ORGANIC TOMATO PLANTING AND MAINTENANCE
- Saturday, April 19, 2014
9. The main disease problem we have in the Dallas area is called early blight or fusarium wilt. It is caused by fungal spores in the soil that splash up on your plant leaves either when it rains or when you water. There is no way to totally obliterate this disease. We can only slow it down. Don Lambert of Gardener's in community development uses this method to slow it down. After the plant is in the ground, he places a section of newspaper on the ground on all 4 sides of the plant to keep the soil born fungus from splashing on the plant. He then keeps a very heavy concentration of straw in the cages to further impede the fungus and to be used as a mulch.
10. When you get the disease if you really want to battle it, Get a pair of sharp scissors, a large plastic zip lock bag, & make some cornmeal tea. You can make cornmeal tea by putting cornmeal in a sock and allowing it to soak in declorinated water. Go to your plants and being very careful cut off the infected limbs from the main trunk. Dip and swish the scissors in the tea as you work. Try to not let the infected material touch your healthy material and immediately place them in your plastic bag so the spores do not spread. Do not compost this material. Put it in the trash. After you are through, take some unused cornmeal tea and spray the plants down with it. Another organic antifungal product you can use is garlic tea or potassium bicarbonate.
11. I strongly recommend that you invest in a trombone sprayer, as this device will deliver all the sprays that you need to use without clogging up and will last much longer than a pump up sprayer. In addition, it will shoot whatever you are using up to 30' away that is also good for spraying trees.
12. I foliar feed my tomatoes once a week during the growing season with a mixture of liquid seaweed, molasses, apple cider vinegar, compost or manure tea, & liquid humate if I have it. You can also use one or two of these ingredients and they will still be good for the plant. I like to foliar feed early in the morning or on a cloudy cooler day as the leaf stomas are open during those times and are more receptive to the concoction.
13. Last year I amended my garden beds with lots of additional compost, minerals plus, lava sand, green sand, and organic fertilizer. This year I will bring in additional compost and minerals plus. Every year you grow a crop in your garden and harvest the veggies you are mining your soil of nutrients that you will need to replace before the next seasons crops are planted. I learned at the TOFGA conference that you should put 3 5 gallon buckets of compost on a 10 X 8 bed every year you harvest vegetables from it.
14. I also put out tomato fertilizer once every 10 days during the growing season at the base of each plant and water it in. Tomatoes are very heavy feeders especially when they are setting blooms and fruit.
15. After your tomatoes get around two feet high you should prune the suckers back. The suckers are the stems that grow in the crotch of your main stem and the large stems that come off the main trunk. Use your fingers to pinch them off at the base. This will allow the root system to concentrate the plants nutrients to the main stems of the plants and give you better fruit production.
16. Determinant vs. Indeterminate tomatoes. Determinant tomatoes are a bush type plant that produces one crop and then dies. This type of plant is typically used by commercial growers who want to pick their entire crop at the same time. Indeterminate tomatoes start producing fruit and will continue to produce fruit until something stops them such as hot weather, cold weather, or shortened hours of light. If you can keep an indeterminate tomato alive through the summer, you can many times get a Fall crop out of it without having to plant new plants. I have done this many times. You do have to baby it through the hot summer and give it lots of attention to help it survive.
17. Tomato cages. You will more than likely need to support your tomatoes either in cages or on trellises. Do not bother to buy the lightweight conical cages that you see at the box stores or in some nurseries, as they will not hold up under the weight of the gigantic plants you are going to have. You can make your own cages from a type of wire called concrete wire. It has openings in the wire that is about 4" X 4" X 4' high which is good to get your hand through to pick the fruit. Do not buy the 1.5" X 4' welded wire for this very reason. Cut the concrete wire in various lengths and circle it around wiring it together. If you cut it in different lengths, you can nest them inside each other for better storage. You might want to paint them as they will look a little tacky in the garden, as they will be rusty. You can also buy heavy duty pre-made cages that fold flat when not in use for about $25.00 per cage. That is high, but they will last a long time. I think that is tomatocage.com Gardeners also use various trellising methods, but I have not tried them so Google that.
