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Why grow organically and where to start?

HU-512714
January 29, 2019

If I were totally new to growing tomatoes and wanted to grow them organically, what would you tell me to convince me that that is the to go. And if I said okay, what suggestions would you have assuming that I had already done a soil test and found that my soil was 23% organic material and had a pH of 7 and a cation exchange capacity of 19. I had been adding lots of compost to my soil and using chemical fertilizers. Organic growing takes knowing more about a lot of different products and looks like it might be more expensive.

Comments (8)

  • daninthedirt (USDA 8a, HZ10, Cent TX, Sunset z30)

    I don't grow "organically", but I grow "healthy". Whatever you put on your plants and your soil take the trouble to check the MSDS, and use, or don't use, accordingly. Those are the results of concerted health testing. I'm afraid of poisons, but I'm not afraid of chemical symbols and or factories.

  • lgteacher

    Growing organically and having a high percentage of organic material in your soil are not the same thing. People who are strictly organic gardeners use only organic soil amendments and pesticides, which carry an OMRI label. Like daninthedirt, I read labels and don't put things on my plants that could kill beneficial insects and make things worse. Sometimes I use chemicals, but as a last resort.

    I think you're overthinking the whole process. You can grow good tomatoes without knowing the cation exchange capacity of your soil. You might want to lower the pH a bit. If your soil can hold onto moisture but still drain well, and you throw some organic fertilizer on from time to time, the weather will have more influence over your crop than most other factors. Keep an eye out for pests and hose them off as soon as your see them.

  • Labradors

    I try to grow somewhat organically. I start my own seeds in Pro Mix, pot up with Pro-mix for Veggies, then plant them in my veggie garden which has been amended with aged cow manure. I put home made compost and some Tomato Tone in the planting hole, and I water from a large fish pond.

    Every year we get hit with Early Blight and Septoria which seem to blow in on the wind and rain. I refuse to spray my plants and manage the fungal diseases by keeping the lower leaves trimmed up to a foot off the ground (to stop splash back) and my removing yellowed leaves all season. I mulch with pond weed, grass clippings, and sometimes black plastic (which may not be all that organic, but it does a great job of keeping moisture in and weeds out). My plants usually last the season and continue to produce fruit, even if they don't look so great at the end. I rotate the garden end to end every three years.

    Linda

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH

    “I had been adding lots of compost to my soil and using chemical fertilizers. Organic growing takes knowing more about a lot of different products and looks like it might be more expensive.”

    IME If one regularly adds compost to the soil, separate fertilizers aren’t needed. The soil herd breaks down the compost into nutrients the plants can use and the organic matter keeps them available if the pH is right. My garden gets compost, wood ash to raise the pH in my very acid soil, and some years composted manure since I can’t produce enough compost. I rotate crops to keep disease pressure down, and choose varieties both suited to my short season and resistant to the diseases I have found occur in my garden. We get more tomatoes than we can eat and give away thousands without any expensive additions. Care for the soil and the soil takes care of the plants. This wouldn’t be the same if you are growing in pots which don’t have the herd of soil microorganisms, however.

    One of my main reasons to garden the way I do is water pollution. The garden industry has convinced most folks that added fertilizers are needed, but much of what they sell ends up washing into ground water and surface water, adding to algal blooms, some of which are toxic or create anaerobic conditions in water bodies.

    So perhaps if you explain more about what products you think you need to add and why. Does your soil testing indicate that you are low in particular nutrients? Are your plants diseased? Are you not getting good fruiting even when you are growing plants well suited for your growing conditions and in good weather conditions?

  • daninthedirt (USDA 8a, HZ10, Cent TX, Sunset z30)

    It is well understood that while compost provides nutrients (not a lot), it is not a fertilizer. That's because it breaks down into nutrients very slowly. So you get a small amount of nutrients released very slowly. That's not fertilizer. As a result, adding real fertilizers is smart, if you're trying for optimum production.

    By the way, the nutrients that compost eventually releases are certainly soluble, and will run off into groundwater as well. But yes, there isn't much there to run off, so you're unlikely to get algal blooms and anaerobic conditions. That being said, there is a city composting operation a mile away from where I live, that is next to a small lake. Thousands of yards of compost, right over a lake. Know what's in the lake? Algal bloom city.

  • HU-512714

    Okay. My soil is pretty much balanced as far as calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium. My phosphorus is a little low, I am not really sure what the target level should be for potassium, maybe 4 or 5%. My boron level is 1 ppm, which is probably low. I am thinking is should be more like 3 ppm. Any of you using target values for levels of elements?

  • daninthedirt (USDA 8a, HZ10, Cent TX, Sunset z30)

    Most soil tests will tell you what looks low and what looks high. I wouldn't worry about boron, unless you're going to grow beets. I would not bother with "target values". Be concerned about what is seriously deficient. If you can't find anything that is seriously deficient, then you're good to go.

  • HU-512714

    Thanks Dan. I am trying to grow a big tomato and saw what all was being said at sites like the Big pumpkin .com Tomato Growing forum and there are lots of soil opinions there that point toward doing more rather than less. There is talk of "the limiting factor." And ratios between magnesium, potassium and sulphur and phosphorus, And references to Solomon and Albrecht and someone named McKibben and their balanced soil techniques,

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