Driftless Seed Supply Grower Resources

Tomato Growing Resources

History and Cultural Significance of Tomatoes

The tomato, indigenous to western South America, has a rich history deeply rooted in the culinary and agricultural practices of native peoples long before European contact. It’s subsequent story is marked by migration, adaptation, and cultural integration that spans continents and centuries. Initially considered poisonous by many Europeans, the tomato faced skepticism when it first arrived in Europe in the 16th century via Spanish explorers. However, it eventually became a staple in Mediterranean diets, in dishes like Italian marinara sauce and Spanish gazpacho. 

In the United States, tomatoes gained popularity in the 19th century, shaking off earlier fears and misconceptions to become an integral part of American cuisine in forms like ketchup and in iconic dishes like the BLT sandwich. Beyond its culinary uses, the tomato has taken on symbolic meanings; for instance, it serves as a quintessential example of a fruit that is commonly mistaken for a vegetable, highlighting the complexity and idiosyncrasies of botanical versus culinary classifications.

Today, the tomato is a global crop, grown in nearly every country and consumed in countless cuisines, embodying a remarkable journey from its South American roots to global ubiquity.

1) Site Selection

  • Soil: Well-drained, loamy soil with pH 6.2–6.8.
  • Sunlight: Full sun, at least 6–8 hours a day.

2) Planting

  • Time: After the last frost, when soil temperatures are consistently above 60°F.
  • Spacing: About 18–36 inches apart in rows that are 4–5 feet apart.
  • Depth: Plant seeds 1/4 inch deep; transplant seedlings so that the lower leaves are just above the soil.

3) Irrigation

  • Water: Keep soil consistently moist but not waterlogged.
  • Method: Drip irrigation or soaker hoses are preferred to minimize leaf wetness and prevent disease.

4) Fertilization

  • Pre-Planting: Incorporate compost or a balanced fertilizer before planting.
  • During Growth: Apply a high-potassium fertilizer during fruiting.

5) Pest and Disease Management

  • Crop Rotation: Avoid planting tomatoes in the same place where tomatoes, peppers, or potatoes have been grown in the past 3 years.
  • Scouting: Regularly inspect plants for signs of pests and diseases like tomato hornworms or blight.
  • Control: Use cultural, biological, or chemical controls as needed, following organic or conventional guidelines as appropriate.

6) Support and Pruning

  • Staking or Caging: Helps keep plants upright and fruit off the ground.
  • Pruning: Removing some leaves and suckers can improve air circulation and reduce disease pressure.

7) Harvest

  • Indicators: Harvest when fruit is fully colored but still firm.
  • Method: Use scissors or hand-pick, taking care not to damage the plant or fruit.

8) Post-Harvest

  • Storage: Store at room temperature for best flavor; refrigerate only if necessary to prevent spoilage.
  • Handling: Handle gently to prevent bruising.

9) Fertilization Recommendations

The exact rates of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (N-P-K) can vary depending on soil type, pre-existing nutrient levels, and local conditions. However, general guidelines are:

  • Nitrogen (N): 100-150 lbs per acre, depending on soil tests. Often split into multiple applications throughout the season.
  • Phosphorous (P): 40-60 lbs per acre. Usually applied at planting.
  • Potassium (K): 150-200 lbs per acre, depending on soil tests.

These rates are general recommendations, and you should always consult with a soil test and local agricultural extension services for precise nutrient needs.

10) Organic Pesticides

For organic tomato production, the following certified organic pesticides may be useful for managing specific pests and diseases:

  • Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt): Effective against tomato hornworm and other caterpillars.
  • Neem Oil: Can be used against a range of pests including aphids and spider mites, and some fungal diseases.
  • Copper Fungicides: Effective against various fungal diseases like early blight and late blight, but use sparingly due to copper accumulation in the soil.
  • Spinosad: Useful for controlling thrips, caterpillars, and other chewing or sucking insects.
  • Pyrethrin: Effective against a wide variety of insects but should be applied carefully to minimize harm to beneficial insects.

Always read and follow label instructions, and make sure any product you choose is approved for organic production by your certifier if you are following certified organic practices.