Organic Vegetable Gardening A Few Words About Tomatoes

Everybody loves tomatoes. And the taste best when picked from the vine, walked to the butcher block, sliced, and put on the homemade bread with lettuce, bacon, and mayonnaise. My mouth is watering at the thought. First we have to grow the tomato.

Tomatoes come in a numerous varieties, heirloom and hybrid. I just like to eat them. From grape sized and red to gigantic and purple, you can get tomatoes in a virtually unlimited array of colors and sizes. They all grow between three to four feet for you determinate varieties and seven to fifteen feet for your indeterminate varieties. All tomatoes need twenty-four to thirty six inches of space to spread out. If you use deep beds, you can plant a bit closer together and train the vines vertically. The majority of the roots are in the top eight inches of the soil with some fibrous spreading roots going four plus feet down. They like their soil to have a pH of 6 to 7.

Tomatoes love eight or more hours of full sun per day. They cannot tolerate frost and should be started indoors and transplanted to your garden after the last chance of frost. Where I live in Tennessee, that is tax day here in the US, April 15. Did I follow my own advice? Of course not! I planted early and had to cover my tomatoes because we had a frost. Some stakes and old packing blankets over the tomatoes brought them through just fine. They look great and are moving toward the sandwich as I write.

When you do plant your tomatoes, if in rows they should be 18 to 24 inches apart. If you use deep beds as I do, they go 12 inches apart and should be trained up a trellis. Tomatoes love water and should get one to one and half inches per week either from rain or watering. Apply compost or slow acting fertilizer in spring. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and require light supplements every couple of weeks throughout the growing season. Go easy with the nitrogen. You will be well served by spraying your plants with the liquid seaweed extract.

I have had trouble over the years with the tomato hornworm. You know you have them when you see holes in your leaves and black droppings in the foliage of your lovely tomato plant. If you spray your plant with water, the hornworms thrash about and let you know where they are. You will recognize them from the large (3 to 5 inches) , green, caterpillar appearance. The dead giveaway is the horn on their head. They are relatively easy to control by picking of early in the season. You can also dust with BT (bacillus thuringiensis). If the infestation is too awful, use pyrethrum twice, three days apart.

Whiteflies have been the bane of my existence on more than one occasion. The little bugger secrete honeydew that encourages fungus causing the plant to weaken, turn yellow, and die. So sad. You know you have them because your plants start to turn yellow and, when the plant is shaken, a flying could of dandruff flies around your tomato. Insecticidal soap will get rid of the pestilence. If that doesn’t work, use the pyrethrum twice, three days apart.

Hey, have fun and eat the delicious tomatoes. I know I can’t wait.