How to Grow Organic Tomatoes
Growing your own organic tomatoes is a great way to get a bumper crop of these ripe, delicious, and nutritious vegetables. Growing tomato plants without chemical fertilizers or pesticides mean that you keep potentially harmful toxins and chemicals out of the food chain. Growing organic tomatoes also gives you the chance to grow unusual types of tomatoes. For example, you can grow heirloom tomato plants, Cherokee purple tomatoes, or black cherry tomatoes.
Of course, growing tomatoes organically has its challenges. You need to keep garden pests such as tomato hornworms away from your crops. It is also necessary to get the right organic fertilizer for tomatoes to prevent diseases and grow healthy, chemical-free vegetables and fruits.
Tomatoes (botanical name: Solanum lycopersicum) are a type of fruit or berry that grow on vine plants. Because tomatoes are used in savory dishes, we often refer to them as vegetables. Raw or cooked, organically grown tomatoes are a delicious ingredient in any recipe.
In this article, you will learn how to grow healthy, nutritious, and flavorful organic tomatoes in 8 steps. You will also find out what are the best companion plants to grow with tomatoes in organic gardening.
Are Organic Tomatoes Better for You?
Before we look at the top 8 tips on growing organic tomatoes, you may be wondering if organically-grown tomatoes are better for you.
There is growing scientific evidence that organic tomatoes taste better and are healthier than conventional tomatoes.
A 2015 study published in the journal Foods found that organic tomato cultivation resulted in higher quality yields. Evidence suggests that tomatoes from organic gardens have more vitamin C and antioxidants than from conventional farming. Some organic tomatoes cultivars had 79% more quercetin and 97% more kaempferol than those grown with pesticides.
So, there are plenty of reasons to grow your tomatoes organically.
8 Steps to Growing Organic Tomatoes
Here are the eight steps to getting a good crop of healthy and robust organic tomatoes.
1. Choose the Right Tomato Variety for Growing Organically
Types of tomatoes come in many shapes and sizes and more colors than just red. For organic gardeners, it’s essential to choose a hardy variety. You should also consider the size the vines grow to and the size of the tomatoes.
If you want to keep the seeds from ripe tomatoes and use for growing next year, choose a tasty heirloom tomato variety.
2.Prepare Organic Soil for Healthy Tomatoes
The key to growing plump juicy tomatoes without the use of chemicals is to use good quality organic soil. The best soil for growing organic tomatoes is peat or compost-based soil. You can also dig in aged manure to increase soil quality. The organic manure helps to ensure that your tomato plants have all the nutrients they need to grow strong and healthy.
If you are growing tomatoes in pots or containers, choose large ones that have good drainage.
3.Use Supports or Trellises
When using organic gardening methods to grow tomatoes, it’s important to use supports or trellises. Supports keep tomatoes off the ground where they are more susceptible to slug and insect damage. Using upright supports also improves light exposure and air circulation.
4.Plant Companion Plants
Companion planting is a vital gardening method to reduce reliance on pesticides.
Researchers from Cornell University recommend growing onions, carrots, chives, and parsley as companion plants for tomatoes. Intercropping with garlic also helps to protect tomato plants from red spider mites.
You should also practice crop rotation every other year to boost soil nutrients and grow vegetables that are less susceptible to disease.
5.Use Organic Tomato Fertilizer
The best organic fertilizers for growing tomatoes only contain naturally-occurring plant or mineral matter. These fertilizers have the advantage that they release gradually and contain many trace nutrients. The best fertilizers for tomato plants are bone meal, compost, fish meal, granite dust, and legumes.
Alternatively, you can look online for commercial organic tomato fertilizers.
Water your tomato seedlings or transplants generously for the first few days. All types of tomatoes require deep watering to develop a healthy root system. Stronger roots result in a better crop that is more disease resistant.
Five weeks after transplanting, you can add a layer of mulch around your growing tomato plants. This helps to lock in moisture and control weeds. Proper watering and a layer of mulch also prevent organic tomatoes from developing cracked skins that result from uneven moisture.
Always water in the morning to prevent moisture problems with your organic plants.
7.Pruning Tomato Plants
To encourage healthy growth, pinch off side stems (suckers) that grow between the main stem and branches. You should also prune off all the branches below the first flower cluster and any yellow branches. This helps to concentrate all the nutrients in the tomato crop and results in better quality organic tomatoes.
8. Organic Tomato Pests and Disease Control
Organic tomatoes are susceptible to pests and diseases, just like any other plant. Thankfully, there are several non-toxic solutions to control insects and diseases.
For example, spray leaves with water to wash away whitefly eggs. Adding baking soda to water and spraying is helpful to prevent the Phytophthora infestans fungus.
Another problem the organic gardener faces when growing tomatoes is tomato hornworms (Manduca quinquemaculata). Usually, handpicking the large green larvae is the best way to get rid of them. If you have an infestation of small hornworms, you can use Bacillus thruingiensis – a natural organic pesticide to kill off leaf-eating caterpillars.
In conclusion, organic gardeners can enjoy a large crop of deliciously-tasting tomatoes every year. Developing good organic soil, planting companion plants, and using natural pest control all help to grow tomatoes organically.
Organic Tomatoes in Containers
Container gardening will help those who live in apartments or houses without large yards to grow organic tomatoes. These containers range from the average flower pot to multi-plant containers that can hold up to a dozen small plants. Another form of container gardening is to rent or buy a hydroponics system to grow your tomatoes in water. Growing grape tomatoes in a hydroponics system guarantees a completely organic, juicy, and super sweet grape tomatoes. The only problem with using a hydroponics system is finding a way to prop growing tomato plants up while they scale to new heights.
It goes without saying that keeping the water up when growing organic tomatoes is absolutely paramount. Tomatoes are approximately ninety percent water and if they are not watered enough they will end up being unpalatable. No one likes a sour grape tomato, so keep your tomatoes warm and the soil wet and you’ll have super sweet grape tomatoes growing in no time.