What's in YOUR tomato?: soil and foliage amendments

mensplaceNovember 13, 2009

I spent some time this evening reading across the web and considering the vitrolic and sometimes deadly serious positions taken by some regarding what absolutely, positively has to be in the soil for your foods to be safe and delicious. Having enjoyed all I could there, it was on to revieing how many different commercial mixtures dealers would have you buy. Everything from sea animal shells, to kelp, mineral mizes, special liquid concentrates of every kind and description,and far, far more. This led to some equally curious reading wherein the home remedies and conglomerations fro cider vinergar, molasses, and more are poured or sprayed. I won't even get into the rare herbs stuffed into a cows horn and buried under the light of the moon in the proper phase. Why folks, purty soon we could have a million dollar super mater with all the special kinds of mater juice being sprayed and poured on. And here I find myself having trouble just keeping the local neighbor's Siamese cat planting other than veggies in the raised beds. Maybe I need to reconsider, this could be something big!Would take a catchy name to market that stuff though. Seriously now folks, what magic amemdment or spray assures your tomato success?

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personally, on field tomatoes I simply have manure and composts worked into the beds - whatever you amend your beds with improves the beds exponentially over time... If the plants are having a hard time at some point, I may fertilize once or twice per season with very diluted fish emulsion and maybe toss a little epsom salts at some point. that's it. then again, the soil here is very good, rich with trace elements.

growing organically in containers in the greenhouse I find is another story entirely. if i didn't give them food a number of times, the plants would wither and die, in spite of how amended the soil in the pots is. I am not one to pour and spray money unnecessarily onto plants, so only give something when I feel the plants are starting to lose their resilience in some ways. in the greenhouse, I fertilize with diluted fish emulsion a few times, sea weed extract a couple times, compost tea (for trace elements) thoroughly once, and this year I threw some epsom salts on once, and chicken manure once (later for calcium). so not that much, but when you have a lot of plants the $ adds up.

tomatoes need NPK and the trace elements and need to be grown in a medium that won't drown them or parch them. If you can find cheap and/or free organic ways to ensure they're getting these things, I don't know if it needs to be more complicated than that. You could get calcium from expensively packaged ground oyster shells from a specialty shop, or by just making sure egg shells are in your compost and spending a tiny amount on a cheaper source if needed. instead of trying to figure out which thing to buy, i try to just focus on the list of things tomatoes need and then try to find the cheapest or free ways to get them all to your tomatoes...You can buy oysters, eat them and then grind up the shells into your compost yourself.

Of course, as anyone will tell you, what is actually "required" for healthy tomatoes differs for everyone - it seems a very personal thing and i'm sure all sorts of combinations work for different people...and I'm sure I could be doing things better in some ways.

as for spraying leaves, I've never seen much point in foliar amendments, preferring to have everything go through the roots. but, alas, others spray the leaves with various things all season and feel that's the way to go...could be right.

i'd love to know what you settle with. good luck

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 7:37AM
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Thanks for being the first to respond to what is really a serious question, because I am not at all sure that a LOT of what is sold or added to our soils or plants is either good, necessary, or even healthy to maintain growth or life in the soil. For example, here we have the reddest possible clay..just looking at it tells me a LOT about my soil. Generally, it has plenty of magnesium, so dolomitic limestone rather than calcium carbonate "could" actually add even more calcium,and epsom salts would add even more.
Even with vitamins in the human body, do we really, surely, positively know how much vimin C is good or when A & D become deadly? Could our plants use those same vitamins? Point being, at what point are we "feeding the life in the soil", versus feeding the plant, versus, through the food, feeding ourselves. Being serious here and asking some srious questions. Just by looking at the red clay I know that it is acidic..that's the nature of most red Georgia clay. Too, it has tons of iron..hence the old orn smelting furnace down the road. It is also sitting atop the same pure granite bedrock that gave us stone mountain so it is loaded with rock derived minerals. My fron yard is a virtual mine of quartz, granite and marble. Do I NEED rock dusts....and does anyone if it takes hundreds of yerar for the acid in the water to actually make them usable?

