Methods, Strategies and tips for growing Tomatoes
in an Organic Based System
All plants have certain needs and when you understand their needs and employ informed strategies, there is no need to force anything, because a healthy plant that has it's needs met and has been well looked after will return a good yield. Tomatoes have some needs regarding nutrients that can be met with organic liquids or dry applications. There are a variety of methods and strategies to minimise damage from pests or the weather and keep the fruit from becoming grub food. Having said that, they are tough plants and can do well in a lot of places. There are a number of varieties, shapes, colours and sizes to choose from and it's just a matter of choosing the right plant for the right position. The first thing I would like to talk about are the needs of the tomato plant and what that means. *This is the bit where I reveal the trade secret I hinted at.
SunlightSunlight is required to drive photosynthesis, which powers growth, water and nutrient uptake. This powers many processes such as natural defence strategies employed by the plant. Anyone who has grown a good patch of tomatoes will be familliar with the smell that is associated with these plants. It's a specific odour that has qualities that keep many leaf eating pests away. It won't keep the tomato miner grubs away, that requires other strategies that require human input. It is important to make note here that direct sunlight at the hottest part of the day is damaging unless copious amounts of water are availble to the plant, so dappled or moderate shade at that point, which is drawing moisture from the leaves through a process known as transpiration, is preferable. If the plant struggles to meet that water requirement it will wilt and then the leaves will burn. The plant should have as much exposure to early morning light as possible and as little exposure to mid to late afternoon light as possible. Secret time!
There is one other need related to sunlight and what it provides in some forms (wavelengths). That is warmth. Tomato plants can be planted out early if they are provided with some form of protection from chill. They need to be fed but their roots are not warm enough to be working well, so foliar feeds with a liquid feed will drive growth. These can be applied with a watering can, mixed and well stirred to resemble a weak cup of tea. Watering at the warmest part of the day, when the weather is calm. This will coincide with the time that the pores on the leaves, the stomata, are open. Any liquid that reaches the ground will feed the ground and as long as the plant is functioning, it will grow and begin to set flowers. As long as there are pollinating insects in the garden system, the fruit will set. The set will improve as the plant matures up until a point when night-time minimum temperatures rise above 20C (68F) on a regular basis.
Fruit set will begin to fall away after that and those fruit that set will be very late in the season, which is a time when pest species can build up and cause serious problems. So it's best to have your plants in early, to maximise both growth potential and fruit set, before warm weather and nights set in. It's also best to end your harvest once the best developed fruit are all gone and then harvest all remaining fruit for preserving in some way, (or consumption - green fruit can be ripened ina paper bag or in a fruit bowl with a banana) then removing the plants to the compost bed. If these simple tips are followed, you get the best quality fruit for the longest period without creating a problem such as pest and disease build-up. All living things need a level of warmth to function. Without warmth, water freezes and ice forms,(even inside the cells of living things). Light is life. The abscence of light is death. That is important to remember when you are looking for a place to plant tomatoes. Does it provide enough light to meet the needs of the plant through the growing season? And does it provide enough potection from the harmful light to protect the plant as well? There are different strategies do meet those requirements but I will discuss them later. Light and warmth are fundamental requirements.
WaterWater, in liquid form needs to be available in sufficient quantities to provide for growth and output, throughout the growing season, or the plant may suffer damage, which weakens resistance to attack. It's difficult to over-water a tomato plant but that doesn't mean it's a good idea to try it. I have seen self-seeded tomato plants grow in drains, being fed by the nutrients in grey water and constanly standing in water. Tomato plants have a strategy to deal with that. They begin to form root nodule along the stem and they can absorb air. They can also form roots if they come into contact with drier soils (or even get near enough to detect proximity. These roots can perform the process of osmosis, which is a process of water, nutrient and air absorbtion that are all fundamental requirements for all life. Water also needs to be cherished because water is sacred, so managing water in a planned and managed system based on natural interactions between some species and input and removal by other species with organic based principles, informed by science and learning (knowledge), needs to be understood. Pheww! Sorry for getting long winded there folks, don't forget to breathe. Growing Media Earth is one form of growing media and is a valid option in many places but there are other forms of growing media that can range from composted organics, which forms a rich brown loam in a healthy composting system, through enriched mulches and potting mixes to fired clay pellets or large gravel. The things that they provide that unite them as valid growing media are: 1. a place to anchor the plant (space) with a root system, which requires space to grow and develop. 2. Water, air and nutrient uptake by osmosis that is balanced to be sufficient for the plant's needs but not detrimental to the plant or the environment in all it's definitions. Don't allow the system to become toxic. 3. Location, location, location! In other words; the strategy applied is influenced by the immediate, the surrounding and the general environment, specific to each location. As long as it is done in the right way, growth will occur and productivity will be increased. The right way? With a mind that is calm and focused on the task, informed and aware, with time to look around, consider and digest the information that your senses will take in. In this way the work is transformed into growing pleasure as the plant develop and the harvest forms and ripens. This transforms gardening into recreation, which we all need if we are going to learn how to relax and live in peace on this planet. The earth is important. It grounds us and provides for us and can even re-create us. It can provide for all of us, if we allow it to show us the ways and avoid the pit-falls. The earth is alive. It has been hurt by our actions but it is healing in ways that are both natural and wonderful but we need to accept our reponsibility to return life to the living world and restore areas for nature and allow each other space and room and time to develop and prosper. We must repair the sacred earth. we must repair and help each other to achieve a state of peace and balance and awareness will grow in time and loving guidance, informed and applied with good a good heart and a calm mind.
