Growing tomatoes organically is becoming more popular each season. A brief look around the plant food or the compost area at any garden centre will show how the idea of organically grown vegetables appeals to gardeners.
However, to be truly organic, tomatoes have to be grown in soil that has been fertilised by organic nutrients, grown from organic seeds, fed organic fertiliser and not sprayed by synthetic chemical sprays to control disease or insect attack.
This poses a challenge because tomatoes can be difficult enough to grow without these added restrictions, so to grow organic tomatoes needs a bit of thoughtful planning.
Prevention Better Than Cure
This will include disease prevention because after all that effort and expense, growing the healthiest and tastiest tomatoes, we won’t want to have to spray them with chemicals if they become infected with a dreadful fungal disease!
Heirloom and Heritage Varieties
Growing heirloom varieties the organic way is often considered the greatest luxury in tomato taste, quality and getting back to healthy basics – the way it used to be.
Suggestions when choosing varieties:
- Grow varieties with disease resistance.
- Some varieties are tolerant of physiological conditions such as blossom end rot and splitting.
- Early to mature – if grown in an area where wet summers often bring blight, a variety that matures early can help avoid late blight.
A Watchful Eye
It may not always be possible to completely eliminate aphids for example, but keeping them under control is much easier when they are spotted early.
Good cultural practices such as pruning lower leaves and increasing aeration will help prevent insects and fungal diseases getting hold. Plants grown too close together will be more vulnerable to disease and may also reduce yield.
Feeding The Organic Way
For the organic grower, the “good of the soil” is enhanced with nature’s products such as manure from animals including poultry and horse manure. The sea provides us with seaweed extract and fish emulsion. Then there is fertiliser made from leaves such as comfrey and nettle tea, to name but two!
Dried blood, fish and bone meal have been popular fertilisers for years.
A very important aspect for effective organic growing is the activity of the friendly fungi, bacteria and other microbes that live in the soil.
These provide a plant’s roots with food by digesting and breaking down the organic material and producing nutrients nature’s way.
Gradual Increase – Ideal for Tomato Plants
One of the great advantages of feeding tomatoes organically is that nutrients are made available gradually to plant roots – as the soil microbes slowly break down the organic matter, the possibility of over feeding is much reduced.
Furthermore, because microbes are the means by which food is made available in organics, the more microbes there are, the more food there is available – given good organic content in the soil.
This means that as the soil warms up, so the microbes increase and so does food supply for plant roots.
It also means that if the soil is too cold in the early spring, there will be less soil activity – a good reason not to start sowing seeds too early or planting out too soon!
Once you have tried growing organic tomatoes, you’ll find that it is well worth the effort!