cluster of red tomatoes
Tomatoes on the vine

Everyone wants the best tomatoes your garden can produce. There are a few essential tips and experiences you need to know.

Tomatoes Love Sun

Your tomatoes need as much sun as possible. With little sun results in spindly tomato plants, few tomatoes, more diseased prone. Check your area before planting to ensure there is sunlight all day long.

Tomatoes Need a Reliable Source of Water

When watering your tomatoes, you must remember they need good drainage. It would be best if you kept even moisture throughout the growing season. Nature’s Organic Garden System (NOGS) maximizes the amount of water it can absorb in the organic material and sheds the remaining water out from under the bed. Too much water will split the tomato skin and stem. Too little water slows tomato growth, the skin hardens and cracks.

The NOGS provides a huge moisture reservoir in the straw layer. This layer can hold as much as 270 lbs. of water per bale. Since the straw absorbs so much water, the plants have a constant water amount without flooding the roots. The plants draw what they need and are the fundamental reason why you don’t need to water but once or the max of twice a week.

There are 28 fungi diseases, seven bacteria, three kinds of nematodes, and 17 kinds of viruses that you can experience. Creating the correct water environment is critical. Overwatering and under-watering stress tomato plants, and the wide variety of pathogens are waiting to invade your garden.

Too much nitrogen is a bad thing.

Too much nitrogen produces a massive plant with little fruit and can cause pathogens to attack the plant(s). It would be best to have a mix of NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) such as 5-10-10. You may need a bit of calcium to improve the quality of your tomatoes. Some informational sources have you fertilizing the plants at various stages of growth.

The NOGS uses a propriety blend of compost and worm teas to fertilize the plants. I spray the solution on the whole tomato plant, including the bottom and top of the leaves and the soil out to the plant’s furthest leaves every week or two weeks. Mornings are the best time to fertilize your plants. Worm and compost teas alone won’t burn the leaves or plants. If you add other fertilizers to the mix, plants and leaves can scorch. You always want to spray your plants early in the morning.  Spraying during the heat of the day will burn your plants.

Ph levels are essential.

Tomato plants prefer a soil pH level that’s between 5.5 and 7.5. The pH level of 7 is neutral. One is highest in acidity, and 14 is most elevated in alkalinity. Each number value is ten times more acid or alkaline. The value 6 is ten times more acidic than 7, and 8 is ten times more alkaline. Purchase a soil tester at home garden hardware stores.

If your soil is too alkaline, add some more compost to the plants. Sulfur is another product to use in alkaline soil. The package should provide the amount you need to effect change. If unsure, always use fewer ingredients and gradually add more if needed.

If your soil is too acidic, use compost first. If the ph is still too acidic, dolomite lime for your garden will work. The package should provide the amount you need to effect change. If unsure, always use fewer ingredients and gradually add more if needed.

Always error on the side of less is more. In all the years of using the NOG System, I haven’t found the need to adjust the garden’s pH levels. There are small swings in the pH levels, which eventually move close to 7 or neutral pH level.

Plant pruning is key to production.

If you want your tomatoes to ripen fast, reduce pathogens and keep the plant growing toward the sun, you need to prune them. Once the plant is established and producing leaves, you want to remove the bottom 6 to 12 inches of the plant leaves. Pruning the bottoms leaves keeps pathogens from being splashed up from the ground when watered. You might want to prune the stems to keep the plant going vertical rather than horizontal.

As the plant develops, you want to remove the suckers or limbs without blossoms. Leave the top third of the leaves intact. More sun will reach the fruits to ripening sooner. The plant’s energy is redirected from producing leaves to producing fruits and reduces the surface area for pathogens to develop.

Plant Staking

Tomatoes will droop and fall to the ground if you don’t stake them. When you start to prune them, make sure you have secured the plant with a stake or basket. The stake or basket will direct the plant upward and keep the tomatoes off the ground where they can rot. I use velcro cable straps to secure the stem to the stake or basket. As the stem grows, you can adjust the strap. The straps work surprisingly well, cost little, and are reusable.

Root growth

The key to healthy tomatoes, I feel, is in the soil. Plants evolved to take up water and nutrients from their root systems. There is a taproot for water and feeder roots to take up nutrients. Pathogens can quickly attack the plant through the root systems. Pathogens can kill the plant in a matter of day(s). What do you do to reduce or eliminate the soil pathogens?

