Botanical Name: Lycopersicom esculentum
Type and Use: Tender perennial, grown as an annual with edible fruit.
Location: Full sun
Planting Dates: For transplants use the following schedule: Plant after all danger of frost in the spring and 12-14 weeks before the first average frost in the fall.
Planting Method: Plant transplants by laying the plant down sideways or planting deeply. Tomatoes are able to root from the stems. The sideways method is best in heavier clay soils.
Seed Emergence: If you start your tomatoes from seed, here’s the plan. Plant the seeds indoors in organic potting soil, ¼ - ½ inch deep in a well-lit or greenhouse condition. They will germinate in 5 - 14 days at about 68 - 85°. Keep the seedlings cool and in bright light to keep them from getting spindly.
Harvest Time: Harvest in summer when the fruit starts to ripen and turn red, usually 55 - 90 days after planting. Picking the fruit as the color first starts to change will help prevent birds, squirrels, and other critters from eating the fruit before you get it.
Height: 3 - 15 feet
Spread: 3 - 15 feet
Final Spacing: 36 - 48 inches
Growth Habits: Succulent upright-to-spreading perennial that functions as an annual for two reasons: one, it freezes easily and two, it plays out with age as it develops insect and disease problems. Bush (determinate) and vining (indeterminate). Tomatoes do not like evening temperatures above 75°. Tomatoes are wind pollinated - not by bees.
Culture: Plant tomatoes in well-prepared soil with lots of compost, lava sand, rock phosphate, and organic fertilizer. In sandy soil, add high-calcium lime. In alkaline soil, add greensand. It’s also a good idea to add fish meal or cottonseed meal and alfalfa meal. For maintenance ease and increased production, use metal cages. Concrete reinforcing wire mesh makes excellent cages for tomatoes and other vegetables. Fertilize three times per growing season because tomatoes are heavy feeders but wait for the first major feeding until after small fruit has set and started to grow. Heavy fertilizer applications too early can cause lots of stems and foliage but little fruit. Flowers on many varieties will not set in temperatures below 55° or over 92°. Try adding a handful of Epsom salts under new transplants to increase fruit production. Zeolite and soft rock phosphate also can be used this way.
Sidedress at the first blossoms or when the first small green tomatoes have formed so the fertilizer goes toward nourishing the fruits. Use a handful of organic fertilizer per plant.
A good nitrogen fertilizer is corn gluten meal. It not only adds nutrients, it also keeps some weed seed from getting established.
Troubles and Solutions: Southern blight (which is usually misdiagnosed as early blight) is the most common tomato pest. It can be limited with weekly sprayings of Garrett Juice plus garlic and potassium bicarbonate. Use lots of compost and mulch to prevent tomato pinworm. Eliminate blossom-end rot with even soil moisture and calcium supplements: soft rock phosphate and alfalfa products in alkaline soils, high-calcium lime in acid, sandy soils. Red Christmas tree ornaments hung on plants before the fruit starts to ripen will repel birds. Aphids, spider mites, and flea hoppers are controlled with Garrett Juice and citrus sprays. Hand remove horn worms and treat for all diseases by applying cornmeal to the soil.
Harvest and Storage: Expect 5 - 20 pounds per plant. For the best taste, pick the tomatoes after they have ripened on the vine and store indoors in a dry, cool place, not in the refrigerator. Tomatoes can also be picked after they have started to blush in color. This helps to prevent animal damage and the fruit will continue to ripen indoors.
Notes: Fall tomatoes taste better but are harder to find. Faster production comes from the use of water walls or floating row cover around the cages. Another increased production trick is to buy 2 1/4 inch transplants early and pot them in 4 inch pots. After they grow and the root system fills the pots, move them to 1 gallon pots. Move the plants out into the sun on warm days and back into protection on cold days and nights. When all danger of frost is gone, plant the gallon plants in the garden. You’ll be amazed at how early and prolific the plants will be.
Another trick is to use the Japanese Planting Ring. It will maximize your tomato production in the garden. It is like a compost pile with tomatoes (or other vegetables) planted around the outside.
Still another trick is to plant a cover crop such as hairy vetch vicia villosa, a hardy annual legume.
Set the tomato transplants through the mulch into the vetch’s root system. Use manure, compost or nitrogen fertilizer. The tomatoes will thrive until it’s time to replant the vetch in fall. This system has performed phenomenally in USDA tests in Beltsville, Maryland.
Varieties: Celebrity’, ‘Carnival’, ‘Salsa’, ‘SuperFantastic’, ‘Better Boy’, ‘Porter’, ‘Viva Italia’, ‘Jackpot’, ‘Roma’, ‘Brandywine’, ‘Yellow pear’, ‘Arkansas Traveler’, ‘Costaluto’, ‘Riesentraube’, ‘Black Krin’, ‘Pineapple’, and ‘Supersonic’.
Q: My pots of tomatoes planted on my patio are forming a scab on the blossom end that is as large as the bottom of the tomato. If the green part were dark brown, it would look like a "buckeye". What causes this? B.R., Dallas.
A: That’s blossom end rot and is prevented by having calcium available and watering properly. Water thoroughly and allow a drying period between waterings. Apply soft rock phosphate at about 3 - 4 lbs. per 100 sq ft. Spraying the foliage and drenching the soil with compost tea or Garrett Juice will also help.
Here is a tip from a listener:
"I heard the fellow who is asking about when to expect the last freeze so he could plant tomatoes.
My rule of thumb is the day the scissor tails return. They usually return the first week of April. One year they returned on a day there was frost, but none afterwards.
Some people go by the mesquite tree, but the scissor tails have not failed me the last 10 years."
Q: It seems like each year I get a good start on production, and then they turn brown and die. I am originally from Iowa and the producing period in considerably longer. So my question is how do I extend the life of my plants?
A: Use my total organic program, but the cornmeal in the soil and spraying with Garrett Juice and garlic tea will reduce the problem significantly. There are many bushy tomatoes. They are called determinate rather than indeterminate. One of my favorite small bushy varieties is wild current tomato. It is very easy to grow and the tomatoes are small and grape like - also delicious.
Q: I recently began organic gardening. I planted tomatoes for a fall garden, and they were beautiful but full of stink bugs. I sprayed with plant oils and made garlic soap and hot pepper spray. The bugs flew off and came right back. The only way I killed any was to stomp them. I even became desperate and used some Sevin dust, but nothing killed the bugs. I want to stay organic, but it has been hard because my husband is a rancher and is not afraid of chemicals. R.F., Dallas
A: Next time, try a product that contains spinosad, which is naturally derived and has relatively low toxicity. BioWash works well and helps organic gardeners with insects and diseases. Don't give up!
Brandywine Tomato success with organics.
Last year was the first time that I planted Brandywine tomatoes and wanted to let you know how successful it was. I soaked the plants in a liquid seaweed solution before planting and put a handful of lava sand and sul-po-mag in each hole. The two plants yielded approximately 34 lbs. of tomatoes. I have never seen tomatoes so big grown in Texas! The largest tomato was 1 lb. 10 oz. and not one of the Brandywines cracked. I'm sure all the rain we got last year helped with the production, but all the other tomatoes I planted did not produce as well as the Brandywines. In the attached pictures, the sliced tomato yielded a platter full of "hamburger sized" slices that had a wonderful flavor. I served it with a homemade dressing of olive oil, basil flavored vinegar, fresh basil and garlic. What a wonderful combination of flavors!
Showing off my tomatoes last year to all my friends and neighbors was the best advertisement for organic gardening.
Keep up the good work!
Ground Crew Member