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  • Preparing the Soil
  • Planting
  • Watering
  • Fertilizing
  • Pests & Disease
  • Harvesting
  • Post Harvest & Storage

Soil Preparation

Steve recommends preparing soil using the “lasagna method.” Lasagna gardening is a no-dig, no-till method that results in fluffy soil with little effort. The lasagna method consists of layering organic materials on top of each other that will compost over time to create that desirable rich soil. Fertilizers, compost, castings and soil conditioners are layered over the planting area. Finally, your choice of soil amendment is used to cover the entire garden. An ample amount of water is used to compact and moisten the soil. You can immediately plant your starts through the layers, only removing enough soil to accommodate the new seedling. This method is recommended because once you layer your materials, you never have to till your garden again.

Organic Potting Soil for Containers

When planting indeterminate varieties of tomatoes, Steve suggests using a container or pot that is a minimum of 15-gallon standard size nursery container or larger. It should hold a 2-cubic feet bag of potting soil. Determinate varieties will do fine in a 5-gallon size nursery container or larger. This container should hold just short of 1-cubic feet of potting soil. Add John & Bob’s Optimize (an organic soil conditioner), Maximize (an organic soil amendment to add essential microbes and minerals) and Nourish Bio-Sol organic fertilizer to complete your own potting soil mix.

Soil Conditioners

John and Bob’s Optimize is an organic humate soil conditioner that creates sustainable life in the soil. It’s the third part of the soil chain often overlooked to create true biomass sustainability. It feeds the beneficial bacteria in the soil. These highly active, beneficial bacteria provide complete nutrient availability to your plants. This total nutrient availability provides plants with the ability to resist insect and disease pressures and to withstand hot and cold temperatures. The results of this interaction are increased starches and sugars that flow throughout the vascular system of the plant and end up in the fruit you are harvesting. Ever wonder why vine-ripened tomatoes are so sweet? That’s why!

Sun Exposure

Tomatoes are at their best in full sun. However, some of us aren’t that lucky. The amount of sunlight a tomato requires can depend on the variety you choose. A simple rule of thumb is the larger the tomato, the more sunlight it will need. Large varieties need at least eight to 10 hours each day. Smaller varieties require less sunlight. However, remember that six hours of sunlight is the minimum amount required to produce some fruit.

Selecting Tomato Starts

Many gardeners spend too much energy selecting the perfect plant. Remember, tomatoes grow like weeds. With the proper nutrition, your plant will grow strong and healthy.

Planting Tomato Starts

Remove your plant from its container. Save the tag! If the plant is four inches or smaller, just plant it in the ground as you would any bedding plant, with the top of the root ball equal to the soil line. Taller plants and older plants need a little extra attention. Prepare the plant by removing all the foliage on the stem, leaving only the top three leaves or four to six inches at the tip. Bury the plant’s stem all the way to the exposed top three leaves or four to six inches of the plant above the soil line. The buried stems will turn into root in five days, which creates a better system for the plant to absorb nutrients. Always remove the flowers and any fruit that may be forming before planting.

Supporting Your Plants

Indeterminate tomato varieties’ stems can reach 5 to 8 feet in length. This means that some sort of support is necessary to keep your vines and tomatoes off the ground. A 2”x2” stake 8’ or 10’ foot stake is very effective. Select a heavy mesh wire cage to support larger plants. If you use a wire cage, buy the largest cage available. Determinate tomato plants grow much smaller. A medium-sized wire cage is enough for these plants. Stake the same day you plant! If you wait a week or two later, you may damage the new roots that are growing away from the main root mass.

“How much? How often? I found that a deep watering at intervals is the best way to water,” says Steve. A rule of thumb is to water deeply once every seven days for the first four weeks after planting. Check if the foliage is drooping in the coolest part of the morning after sunrise. If the foliage is drooping in the cool morning air, then that’s the best time to water. Do not be fooled by a plant’s foliage drooping as needing water. This is natural for the foliage to droop in the mid morning or afternoon heat. Deep watering is key. A slow drip from the hose for at least 45 minutes is advised. Apply water again when the foliage is drooping only in the cool early morning. Count the intervals between waterings. That will determine your how often you need to water. You will know about when the plant will need water again.

Organic fertilizers are simple to use and are extremely important products to supplement soil amendments and compost. Organic fertilizers are made from natural sources like microbes and organic wastes, so overapplication will never be harmful to the soil or damage plant roots. Organic fertilizers are slow-release, and are a complete source of nutrition that keeps both the plant and soil healthy. Most are applied every 30 to 180 days. Organic fertilizers are renewable, biodegradable and environmentally-friendly.

Pests

Aphids, white flies, mites and little green worms (Loopers) are common tomato plant invaders. Spray with a fast jet of water, use organic products containing Spinosad or herb oils such as garlic, cinnamon, thyme, clove or citrus. Organic fertilizers also aid in repelling invaders sizing up your tomato plants for dinner. Tomato hornworms are best controlled by just picking them off your plant with a pair of tweezers, but it’s best to spray first then control by hand. Hornworms with white egg cases of parasitic wasps should not be destroyed, because once the wasps hatch they destroy other hornworms in the garden. Organic controls such as Spinosad or B.T. (Bacillus Thuringiensis) are safe for people, but deadly for insects.

Diseases

Most Heirloom tomato varieties have poor disease resistance. However, disease is not usually a problem until mid-season. Leaf blight diseases such as early blight and alternaria begin to appear about mid-April, and plants are more susceptible once fruit production begins. To reduce disease problems, use disease-resistant or tolerant varieties and use organic sprays. Fusarium wilt (race 1), a disease caused by a soil fungus, is common when soil temperatures approach 60 degrees. Fusarium races 1 and 2 are present in southern areas especially. Where Fusarium wilt is present, the use of resistant varieties is recommended. Remember, these varieties are not a complete cure for the problem, as they may succumb to the disease later in the season. Compost teas have recently been quite effective in combating soil and leaf fungus, while aiding the plants by gathering nutrients and conditioning the soil. Blossom-end rot (a hard dark patch that develops at the blossom end of the fruit) is prevented by ensuring an adequate level of soil calcium and steady moisture. Temperature is usually a major factor of the cause of blossom-end rot. When soil temperatures rise, calcium locked up in the soil is released, usually solving this problem organically.

Tomato plants typically begin to produce fruit 60 to 85 days after planting seedlings in the garden. Indeterminate varieties ripen all season long, often until frost. Determinate varieties set and ripen their fruit all at one time, so be ready for a big harvest. A rule of thumb is to harvest your fruit 24 to 48 hours after watering. This allows a more concentrated stream of sugars to be stored in the fruit which will then be trapped when you harvest it. Tomatoes should be picked when they’re just a tad soft when squeezed and when their color is even

Complete plant nutrition has a great effect on how a tomato tastes. Plant stress, such as insect or disease pressures, and adverse weather can lead to poor flavor in tomatoes. Avoid placing freshly-harvested tomatoes in the refrigerator. Refrigeration will destroy much of the delicate flavor by turning the sugar to starch. Tomatoes are best stored at a temperature above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) to maximize vine-ripened tomato flavors. Over-watering is another common mistake that leads to watery-tasting fruit. Liquids dilute the sugars in the plant’s vascular system, making them bland.