Numbers Rule

The NOGS relies on nature, with a little assistance from you, to reduce, inhibit or eliminate harmful pathogens by flooding the garden with good bacteria and fungi. It is your army against the dark forces. There are few resources, food, and space for the dark side to become established by flooding the good guys’ environment. Some fungi bond to the roots to inhibit attacks by pathogens and feed the plants more efficiently.

Right fungi

Mycorrhizal is one of the main ingredients to bring a growing medium back to a healthy state. We are making sure that one particular group of fungi is in our soils and around our plants.

Mycorrhizae mean “fungus-roots” and explain the close, mutually beneficial relationship between specialized soil fungi and plant roots.

About 95% of the earth’s plants form or need the fungi relationship in their native habitats. The fungi are estimated responsible for increasing a thousand-fold soil capacity compared to roots alone. Some of the benefits of this fungus include:

  • Improved nutrient and water uptake
  • Superior root growth
  • Increased plant growth and yield
  • Improved disease resistance
  • Minimize transplant shock
  • Reduces drought stress

The fungi collect more nutrients and water from the soil in exchange for the sugar they need to live and grow. They extend long threads called hyphae that transport phosphorus and other nutrients into the plant roots. It also enables plants to use water more efficiently and resist pests.

Companion Planting

Basil repels insects and diseases and improves the flavor. Garlic repels spider mites.

Crop Rotation

Tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers are in the same family. You don’t want to plant or rotate them in the same location every season. Most sources recommend not to grow either of the three plants in the original place for three years.

Crop rotation creates a big problem for most small and medium home gardens. The locations with the possible sunlight are few. If you notice any diseased tomato, eggplant, or pepper plants, pull them from the growing medium and dispose of them in the trash, not the compost bin.

My experience over the years in the NOGS doesn’t follow the traditional understanding. I have locations where tomatoes are growing in the same place for years without incident. Maybe I am lucky, or the NOGS keeps the pathogens at bay.

If I do have a root pathogen problem in the future, the simplest solution is to remove the material in the raised bed. Wash the interior of the bed with a chlorine and water mix. Leave the bed alone for a few days, so the chlorine dissipates and restock the bed and keep going. You could move the old garden bed material and put it with other ground cover but not in the garden.

When to harvest

You always see those deep dark delicious color tomatoes on the seed packets, commercials, and print ads. How do you think they get that way? If you pick a tomato with a ripe red color off the vine, eat them immediately. Letting them ripen more only produces rot.

The best practice is picking them when they are dark orange and allowing them to ripen on your windowsill. It will only take a day or two to get them the color you want.

At the end of the harvest, pick your green tomatoes too. They will ripen similarly to the hothouse tomatoes you purchase at the store. Hothouse tomatoes are pick green and stored until they turn red/orange.

Heirloom vs. Hybrid

Hybrids are grown commercially, with an I don’t care what they taste like tomato farms. They are engineer tomatoes to reduce bruising during transport, consistent color, and be disease resistant.

There is always the but, in the case of Hybrid, the tomato structure, in my opinion, is comparable to styrofoam. They sound funny when you cut and eat them. The flavor of Hybrid tomatoes is undoubtedly missing. They all have such a uniform color, which is an indicator of man, not nature.

Heirloom tomatoes vary in color, shape, and flavor. Heirlooms are more prone to pathogens than Hybrid (one of the Hybrid traits) and generally are slightly more expensive. You need to pay attention when harvesting to ensure they are not overripe. Your harvest may result in having a pallet of colors. The flavor of heirloom beauties is undeniably good. You may or may not experience more fruit from heirlooms, but they are worth it!

If you save the hybrid seeds for next year, you might be disappointed with the tomatoes. Using the saved cloned or hybrid tomato seeds will not produce the tomato’s original quality. As a result, you will purchase new Hybrid tomato plants or seeds.

Second generation heirloom tomatoes seeds produce tomatoes of equal quality as the original. A little prep work on your side generates low-cost tomatoes continually.

The fact of Hybrid tomatoes

Often Hybrids are somewhat inferior in texture and flavor. This trend has mostly been around since the 1990s.’ The tomatoes you see at the supermarket are a perfect example of complex hybrid fruit with every desired quality except for flavor and texture.

Today this may have changed. It seems that The Sun Gold or Mountain Magic are said to have comparable flavor as the traditional Heirlooms varieties, but they never mention texture. We will see what the jury, the tomato growers, have to say.

The Sun Gold or Mountain Magic tomato is known to be resistant to late blight. Tomato blight requires the diseased plant to be removed from the garden and disposed of in the green waste container and not in your compost bin.