18. Compost or manure tea. You can purchase compost tea for about $8.00 to $11.00 per gallon or you can make your own for about a nickel a gallon. Get a 5-gallon bucket with a lid on it. Fill it 2/3 full of water. I do like to declorinate my water at this point, but it is not critical. Get an old pillowcase and fill it 1/2 full of preferably your own compost from your property or get some from your organic garden center. You can also use clean rabbit manure, earthworm castings, or other manure from a ruminant. You have to be careful about manure as Coastal Bermuda hay is many times treated with an herbicide called Picloram that does not break down in compost or through an animal's digestive system. If you get it on your garden it will kill everything on it and you will not be able to grow anything for a long time in that area. That is one reason we do not use Coastal Bermuda hay anywhere close to our garden. Dip your tea bag in the water and let it soak up. I also like to put about a cup of molasses to help stimulate the microbes in the compost and make a better tea. I also use an aquarium pump in the tea to give additional microbial stimulation. When the tea makes foam on the surface it is ready to use. Pour 1 cup of tea into each gallon of whatever you are making. You can use it as a foliar feed, a drench, on your lawn, spray it on your trees, put it on anything that grows and they will wave their leaves at you in thanks.
19. The best water in order of benefits to the plant is rainwater, pond water, well water, with tap water being a very low 4th.
20. Pests. The main pest I have encountered for tomatoes are the stinkbugs that come in the heat of the summer. They pierce the fruit and disfigure it making the skin tough. I have not really come up with an organic insecticide to kill them, but have noticed that since I have chickens I have not had as much as a problem with them. I let the chickens roam the garden in the winter. The scratch it up and pick out little bug eggs so I think they are getting most of them before they hatch in the summer. I also occasionally see tomato hornworms in the summer, but if you keep an eye on your plants, they are easy enough to find and dispatch before they do too much damage. I occasionally add fish emulsion to my foliar feedings and that is supposed to help with aphids. So far, I have had no problems with aphids.
21. Varieties of tomatoes. I have tried many different varieties of tomatoes with varying success with each variety. I prefer to grow heirlooms that are the old breeds of tomatoes that have not be hybridized. However, the hybridized tomatoes usually produce better and have better disease resistance. I have had excellent success with Celebrity, Better boy, Super fantastic, Heat wave, & Early girl in the hybrid varieties. My favorite heirlooms include Cherokee purple, Black Krim, Yellow pear, Austin red pear, Arkansas traveler, Brandywine, Mortgage lifter, & Porter. I prefer the heirlooms because I think they are beautiful, and taste a little better than the hybrids. In addition, we need to keep the heirloom plants in production to keep our seed stock alive. The hybrids will not normally grow the same plant from their seeds. The very small grape tomatoes actually are the best producers and take the heat much better than any other type of tomato. I have never had good luck with the huge beefsteak type of tomatoes and do not know of anyone in North Texas who has done well with them.
22. Watering your plants. I have read that tomatoes need an inch of water per week to thrive. If you use that watering schedule in North Texas you will quickly have a shriveled up crispy little blob that used to be called a tomato plant. During the growing season and when it starts to get hot, I water mine sometimes every day. It is very important to be in your garden once or more a day to monitor the health of your plants. I know commercial growers who use drip irrigation tape to water their plants. This saves water and puts it directly on the root zone where it is needed. In addition, it helps alleviate the problem of splashing water on the plant leafs that causes the early blight fungus. I water mine with a garden hose and try to be careful not to splash the water on the leaves.
Sources for tomato seeds and supplies:
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Totally Tomatoes
Seed Savers exchange Johnny's seeds
Please do not hesitate to call or email me to share your gardening experiences. I love to talk to gardeners. You can also come and visit.
8702 San Benito 214-676-4326