SpaceAnother name for space is room. All plants need space to grow and allow the free movement of air, which is essential to maintain life on Earth. The space must be appropriate for the application and location to... you know the rest, ...needs. We all need space, but that can be diverse in location and form but it needs to allow us to feel comfortable, give us room to prosper and yield a good harvest to provide for our needs but appropriate to each location and requirement. There are various forms of space? We know about about three dimensional space right? And how that is expressed? Usually it is expressed as horizontal (length), vertical (height) and depth (width). There is another form of space available for growing tomtoes and that is called lateral, or on an angle. When this is applied well, such as in the terraced areas that have been in (or out) of agricultural and horticultural productivity for centuries all sorts oc concepts can develop in the mind. That is usually called lateral thinking but it is also aware and informed thinking with good intent and time to develop. Tomatoes of many (smaller) varieties can be grown very well in hanging baskets, above ground pests such as cutworm, slugs and snails. They can also begrown on a sloping trellis, angled toward the morning light and the passage of the sun, helping to keep the fruit off the ground and keep them from spoiling. Tomatoes are a fruit. Grown well, to full ripeness they are sweet and firm and full of flavour. Awareness of their needs and meeting them reduces stress and increases growth and abundance. A shared experience in common areas can develop into a shared experience of hpw such a system can be developed but it requires peace and harmony and time and space to allow it to occur.
DiversityFor tomatoes, this can mean a diversity of varieties for a diversity of all of the fundamental reasons we grow food. The most fundamental is sustenance - to sustain us. In abundance, tomates can be stored for future use in many forms and that is fine as long as we maintain a good intent and share our abundance with everyone in the system or unable near to the system and share the things we have learned and the strategies that work and the strategies that may need to be adjusted. If you don't discard a favoured strategy before it becomes out of balance and toxic to life, you risk creating a situation where the whole lot has to be flushed out and time given for healing and repair before life can return and restore balance and harmony. If you create a system that is that toxic then you risk endanger all life within the system. Everything toxic being discarded and the creation of a new system more in balance and in harmony and peace. You do the math. We can embrace and apply diversity in our strategies, our plantings, our applications and our requirements and abilities and available space and the use of that space and intent, always with good intent and responsibility for our actions and the outcomes of those actions. Diversity is a good thing in an organic setting. It protects by sheltering diverse life-forms and diverse interactions between life-forms. We must maintain and develop diversity. That doesn't mean that plants like tomatoes have to stand alone grouping like with like in small groups has it's benefits in allowing the group (of plants to interact. (Plants interact in several ways- smells containing chemicals that enter the pores of other plants, chemical interactions with other plants and other species, root and limb and flower and pollen interaction all occur and a shared interaction in a group of similar plants can produce more diversity and more life. Get used to it, Gaiya is alive.
FreedomTomato plants can have a habit of becoming rambling and finding niches to exploit. This might need to be trained into growing as intended and develop good fruit and growth habits. other times, some room to develop and grow in different ways must be allowed for and accepted. As long as the development of other growth isn't impeded or slowed some rambling should be allowed. Training applies in some situations, freedom and chaos in others and there must always be room for nature because nature provides us many things. When we allow it to heal and repair itself. More importantly, it provides sustenance for species that live in nature and shelter and everything required for natural life to prosper. We must withdraw our activities that are destructive from natural areas and carry out repair work where we can. The Australian experiences should warn us of the dangers of trying to live in a natural setting. We can create our own settings that harmonise with nature and that will helb bring balance and harmony between us all. Gentle love applied to all actions will yield better results and space must be availble and the freedom available to join in and experience and participate and learn. Especially in larger co-operative systems which suit areas of high population density and larger projects in larger open spaces, within defined boundaries sometimes but incorporating natural and human sharing over the boundary fences. Give your garden a cerain level of freedom, give your plants a certain level of freedom and give your animals a certain amount of freedom, balanced by oversight and gentle management and informed application with good intent.
