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Tips for Growing Organic Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a garden favorite due to their versatility and ease of growing organically. If you want to try out your green thumb by planting and growing organic tomatoes this summer, use these tips to help ensure a bumper crop of homegrown tomatoes.

Wash Hands

Not after, but before touching a tomato plant you need to wash your hands thoroughly. Tomato plants are highly susceptible to the Tobacco Mosaic Virus (ToMV) and washing hands prior to touching plants is the best organic way to prevent the disease. ToMV can also be spread by insects which have come into contact with a tobacco product. Plants infected with ToMV will develop tomatoes that have are oddly shaped and/or have black spots. Stop the disease by uprooting the plant and discarding it (don’t put infected plant on the compost pile).

Prevent Blossom End Rot

Blossom end rot is the most common problem organic tomato gardeners encounter. This vegetable-ruining disorder occurs when soil moisture is inconsistent during the hot summer months and/or when there’s not enough calcium in garden soil.

Lime will add calcium to the garden soil to prevent or halt blossom end rot naturally and promote root growth. The soil should be limed according to recommendations of a soil analysis report to bring the soil pH to 6.5, and to provide adequate calcium levels in the soil. Limestone is best applied 3 to 6 months in advance and tilled into the garden soil. If calcium levels are not sufficient, but the soil pH is correct, then gypsum (calcium sulfate) is best tilled into the soil before planting at 1 to 2 pounds per 100 square feet.

Fertilizer

Avoid excessive potassium or magnesium fertilization as these nutrients will compete with calcium for uptake by the plants. Epsom salts is an example of a magnesium source, so do not apply to soil unless a recent soil report indicates a magnesium deficiency. Avoid ammoniacal nitrogen fertilizers as they will also compete with calcium for uptake.

Suckering Plants

Suckers are side shoots that develop on tomato plants between the main stalk and side branches. These suckers will sap the energy and nutrients from the main stalk and produce inferior tomatoes. Make the plant healthier, stronger and have bigger tomatoes by pinching off all suckers that develop below the first set of blossoms on the plant.

Organic Mulch

Tomato plants are heavy drinkers and do best with consistent moisture. Add a 2-4 inch layer of organic mulch around plant base to help retain moisture and prevent weed growth. Use hay, pine straw, newspaper (black and white pint only) nut hulls, tree bark or other organic material as plant mulch.

As the organic mulch decomposes it will improve soil structure and help keep garden plants fed.

Visit Wrightgardens.com Tomato Catalog

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Proven Winners, Why Plant In Fall?

urban-legendMany folks are surprised to learn that autumn runs a close second to spring as an ideal planting time, but it’s true: cool temperatures, reliable rainfall, and short, bright days help plants make a quick and easy transition to your landscape. Despite the cold weather lurking around the corner, the entire first half of autumn (and then some) provides ample opportunity for plants to grow roots and get off to a good start in their new home. Before you run off to the garden center, though, there are a few things you should know to ensure success with fall planting:

–       You can plant up to 6 weeks before your ground freezes. Once the ground is frozen, root growth will cease almost entirely until spring, and that six week window gives the plant time to get established enough to withstand cold and snow. The date that your ground actually freezes varies from year to year, of course, and some areas won’t have frozen ground at all. If you’re unsure, mid-November is a safe planting deadline for nearly everyone.

–       Get everything in the ground before the ground freezes. If you still have plants in their nursery pots, get them in the ground before winter, no matter how late it has gotten. The plants will be much happier and better protected in the ground than in their thin plastic pots, so even if it’s getting quite late in the season, just plant them where you can. You can always move them come spring if you change your mind.

–       Provide supplemental water when needed. Autumn weather can be quite cool and rainy, but that doesn’t mean that new plantings should be ignored, particularly if weather has been dry and/or windy. Water all plants thoroughly after planting, and continue to water them as needed until the ground freezes.

–       Mulch. Just as you pile on blankets and quilts when the temperatures dip, mulch acts as insulation for plants. Mulch also creates the ideal environment for vigorous root growth, which helps new plantings get off to a good start. While even established plants benefit from a nice layer of mulch, newly planted specimens especially appreciate the protection it offers from the challenges of winter.

–       Know what to expect. You won’t see much top growth emerge on fall-planted shrubs, but this is actually a good thing: any new growth that the plant produces now will be too soft to survive the impending cold anyway. Autumn planting is all about giving the plant a chance to put on root growth, which continues until temperatures average about 48°F/9°C. Plantings will be raring to go come spring thanks to the roots they create in fall.

There are also a few things to avoid:

–       Avoid planting evergreens in fall. Because they keep their foliage all winter, they are more susceptible to drying out when the soil is frozen and the winds are blowing. Having several months (rather than several weeks) to develop a sizeable root system better prepares them to face these challenges. This is especially important for broadleaf evergreens like holly, rhododendron, and boxwood, as their large leaves are far more likely to get windburned and drought-stressed than conifers with needle or scale-like foliage.

–       Avoid planting varieties that typically get winter damage in your climate. Certain plants get a bit of winter damage every year, no matter what – butterfly bush, caryopteris, and big-leaf hydrangea are some common examples. If you’ve got a shrub in your yard that you prune each spring to remove dead, winter-damaged stems, similar varieties would be better planted in spring than fall.

–       Avoid planting anything that’s pushing it in terms of hardiness. Hardiness zones are a guideline, not an absolute, and lots of gardeners happily experiment with them. If you’d like to try something that’s perhaps not entirely hardy in your area, it’s far better to plant it in spring so it gets the whole season to grow roots instead of just a few weeks. The more roots it has, the better-equipped it is to survive winter.

Bonus tip: All of these guidelines apply to transplanting as well as new plantings, so if you’ve been considering moving something that’s already a part of your landscape, fall is a great time to do it.