over the years First Prize and Health Kick have won out in my situation. First Prize, an indeterminate tomato, is good for slicing, has good resistance to disease and nematodes plus it produces an abundance of large delicious tomatoes. Health Kick, a plum shaped determinate tomato, shows good disease resistance, is very prolific, resist cracking, has more lycopene than other tomatoes and is delicious. It is perfect for fresh eating and sauces and because it is determinate it is easily trellised with a stake and weave method.
If at all possible, grow your own tomato transplants. Prepare a bed or row in your garden that is rich in organic matter and amended with compost. If the bed or row has not had lime applied in the last 2 or 3 years you should apply 2 cups for each tomato plant and thoroughly mix into the soil. Lime supplies calcium which helps prevent blossom-end rot. The planting bed or row for growing tomatoes should receive 8 hours or more of sunshine each day. After all danger of frost has past and the soil is warm, plant your plants. Remember that tomato plants benefit from deep planting with the soil pulled up around the stem. Additional roots will grow from the stem if it is covered with soil. Apply mulch (leaves, straw, hay) to the planting area and trellis your plants as they grow. The mulch helps with weed management and water conservation plus when it decomposes it feeds the soil. Tomatoes need nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium and a very small amount of boron. I fertilize my tomatoes a couple of times with the following mix:
Organic Fertilizer Mix Pour into a 1 quart container: 1/8 cup liquid fish fertilizer (nitrogen), 1/8 cup Biolink 0-5-5 (phosphorous and potassium), 1/8 cup Epsom Salts (magnesium; if you applied dolomitic lime to the planting bed you do not need the epsom salts as dolomitic lime contains magnesium), 1 teaspoon Borax (boron). Finish filling the jug with water. This is a concentrate and should be enough for approximately 40 plants. Place in a hose end sprayer, attach to the end of your garden hose and water your plants after planting and again 3-4 weeks later. Keep in mind that this is a general recommendation. The amount of fertilizer needed is dependent on existing soil fertility.
Keep the soil evenly moist. Water deficiencies can cause blossom-end rot while too much water or uneven watering can cause cracking. Summer heat can also cause cracking. Choosing a crack resistant variety can help with this problem. Watch for insect pest such as worms and hand-pick them. In time you should be rewarded with delicious, nutritious vine-ripened tomatoes.
If you have questions or comments about growing tomatoes, post in the comments section.
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