E3's Garden Mentorship & Dig Trip to Ocean View Farms Community Garden! Tips & Tricks for Tomato Growing!
E3's Garden Mentorship and Dig took a trip to Ocean View Farms Community Garden in Santa Monica last Saturday for their annual Tomato-Bration! In preparation and excitement for the spring/summer growing season, Windrose Farms comes to Ocean View to present a workshop on tomato-growing and a bounty of tips and tricks to use with your own plants! Keep reading to learn more about tomato-growing from the experts!
A little background on Windrose Farms. Based in Pasa Robles, CA, Windrose Farms at one time had a nursery operation for tomato plants to be sold to Whole Foods! They do all their own seeding of tomato plants, and NEVER buy starters. These folks know their stuff with tomato growing! Windrose Farms save their own seeds and make their own fertilizer for premiere tomato growth. When not saving seeds, they use Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Dig uses this company's seeds in our garden as well.
Windrose Farms grow eight or nine tomato varieties each year. This year they are growing many "black", or darker-fruited tomato varieties.
First piece of advice given at the workshop: DON'T use red "celebrity" tomato varieties -- Monsanto has bought the rights to these "normal" varieties, meaning that they own proprietary, restricting rights to them. Quickly following this important piece of advise, many other tips were dispensed at rapid fire:
1) Cleanliness is healthiness! Keep tomato leaves off the ground. So if tomato leaves are touching the soil, clip 'em!
2) Use seaweed/kelp liquid fertilizer! Though Windrose Farms also uses fish amendments for better growth and more robust fruit, the #1 soil amendment and foliar spray (see #3) they recommend is this specific fertilizer. It can be bought easily online or at garden stores -- just check the ingredients to make sure it is all organic! Windrose Farms uses the brand Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, if you want exactly what they use! You should be able to touch it and not have to wash your hands right away (there will be a warning on the produce otherwise, which should warn YOU not to buy it!). Windrose Farms advise that the NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium) Green Revolution approach to fertilizing is incorrect and should not be used.
3) Windrose Farms uses foliar sprays that go straight on the tomato plants! They use spray bottles, hoses, and other equipment. In your own garden, you can use a handheld sprayer to spray the UNDERSIDE of the leaves as well drenching the soil around tomato plants. As far as watering your plants, Windrose has no problem getting their tomato plants' leaves wet -- just as long as it's in the morning so they will be dry by night to prevent blight.
4) Tomato flavor comes from soil COMPLEXITY. This includes what soil, compost, fertilizer, and minerals you use! Tomato plants need micro nutrients to grow strong and healthy, just like you! Kelp, as mentioned above, provides immune system support for the plants to ward off blight and pests. It also helps protect against weather changes that may hurt your plant's continuing development over the season. Your planting medium should be a mix of soil and compost, and should be regularly amended with both liquid and solid fertilizer throughout the season. (Note: this is for indeterminate tomato varieties, which continue to growth in size throughout the season. This is the most popular kind of tomato to grow, so check your seed package!)
5) Be a proactive tomato grower! Windrose Farms recommends using the first tomatoes as a taste test! If it is sour despite being fully ripened, you need more fertilizer! In this scenario use a kelp foliar spray each day for a week, and then try the next round of fruit! If your tomatoes are mushy, you are watering too much! Though watering more equals bigger fruit, you will grow smaller, more delicious, better-textured fruit with less frequent watering. You should fertilize more and stretch out your watering regime to only 1 or 2 waterings per week. If your first tomatoes are not mushy or sour, but not quite delicious, fear not! Usually the first fruit are not the best tasting of the tomato plant's lifetime. That being said, if they are delicious, you're in luck! Your tomatoes are only going to get better as the season progresses.
6) Trim your plants effectively to push tomato production! Cut the lower growth (stems and leaves, even blossoms!) to get fruit up to three weeks earlier. This focuses more of the plant's energy to go to fruit production, rather than supporting a larger leaf system.
7) Maintain your tomatoes throughout the season with productive staking and trellising. Windrose Farms encourages staking and caging of your plants, or trellises for dense tomato planting, to keep air circulation between plants. This is key to preventing tomato blight and other diseases that will bring your growing season to an early end. Keep your plants vertical, allowing maximum air to pass through and keep plants dry. On a related maintenance note, try mulching around your plants once they are established to help maintain soil moisture between waterings.
8) Windrose Farms grows basil with their tomatoes! Some general tips for basil growing follow: Pick off the top growth of basil plants, encouraging plants to grow bushier instead of "leggy". Fertilizer feed once a week.
We hope this tips and tricks help you with your tomato plants! Now get to growing! :)
-Some literature for those wanting even more knowledge: Dan Barber's The Third Plate and John Jeavon's How to Grow More Vegetables.