CareIn a productive system, plants are chosen for different reasons but a major factor is potential yield. To achieve the best potential yield, tomato plants require a certain level of care. Another name for care is love. To maximise the potential a certain level of care must be taken to provide and tend the crop's needs. Observation and information will inform how to act and that, informed by science and agriculture will provide a wider range of potential strategies when problems arise. Dealing with problems in ways that are calm, timely and appropriate will minimise the problem, as long as it is done without creating another problem somewhere else. Diseased plant matter needs to be disposed of in a responsible way, to avoid spreading more disease but the risk of disease should be lessened in ways that are gentle on the users and the environment, because nothing and nobody needs to suffer if we want it. If we want peace, if we care, if we have love in our hearts. Peace will unite us if we allow it. All we have to do is care.
ResponsiblityWe are all responsible to maintain the conditions described as fudamental principles and share what we have learned. This awareness of responsibility balances freedom with an informed awareness of our duty of care. So anyone who is willing to undertake such a project and make themselves available for instruction and guidance should be given the information they seek freely, as much as they require to reach the next step when they are ready. Part of that advice given should include a gentle reminder to research for themselves and find out as much as they can for themselves because what they remember will be enhanced because they have learned it for themself. This will mean the questions they ask next will be more informed and the responses can reveal new paths of learning and new ways to maximise potential. Relating this to growing tomatoes, we have a duty to care for the plants and the responsibility to do so with good intent and we also have a responsibility to clean up after the harvest has ended and remove diseased or infected or infested material from the system before it causes any problems in the future. Then we have a duty to repair any damage done by our use of the space in which the crop was grown. That may mean restoring the earth or cleansing it before we try to make use of it again. Pathogens can develop in the soil and they are drawn to the roots of plants because of the chemicals those roots release. This is how disease such as potato blight can create problems and even famine, when people are forced to rely on too narrow a diversity of choices to meet their basic needs. Understanding the nature of the plant helps inform the strategies employed to repair any harm they may have done and restore the health in appropriate ways. Tomatoes are mildly acidic. This is balanced in the fruit but that acidity needs to be repaired, especially if your soil is naturally acidic in nature. Applications of dolomite lime and blood and bone will help with acidity. Or as my old guru, Peter Cundall used to express it, "Blood and bloomin' bone, it's bloomin' marvelous!" and "Don't be afraid to toss the stuff about all over the place." You are preparing the ground for the next seeds or seedlings, so be informed and give time for the input to be absorbed and spread then monitor and adjust what is happening in your garden according to what has been observed. Better output will result.
NutrientNutrient can be called food or sustenance. Tomato plants have specific nutrient requirements that vary only slightly between different varieties. The information you need is well explained in this post:
by J Benton Jones Phd.
It is always better to seek the information you need from those who will give you the things you need, in this example, the information is informed by science, detailed and relevant. An awareness of signs of defficiency of any required input should be understood and monitored so that appropriate remedial action can be taken. Testing soils or medias and understanding different medias will inform different strategies to address the problems that may occur, guided by good intention and shared knowledge. This post by Marie at about.com explains defficiencies in a simple and easy to digest form: http://gardening.about.com/od/gardenproblems/a/NutrientDeficie.htm.
Deal with the nutrient requirements well and the plants will reward you. Deal with the nutrient requirements poorly, by supplying their needs too sparingly or too liberally in certain areas and productivity and health are reduced. This covers the funadamental requirements (I think) - for all life and is a message for everyone. Share it with as many people as you can if you understand it or even if you comprehend some of it but not all. A shared experience will enhance learning. Make a copy and keep it for future reflection. If this information unsettles your mind, dismiss it for now and take a holiday (so to speak) until you are ready and then it will be easier to understand. It is important, yes. But it can wait until you are ready and the time is right.
Next I will cover strategies and various methods for different locations and different situations. If I have missed anything important please inform me so I can rectify that before it becomes a problem. There's a lot of important information here that can apply to all sorts of situations and issues we are facing. Deal with it in small chunks that are easy to digest if you feel I have offered too much.