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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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