Maybe I need to add some of the acidophilous, bifidus, bulgaricus, or many other cultures I use to make my home-made yogurt and kefir. THAT would add life in the soil!

I also make beers, ales, stouts and various wild Belgians, so I have tons of yeast. Would the soil enjoy a clold brew of that?

Noted one fellow who spyayed his plants and poured a mixture of cider vinegar onto the soil mixed with molasses. That cider surely is good for kidney stones, but I guess it would just further acidify the soil.

Down in Vidalia the folks who market Vidalia onions swear that the lack of sulfur in the soil is what makes them so sweet. but on another forum it is advocated as something that should be added to most soils.

The possibilities seem endless...blood meal, shrimp shells, kelp, fish meal, minerals mises like azomite (at 59.00 a bag, cottonseed meal, bat guano, rotten fish tonics. The possibilities are endless. Even today's composts that you purchase by the bag are suspect. What's in that "compost"?

The whole topic is fascinating to me. At what point could there be such a thing as too many additives? Of course, the old school is to simply do an NPK soil test anbd add more of whatever is needed. If Ammonium nitrate drive the humates and tilth out of the soil to make airport landing strips and has ruined vast thopusands of acres of our finest farm land, is that really something we want? Too, I once read a lengthy and complex book that asserted that even if you do a soil test in one part of the soil, your soil may vary in another.

Even here many have advocated that diseases such as nematode root knot and the flavor of tomatoes may be impacted by what you add to the soil. The question then, is one of where to start and end, and, even then, just how big a hole or soil space, i.e., how deep and wide should we be considering. I have tasted tomatoes in the world's largest and most scientifically implemented hydroponic greenhouses that tasted like cardboard. Clearly there is something in the soil itself and the whole scheme GOD implemented that adds that special flavor regardless of what we add. Wouldn't it be nice if we knew that by adding this or that our flavor would be adjusted accordingly, but somehow it seems that if it's not there in the variety all the amendments in the world won't change things. So, for myself, rather than spending hundreds of dollars on the more "interesting" additives, I would just love to see the results of tests to provide positive proof where that added flavor kicks in and where we find the point of diminishing returns. My next product, based upon this, will be called "Mater Juice" ..That's going to be registered as the one pour on concentrate to absolutely, positively sweeten yer maters!

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 9:11AM
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There is a whole lot more BS than common sense and practical science flying around on the topics of soil fertilization and amendment. You've obviously given it a lot of thought, and certainly your soil and mine are going to be so different that any specifics I could suggest would be unlikely to fit your situation.

Sure, there are some common things that plants like and dislike and if you approach these in a practical way you can make real improvements. For me organic and conventional
methods are both valid and I try to avoid getting all snared up in some semireligious garubanger so far as soil treatment goes. Just don't put any poisons in there or
things like meat waste that might rot via bacteria to form
toxic wastes. What you decide you WON'T put into your soil
may turn out to be more important than what you decide you WILL put in there.

A couple suggestions: 1) There is an Ag Agent in your county. They are generally knowledgeable and have always been helpful to me with suggestions and information. Most are well informed about both organic and conventional methodologies. 2) If you can hit your local library for books on agriculture you can surely find a chapter (or even a full text) on soil science, fertilization, and amendment tecniques.

By the way, foliar applications of both trace minerals and primary nutrients to my tomatoes about midseason have been
a good thing for me; seems to give the plants a kick after the first several yields of fruit and they respond with renewed vigor, more blossoms, and eventually more fruit.
Years ago when I operated an orchard I found a similar thing with the fruit trees--not more fruiting but faster fruit growth and better color.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 10:37AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

There are a couple of underlying assumptions in your discussion that need to be clarified.

First, you appear to be wanting to make a broad generalization on soil amendments that simply has to many variables to be valid. If we all had your Georgia clay or the sandy soil of the southwest or the acidic forest decomp in parts of the northwest or my limestone glacier scrub then sure, we could quickly invalidate the use of many of the soil amendments on the market.

