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Tomatoes are known as the gateway produce. Many gardeners, even those with "black thumbs," start a garden out of the desperate need to taste the sweet, juicy tomato of childhood summers when homegrown tomatoes defined the season. Tomatoes purchased at a grocery store, especially this year, are seldom the experience you recall from summers past. They are typically mealy, pale and depressing. Growing tomatoes can start a life-long love of gardening. With rising concerns about chemical fertilizers and pesticides, now's the time to start growing organic tomatoes. Find a Home for Your Organic Tomatoes, then Prep It Next, you'll want to find a sunny spot in your yard that you can easily water. You don't need a lot of space to grow organic tomatoes. It can be as big as a garden bed or as compact as a 30-gallon planter on your patio. Once you've found your spot, you want to build organic soil. Organic soil will grow strong roots, promote worms, and support the big tops your plants need to ripen the fruit. To get quality organic soil, start by testing the soil you have. Pick up a pH test at your local lawn and garden store. Add lime or sulfur, as needed, to reach the optimal pH balance of between six and seven. Supplement the soil with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Ask a seasoned gardener in your area for tips or consult the experts at the nurseries on how to get your soil rich and ready. Then, add organic fertilizers into the soil. You'll want to look for fertilizers certified organic (they only have one or two ingredients per bag). Add animal manures, plus one nonanimal organic matter, such as compost, leaf mold or peat moss. Dig the elements together to mix. There should be no distinct layers remaining after tilling. Choose the Best Organic Tomatoes for your Area Now that you've got great soil, you need to get great seeds (to start indoors) or great organic tomato starter plants. Research varieties to find ones with a good track record for your area. Look for disease-resistant hybrids and reliable heirlooms. If you choose the latter, be prepared that these usually produce better fruit the second year from the seeds you saved yourself. Growing Organic Tomatoes Means Fertilizing, Watering, and Patience The first step in growing organic tomatoes is being prepared to combat problems that would tempt you to use synthetic pesticides. Before you plant, stock up on an organic tomato and vegetable insect killer. Look for the one that is Organic Materials Review Institute-listed and USDA-approved

National Organic Program compliant for use in organic gardening. It should target a wide range of bugs, be gentle enough to use on tomatoes, and safe to use up to the day of harvest. Once planted, supplement their growth with organic fertilizer every other week until they produce fruit. After each flush of fruit, fertilize again. Choose a balanced organic fertilizer that is worked into the soil because they'll steadily release nutrients and result in a consistent, hearty growth. Grow mulched tomatoes on stakes, in wire cages, or attached to a trellis to provide proper air circulation and protection from soil pathogens. Most organic tomato plants grow up to six feet high; having them touch the ground means exposing them to soil diseases. Ensure you keep your organic tomatoes watered. If they look wilted, they are stressed, and that can harm your yield. Steady growth is essential in growing organic tomatoes. Keep weeds, soil temperature and water levels in check by mulching under the tomatoes once the soil is warm. This will prevent blossom end rot, which can be caused by irregular water availability. Finally, don't jump the gun on planting. Tomatoes should not be in the ground until the nights are consistently at 55 degrees.

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