Sunlight: Full sun
Maturity: 50-90 days
Height: 3 to 8 feet
Spacing: 18 to 36 inches apart, 3 to 4 feet between rows
The rich, sun-kissed taste of these juicy fruits makes growing tomato plants the Holy Grail of organic gardeners everywhere! Originating in Central and South America, tomatoes are available in an ever-increasing range of colors, sizes and shapes with the recent interest in heirloom cultivars fueling further interest for their delectable taste (see History of Tomatoes).
Fun Fact: Dan MacCoy of Ely, Minnesota grew an 8.41 lb tomato in 2014, breaking a Guinness World Record that stood for 28 years.
With the right tomato gardening supplies growing organically is easy! Planet Natural has everything you need to get started: containers and pots, seeds, soils and fertilizers. Plus natural pest solutions that will guarantee you’ve created the healthiest plants possible. Let’s grow together!
- The hardest part of growing tomatoes is choosing a variety, like cherry, beefsteak, heirloom, Roma, etc.
- Prepare soil be adding plenty of organic matter, but don’t overload with nitrogen
- For best production, start seeds indoors 5-6 weeks before the last frost.
- Plant seedlings deeply into well-prepared soil in full sun; water deeply a couple of times a week
- Harvest when fruits pull off the vine easily — green fruits can ripen indoors if frost hits
- See below for the list of pests and diseases
Tomatoes are very deep rooted and don’t need nearly as much water as most people believe. They will do much better in garden soil than in pots and require plenty of sun.
Plant after the soil has warmed in the spring in rich, fast-draining soil which has been amended with ample amounts of garden compost and organic calcium to prevent blossom end rot.
Tip: Tomatoes are one of the few crops that can be grown in the same location for years. Studies have shown that they prefer to grow in compost made of their own foliage.
How to Plant
Most gardeners buy seedlings or start their own seeds indoors about 5-6 weeks before the last frost date. Tomatoes love warm days and nights, so make sure you don’t plant tomatoes out too early.
Allow enough space (1-1/2 – 3 feet) between plants to permit good sun penetration and air circulation. Plant the tomatoes deep in the soil, up to the first set of leaves or deeper. Roots will form all along the stem. Water deeply for long periods of time once or twice a week to encourage roots to grow down into the soil. Once the plants are established, start them on a biweekly fertilizer program.
Tip: In northern climates use Wall O’ Waters to protect transplants from frost and speed production.
Tomatoes are vines, so they need support to keep the fruit off the ground. Tomato cages will support the plant without additional ties as they start. But be warned — tomatoes don’t know when they have a good thing going and often outgrow their cages in just a few weeks. At that time, use bamboo poles or tree stakes and tie the plants with twine or covered wire (see Plant Supports & Twine). Place the twine around a main stem and pull it gently toward the stake. Secure the twine to the stake.
Pruning off young suckers between the main stem and leaf axils encourages higher yields and earlier fruiting on staked plants. When the vines reach the tops of the stakes, pinch back the tip.
No Bloom – What Happened?
Tomato plants that receive fertilizer too high in nitrogen will do a couple of things, none of which are good. They may not bloom at all, or they may drop the blossoms before the fruit has set. In order to prevent this from happening, use an organic fertilizer low in nitrogen or one specifically formulated for tomato plants.
Once the plants begin blooming, you may need to hand pollinate, especially if your tomatoes are growing inside a greenhouse where there are no natural pollinators. To hand pollinate, you will need a small brush to pick up pollen from one flower and gently transfer it to another. Just tip your brush from flower to flower and pretend you are a bee.
Once tomatoes start ripening, check vines daily. Cut or gently twist off fruits, supporting the vine at the same time. For best flavor, leave the fruits on the plants for as long as possible. At first sign of heavy frost, harvest all fruits. Green ones will eventually ripen while stored in a warm place out of direct sunlight. Tomatoes require 90-140 days to mature from seed; 60-90 days from transplanting, depending on the variety.
Insects and Diseases
There are numerous insect and disease problems associated with tomatoes (too many to mention here). We have listed two of the more common problems:
Tomato hornworms are impressive caterpillars that are very easy to control. They are identified by their impressive size (3-6 inches) and the spiked horn at the tail, but their green color makes them difficult to spot among the foliage.
To find tomato hornworms, simply follow the trail of chewed foliage. Then, look for their scat on the leaves. To control them, use diatomaceous earth as a dusting powder, hand pick them, or use bacillus thuringiensis as a spray for control. Although these are all organic remedies, please use safety gear when applying any pesticide.
Blossom End Rot
Blossom end rot is a tomato disease usually caused by a calcium deficiency in the soil, although it is sometimes brought on by drought, high salt levels, excess nitrogen or uneven soil moisture. It is identified by a brown mushy spot on the butt end of the tomato. Prevent blossom end rot by keeping soil evenly moist and by spraying plants with kelp extract or liquid calcium as a foliar treatment.
Note: Containing 14% phosphate and up to 24% calcium, organic bone meal promotes healthy fruit development in tomatoes.
Seed Saving Instructions
Cross-pollination between modern tomato varieties seldom occurs, except in potato leaf varieties which should be separated by the length of the garden. Do not save seeds from double fruits or from the first fruits of large varieties.
Pick at least one ripe fruit from each of several plants. Squeeze seeds and juice into a strainer and wash, spread on a paper plate and dry.