But the best you can do is determine which soil amendments are beneficial to your particular soil and which aren't. As already mentioned, your local county extension service can be helpful there.

But their lack of benefit to your soil doesn't mean they aren't beneficial for mine. ;)

Second is that "taste" or "flavor" can even be defined/labeled and that it is the same for all. That simply isn't true.

What tastes good to you as in "sweet" doesn't appeal to all. "Acidic" flavor is just, if not more, desired from tomatoes. Not to mention that "flavor" is personal taste bud oriented.

So no generalizations on the issue of taste/flavor can be made. Taste-oriented amendments, if there are such things, will vary from garden to garden based on the gardener's experience and taste desires.

Point being, at what point are we "feeding the life in the soil", versus feeding the plant, versus, through the food, feeding ourselves.

The answer all depends on what type of soil life one has, what type of soil, and how one defines "feeding himself" in terms of flavor and quality. Thus the existing market for soil amendments. ;)

Now I will agree that the market, not to mention the homemade-soil amendment school, does get carried away. Adding TUMS to a planting hole to prevent BER is tops on my list of silly amendments. It's right up there with rare herbs stuffed into a cows horn and buried under the light of the moon and the expensive refined sea-based mixtures made only from specific seaweeds and shrimp. But rock dusts, and high nitrogen organic meals (all of which are quite cheap around here) can have a place in the soil IF the soil happens to need the benefits they provide.

Bottom line - use what your garden needs and in a basic, organic form as possible. But don't fault other amendments just because you don't need them - other soils do.


    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 11:21AM
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dickiefickle(5B Dousman,Wi.)

" My next product, based upon this, will be called "Mater Juice" ..That's going to be registered as the one pour on concentrate to absolutely, positively sweeten yer maters! "

I guess that closes the thread for you mansplace,thank God

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 12:20PM
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mojavebob(9/Sunset 11)

Dickie? Wrong side of the bed this morning? The OP got two very thoughtful long responses, and I hope he gets more. I think it's good to keep soil discussions fresh for anyone who passes by. Lord knows there's tons of snake oil on the market.

I agree with Dave, but would add one 'product' does seem to have universal appeal and applications regardless of conditions. Good fully finished, rich, compost. I guess you could have too much, but looking at my dirt, that's hard to imagine.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 1:36PM
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After a day of shoveling composted cow manure from the back of my truck that so over-loaded it that I almost left my own contribution inside the cab when it was so light in the front end as to be virtually unsteerable for a 30 mile drive, I came inside for a well needed break and found some excellent, well thought out contributions and then the previous one. WELLLL...EXCUUUUUUUUUse ME!!! So much for a sense of humor. Truth be told, I would LOVE to import some of the two feet of beautiful, black topsoil I saw when I attended a seminar among the Amish up in Illinois. Some of you might want to try to garden in this lovely red clay. They don't make bricks out of it for nothing. Exactly why after many years of tilling, I am finally going to above ground raised beds and also a few hay bale cold frames. Too, I think it a shame that where there are alternatives and good soil, some "respectable" retailers, rather than offering constructive cosultation and suggestions are NOT above selling miracle dust and pseudo science...as in the one seminar I attended where "scientists" were trying to set up a sales network for granite dust that may in a few thousand years be broken down and usable...for sale at a huge price but totally unwilling to say what it really was. Just because something is organic or natural doesn't mean it is viable or even helpful. Elsewhere, I HAVE had others say that most flavor comes from the life in the soil or the amendments, but like others here, I think that flavor, life in the soil, soil composition and amendments all work together as there is a LOT that we still don't know. Exactly why I was interested in finding what you have done and used that DOES work whether for disease, flavor or just healthy plants. FORTUNATELY, in just one week I have had some exchanges, sharing, and swaps here that have netted many a friend already.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 1:39PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Exactly why I was interested in finding what you have done and used that DOES work whether for disease, flavor or just healthy plants.

