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Organic Gardening for Tomatoes

written by: RobinCoe•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 7/6/2011

Organic garden fresh tomatoes are a delicious addition to the home vegetable garden. They can be eaten right off the vine, or added to a favorite recipe. There are many different types of pests and diseases that can harm your tomato plants, but with preparation you can take care of these problems.

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    Preparing the Soil

    Many diseases and insects can be avoided by providing your tomatoes with a humus rich soil. Mix homemade compost from your kitchen or yard compost bin evenly through the soil in your garden area before your transplant your seedlings. Use a shovel to work the compost into the soil at a depth of about 1 foot. Once you have transplanted your tomatoes into the garden area, add a side dressing of compost to the soil around your tomatoes 2 to 3 times during the growing season.

    You can also avoid many problems with disease and pests by staking your tomato plants. This keeps the tomatoes from contacting the soil, and keeps your plants healthier.

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    Planting

    Germination

    Prepare your seedlings about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost. Choose a local heirloom variety of tomato seeds that may be more resistant to diseases and pests in the area where you live. Start your seedlings indoors. Plant 2 seedlings into each section of a starter tray by pressing them ¼ inch deep into the soil. Water them daily with just enough water to dampen the soil. Keep your trays in a sunny window.

    Transplanting

    Transplant your tomatoes after the last frost. Your tomatoes should have developed a second set of leaves. Thin out the weaker looking seedlings from your tray. This will help to reduce the risk of disease. Harden off your tomatoes by setting them outside each day for 2 weeks. Begin with 1 hour the first day, and increase an hour each day. Leave your tomatoes outside overnight the last 2 days. This will help to acclimatize your plants to the weather outdoors.

    Dig a trench for your tomatoes in your garden. Add several inches of compost to the bottom of the trench to feed your plants. Add 1 tsp of Epsom salt underneath each spot where you are planting a tomato plant. Space your tomato plants about 2 feet apart. Add 1 tsp of Epsom salt underneath each spot where you are planting a tomato plant. Epsom salt will add magnesium and sulfur to the soil, which promotes healthier plants. Lay your tomatoes on their sides in the trench, and cover the roots and stems with soil up to the first set of leaves. Add a thick layer of mulch around your tomato plants to help them retain water. You can use hay, wood chips or yard leaves that have been broken up. However, do not use walnut leaves. Matter from walnut trees suppresses the growth of tomato plants

    Companion Gardening

    Amazingly, tomatoes don't just go well with basil when it comes to cooking your favorite Italian dish. Basil is an excellent plant to grow around your tomato plants. Basil dispels hornworms, which is a common pest of the tomato plant. Plant some basil with your tomato plants this year if you want to avoid handpicking these creatures from your plants.

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    Fertilizing Your Tomatoes

    Compost Tea

    Compost tea is a free and easy way to fertilizer your tomatoes. All you need to do is use those weeds you try so hard to get rid of. Fill a bucket half full of weeds, and then add water to the remaining portion of the bucket. Let the mixture sit for about 1 week, and stir it each day. Use your homemade fertilizer by diluting it in 10 parts water to 1 part compost tea. One bucket of diluted compost tea should cover roughly 6 yards of garden area.

    Stinging Nettles

    Stinging nettles are not just weeds. Besides the fact that they are edible and high in vitamin C, they can assist the organic gardener. Stinging Nettles can serve two purposes in keeping your tomato plants healthy. First, they are an excellent addition to a compost tea because of the high nitrogen content. The nitrogen will help many other plants in your garden, as well. The second way they can help is that their leaves are an irritant that can cause stinging on the skin. A few well placed plants grown in your garden can help to keep small animals from chomping on your harvest.

    Comfrey

    Comfrey is another well-known weed or healing herb that can be useful to the organic gardener. Often, comfrey is used as a poultice or compress to heal wounds, but add this plant to your compost tea and you'll have a high potassium fertilizer that can replace the traditional seaweed fertilizers used on tomatoes. Of course, if you live by the ocean, seaweed may be easier for you to harvest for your compost tea. Make sure to wash as much salt from the seaweed as you can before using it though. Tomatoes respond well to fertilizers high in potassium.

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    Avoiding Pests and Disease

    Hot Pepper

    A spray made from chili peppers will help to keep larger animals from your tomatoes. You can make a homemade spray by finely chopping chili peppers. Mix your peppers with an equal amount of water, and use it as a spray on your tomato plants foliage.

    Garlic Spray

    The strong smell of garlic helps to mask plants from many pests that harm tomato plants. You can make your own spray by finely chopping a head of garlic. Put the garlic in olive oil, and let it soak overnight. Strain it the next and add organic soap and water in equal parts. Use this to spray your plants to temporarily dispel insects.

    Stinging Nettles

    Another great use for nettles is that you can use them to deter pests. Just chop your leaves up finely, steep them in water and spray the mixture over your plants. Be sure to wear gloves while working with stinging nettles.

    Care

    An easy way to prevent you tomato plants from getting diseases is to remove wilted, browned or yellowed leaves or plants. This will prevent diseases from spreading to your other plants.

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    Resources

    Fedor, John. Organic Gardening for the 21st Century. Reader's Digest Association. 2001.

    Lavalle, Christine and Michael. Organic Gardening: A Practical Guide to Natural Gardens, from Planning to Planting to Harvesting and Maintenance. Lorenz Books. 2003