Growing organic tomatoes is a great introduction to organic farming. Many people find tomatoes easy to grow, so if you’re looking to start an organic garden, or any kind of garden for that matter, tomatoes are a great place to start. Here are some simple tips for successful tomato growing.
Tomatoes can be grown in a traditional plot garden or in a container garden, so they’re good choice for people who own their own home, people who grow in community gardens, and even people who live in an apartment. Once you get the hang of tomatoes, you might even want to expand your vegetable garden to include a wider variety of organically grown food.
Preparing a Plot
To begin, you’ll need to prepare a plot. For this, you’ll need a small, moderately-sunny square of yard or a container and a sunny balcony or porch. The idea behind organic gardening is that everything is natural and chemical free. From the plants themselves, to the dirt, to the compost, it’s important to keep chemicals out of the mix.
If you’ll be planting your crop in your yard, the soil you already have will probably be just fine. Tomatoes grow best in soil that has a pH of 5.8 to 7.0, but they’re not really picky, so just dig in. If your neighbours are growing them, your efforts should pay off too.
If you’re apartment bound, get a planter or pot. Size isn’t terribly important; just make sure that your plant(s) will have room to grow. If you’ll be container gardening, you can pick up a bag or two of organic soil from your local garden center or network with other organic gardeners and get a bit from one of them.
Gardeners growing in containers should plant to stake their plants and plot gardeners can either stake or cage their tomatoes.
To Compost or not to Compost
Many tomato gardeners, organic or not, just plant and grow. This is just fine if all you want are average tomatoes, but great tomatoes require quite a few nutrients. Compost is the best way to provide these nutrients. Composting is a wonderful way to reduce what makes it into landfills and provide quality growing medium at the same time. Many organic gardeners have far more compost than they need and will either sell it or give it away. Again, network with other organic gardeners in your area for a quality source of compost. If you’re ambitious, go ahead and start composting on your own.
How Many, How Much?
Obviously, you’ll need to have some sort of idea how many plants you’ll be planting so that you can map out the size of your plot or buy the right number of containers. Most people believe they can never have too many tomatoes. If you end up with more than you can eat, give them away, or, even better, buy an inexpensive dehydrator (or dehydrate naturally in the sun!) and dehydrate some of your crop for sun-dried tomatoes to be used throughout the year, not just during growing season. Your own home-dried tomatoes placed in a great little jar with garlic olive oil makes a wonderful gift. So, don’t be afraid to grow too many.
Seed and Plant Selection
You’ll need to decide on either seeds or plants. For those new to vegetable gardening, plants are easiest. Starting plants from seed requires a bit more care and skill, so you might want to save this for when you’ve got a bit more gardening experience.
Selecting plants is not difficult. Just make sure that they’re organic – started in organic soil and nurtured organically – by reading the label. And, remember that local organic growers are a great resource for plants as well as soil and compost. They’re also a wonderful resource for information. Organic growers love to network with other organic growers. Many organic tomato growers save seeds and sell or give them away year after year. Many also sell off or give away extra seedlings. Because of the helpful nature of the organic community, you may be able to begin your organic tomato garden for free!
Putting it all Together
So far, you’ve got a place to grow your tomatoes, some insight as to soil and compost requirements, and some plants. If you want to make sure that you’ve got a steady supply of tomatoes, stagger your planting. Start with just a couple of plants, then plant more as the season progresses. This is a great idea for people who live in climates that offer a shorter growing season.
Set your plants outside for a few days to get them accustomed to the outdoor climate (don’t’ forget to water them!), then plant them. Make sure that the daytime temperatures are consistently above 60 degrees before you put the plants out. If it’s too cold, your plants may not perform.
Tomatoes like lots of water. Water them regularly and thoroughly, give them a bit of organic fertilizer, and you’ll be rewarded with a luscious crop of organic tomatoes.