I can tell you what all I use but I honestly doubt some of it will be of much benefit for your garden - heavy Georgia clay is uniquely difficult, but not impossible, to work with so take up composting. ;)

Out here in the boonies I have ready and cheap access to tons of organic material. Compost!! Nothing beats it. And no I don't mean composted manure although I use some of it too. But composted manure and compost aren't the same thing.

Huge amounts of homemade, diverse ingredient compost made from straw, hay, grass clippings, garden trimmings, wood chips, some blood and bone meal, shredded newspapers and junk mail, shredded cardboard boxes, kitchen scraps, rice hulls, old stale dry dog food, turkey litter, some cow manure, fish heads and cleanings, old freezer burned food, stale bread, bags and bags of chopped fall leaves, and anything else I can find around to throw into it.

Then fall plantings of a green manure - whatever I can buy cheap - that gets tilled in in the early spring. I avoid lime or wood ash because my soil is already quite alkaline so my goal is to get it down to neutral or lower. Some sulphur every 3 years or so helps with that.

No science to it - start with some dirt, any dirt, and just keep adding large amount of good homemade compost to it. ;)

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 5:06PM
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So...the question asked is how to grow a successful garden with tasty tomatoes on Georgia red clay? It's easy, really easy if you do the following:

1. Forget about tilling. Forget about tilling soil amendments into clay. Build raised beds on top of the clay. Fill the raised beds with 50% pine bark and a 50% compost/soil combination. Bulk pine bark should be available to you. Use it. Keeps the soil friable. Does, over the centuries help clay to break down into soil.

2. Use the Ruth Stout method of mulching with straw. Never disturb the straw except to plant. Keep building the beds with compost followed by a straw mulch each spring. This technique allows the soil to develop mycorrhizal fungus which is a good thing in the plant growing world. Not all plants utilize it, but many do and benefit from its presence in the soil.

3. Accept the fact that some named varieties will grow better than others in your area. This is learned by trial and error until certain types produce to your expectations. Talking with sellers at Farmer's markets about the varieties they grow can be helpful, also.

4. The above should get you started. Or, perhaps it just raises more questions. You may finally recognize, as many southern gardeners have, that tomatoes are best grown in containers in morning sun/afternoon shade or dappled shade here in the south.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 7:29PM
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I personally rely on dihydrogen monoxide, applied thrice daily to the soil and roots.

It ensures that the plants thrive.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 7:50PM
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airbrush(10 S Fla)

Ph test if in doubt.
Find a source of manure, a must.
Rain, well, or river water is a plus.

If you have real doubts as to the cost-effectiveness of soil corrections, container gardening may be for you. I see a lot of people getting themselves crazy wasting time and money trying to reinvent their soil. It doesn't have to be that way.

I have cattle so much of it's easy for me. If I had time to spend worrying and experimenting, I would probably be my own biggest obstacle. My best plants have been the ones I have neglected, given up on, or just left to nature because I got too busy or had excessive travel plans.

I grow a crop of soybeans months before I intend to grow tomatoes, then let the cows in to graze it for a couple of weeks. They will chew off all of the weeds and palmettos too. I move them back out and turn the soil over, it's loaded with dung too. I may have to spray bonemeal over it too, that's cheap. I can do 3 acres for $15. I will let the plot rest or grow something different next 2 years, like strawberries or flowers. Whenever I need the land cleaned up I let the cows in and they eat everything and leave a layer of manure, it's unbeatable. Otherwise, here in the southern tip of Fla, all we have is salty sand/coral/shell stuff.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 8:31PM
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airbrush(10 S Fla)

AFTER the tomatoes,
I plant other things for a while.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 8:47PM
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a little off the subject but has anyone heard about placing an aspirin when you plant red tomatoes? what I was told is it causes the tomato to increase the amount of tomato yield - my 1st degree is in biological sciences and I took plant genetics and breeding field crops among my classes and never heard this - also my mom's family were all big farmers in Missouri and one of her brothers taught agriculture at college in BG Kentucky and for the US gov't down in Chile(they are all passed away)- but none of my realitives ever mentioned this - fact or fictopn??? I haven't tried it

    Bookmark   November 15, 2009 at 2:41AM
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