How to Maximize Your Tomato Yields
Inspired by his grandfather’s ability to grow high tomato and pumpkin yields in confined spaces, David Sidea experimented with several nutrient sources to obtain his own success. Turns out the tomato doesn’t fall far from the vine.
Most people would agree home-grown organic tomatoes and anything else grown with love at home organically is the tastiest and most nutritional produce we can eat, feed to our children and even teach them about. As a child I was lucky to be raised on home-grown organic produce grown on my parents quarter acre block in suburban western Victoria where I learned from a young age about how food should taste and the importance of how food should be grown.
My grandparents moved to Australia after communism fell in Romania in 1989 and lived with my family for a couple of years. Grandpa was an exceptional horticulturist; his tomato plants produced 20 kg on each individual plant, and he grew so many pumpkins in an area no bigger than 4x6 sq. metres I was always amazed.
My dad filled one 5x8 ft. trailer plus a station wagon full of pumpkins and sold them all for $1 to $2 each at the local Sunday market. They went like hot cakes. My next door neighbors were astonished and asked how my grandpa could harvest so many pumpkins in such a little area, so my dad told them the simple trick: pumpkins love vigorous root growth.
My grandpa knew how to organically grow the maximum yield with all the fruits and vegetables he grew. Last season I got serious and managed to harvest just over 100 kg of tomatoes in a total area of 8 sq. meters in my brother’s small back garden. I had enough Pasata for my friends and family for six months.
Fish guts (whole fish is fine), composted cow and sheep manure and harvested lake weed are all excellent in organic horticulture and are sometimes available for free. Whenever I mention fish guts to people they have concerns about attracting animals and the potential for odor. I’ve never had a problem with either. The results from using fish guts are excellent. Fish blood and bone contain nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and amino acids essential for regulating healthy plant growth, flowering and fruiting.
If invasive fish are an issue in your local waterways, do your ecosystem a favor and use them in your garden. Try burying a whole carp under your rose plants and you will see the results. This season I am installing poly agi pipe into the ground horizontally and will try directly feeding into the root zone. I am going to put my vegetable and fruit scraps into a food processor, and then I will pour the contents into my poly pipes, which are 90-100 mm wide and about 1 m long.
I recommend a one-part vegetative and one-part flower plant food from your local hydroponics shop (easier to mix up than a part A and B plant food). Ask for an organic product if one is available, and a product specifically used for soil gardening would be preferable outdoors.
I have just started experimenting with this hydroponics-styled plant food outdoors and the results alongside all my organic applications are excellent. I feed my tomato plants once every three weeks with organic trace elements although once a month may work, too. I like to wet the ground with my tank water first then apply the trace elements with a watering can.
One important thing to remember is to remove flowers until they reach at least 1 ft. high. I have grown tomatoes staked up, along the ground and cascading off a retaining wall. Cascading from a retaining wall and along the ground all ways seem to work fine and yields have been above standard.
When your tomatoes start blooming and fruiting it is important to apply an organic bloom stimulator. Again, fish guts work excellent. Also, your local hydroponics shop will stock many different organic bloom stimulators available as a liquid feed that will complement that buried fish nicely. If you have a wood heater, the wood ash you collect is excellent and is rich in potassium lime and other trace elements.
Harvested lake weed works as great mulch. It’s a good idea to top up your mulch as required especially in the middle of summer. If it’s going to be a really hot day, I like to irrigate with an overhead watering system scheduled to go off in the middle of the night.
Worm castings can also be applied as a liquid fertilizer or as a top dressing. The results from top dressing is incredible, although much more expensive. It costs about roughly $2 per kilogram, so on a smaller scale indoor garden it would be cost effective and worth using.
Here is a quick recipe for worm tea:
- Take 3 kg of brewing-quality vermicompost, immerse in 20 L of non-chlorinated water then stir gently (back and forward) and slosh from one container to another for about three minutes. This will dislodge the microbes from the castings into the water.
- Pour water through a strainer and place the black water in a 200-L barrel. Put the remaining residues in a worm farm as it contains worm eggs that will hatch and help speed up your total numbers.
- Add 1 L of molasses dissolved in hot water, then add 50 ml of fish emulsion.
- Using an aquarium bubbler, run 3-mm plastic tubes into a copper pipe with 3-5 mm holes drilled into it. In a vice, compress the copper pipe so that the plastic tubes still pass air and let it sink to the bottom.
- Set the pump so it’s above the water level, switch it on and allow to brew for 24 hours. Diluted, this makes 800 L of liquid plant food.
Worm tea will increase Brix levels in your plants. If Brix levels are at 12%, insects can’t break down that percentage of sugar content in the plants, providing a natural defence mechanism. Another tip for worm tea is to soak the seeds or plant roots in the tea prior to planting for faster and healthier germination.
For the indoor gardeners using soil, coco or perlite-styled mediums, I highly recommend using this recipe throughout the vegetative and bloom stages as it will increase microbial activity resulting in tastier fruits and vegetables. Plant food one day, water the next followed by worm tea on the third day day works well if hand-watering indoors, although I’m sure this sequence can be mixed up and still produce tasty organic produce.
Pulverised acid volcanic rock is another exceptional organic treatment. The pulverized volcanic rock can provide the macro- and micronutrients for the plants. Volcanic rocks have the highest possibility of supplying nutrients to the soil. In nature this type of plant food usually is only accessible once micro-organisms break down the rocks. This method, when applied with the worm tea, gives visible results.