How to Fertilize Tomato Plants, Organically

littletomatoesTomato plants grow with such speed and vigor that it’s easy to be tempted to keep feeding them, thinking that we need to add nutrients for all of that new growth our plant has put on. But the truth is that over-fertilizing tomato plants is just as bad as under-fertilizing them.

Over-fertilized tomatoes develop lots of green growth at the expense of fruit production. And as if that isn’t annoying enough, all of that tender green growth is like a dinner bell for nearby pests and a magnet for disease problems. Under-fertilization results in slow plant growth and poor fruit set, as well as blossom drop and fruit drop.

So, how do you strike the right balance between under- and over-fertilizing your tomatoes? It’s actually pretty simple, and something you only really have to worry about twice during the growing season. (Less work!)

Fertilize at Planting

At planting time, I like to add a bit of compost the the planting hole, as well as several crushed eggshells or bonemeal to fend off blossom end rot. If I have it on hand, I also like to add a bit of granulated organic fertilizer to the soil at this time.

Fertilize at Fruit Set

When you see your first tiny fruits start to form on your plants, it’s time to do the second fertilizer application of the season. This is when I break out the fish emulsion, and give each plant a good, thorough foliar feed, as well as the soil around each plant. This will provide valuable nutrients just when your plants need it most.

Supplemental Feeding

If you find that production seems to be dropping off, or your plants just look “tired,” there’s no harm in giving them another foliar feed with the fish emulsion, or with compost tea or manure tea. This can be done once per month during the growing season to keep the plants growing and producing well.

Good Soil = Good Tomatoes

As with any kind of gardening, success with growing tomatoes starts with the soil. You will want to grow your tomatoes in rich, fertile, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. Incorporating compost and composted manure at planting time, as well as mulching with organic mulches such as grass clippings or fall leaves will make a huge difference — and every year, the soil will just keep getting better.

It seems like it’s not enough; that it should be more complicated than that, doesn’t it? But that really is all there is to fertilizing your tomato plants. Most years, we don’t bother doing a supplemental feeding, and, to be honest, we’ve even forgotten to fertilize at fruit set a time or two and everything has turned out fine. One less thing to have to fuss over — always a good thing!

Three Types of Tomatoes, and How to Decide What You Should Grow

It’s easy to see why tomatoes have so many fans: not only are they delicious, but they are also visually stunning, with a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. But did you know that there are actually different types of tomatoes, and that some are better suited to certain types of dishes than others? The three basic types of tomatoes are slicers, paste tomatoes, and cherry-type tomatoes. Here’s what you need to know about each.

Slicers

These are the tomatoes that you eat, apple-style, right in the garden warmed from the summer sun. They are superior for slicing for sandwiches and burgers, or chopping into a salad. They tend to be juicier than paste tomatoes, and are therefore much better for fresh eating.

While people generally think of “beefsteak” type tomatoes when they think of slicers, that is only one type of slicer. Slicing tomatoes come in many different sizes and colors, not to mention flavors. Some wonderful slicers include:

Brandywine
Cherokee Purple
Kellogg’s Breakfast Tomato
Aunt Ruby’s German Green
Black Krim
Japanese Black Trifele
Pineapple
Persimmon
Uncle Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter

These tend to be indeterminate varieties, though some varieties, such as Sub-Arctic Plenty and Celebrity, are determinate, and therefore better suited to small gardens.

Paste Tomatoes

“Paste tomato” is somewhat of a misnomer, because there is so much more you can do with these types of tomatoes than make tomato paste or sauce! Besides the requisite sauces, you can make fresh salsas, ketchup, tomato juice and dried tomatoes. In general, these tomatoes are “fleshier” than slicers, with less juice and gel and thicker walls. Some of the most popular paste tomatoes are:

Roma
San Marzano
Polish Linguisa
Hungarian Italian
Italian Red Pear
Opalka
Principe Borghese

These are almost always determinate tomatoes, making it easy to harvest and sauce or can all at once.

Cherry-Type Tomatoes

One thing you can say for almost any cherry-type tomato (which includes not only cherry tomatoes, but currants, pear, and grape tomatoes)is that they are prolific. These tomatoes are excellent for eating raw in salads, or just popped into your mouth as a snack. Cherry tomatoes are usually indeterminate, and will produce lovely little snacks for you until the plants are killed by frost. Some favorite cherry-type tomatoes are:

Sungold
Chadwick Cherry
Yellow Pear
Juliet Grape
Red Currant
Super Sweet 100
Sweet Million
Tiny Tim

If you only choose one of each type of tomato, it’s safe to say you’ll be able to fill just about any tomato-related need you may have.