Organic soil amendments for best tomatoes?
While our tomatoes grew well last summer, I had heard that some gardeners in the D.C. area had a particularly tough time with theirs. In August, Adrian Higgins of The Washington Post wrote about the area's disappointing tomato season in Where's the Beefsteak? Our extreme and varied summer weather was noted as a possible cause of tomato plant failure. We had torrential rains in June, which likely washed away important nutrients like calcium. Then came very dry weather in July, followed by a heatwave in early August. Consistently high nighttime temperatures can cause tomato plants to drop their blossoms and fail to produce fruit.
While the weather is beyond our control, the article included tips on things one can do to try and keep tomato plants healthy: "Use deep, rich soil with sufficient calcium and organic matter. Apply mulch to keep down weeds and blight spores."
Thinking about preparing the ground for this year's tomatoes, I came across Baker Creek's Garden Forum, where someone posed the question: "What do you add to your soil with your tomato plants?" The answers ranged from compost and manure to eggshells, coffee, banana peels, Epsom salts, dead fish carcasses and matches. New to me was the idea of using banana peels (for potassium) and matches (for sulfur and phosphorus). And I haven't the slightest idea what Epsom salts do.
Michael and I usually mix bone meal into the soil when we transplant our tomato seedlings outside. Then we give the plants a periodic fertilizing with fish emulsion. This has worked well for us, but we're always open to suggestions on how to grow a better tomato.
I'm curious to know what others have tried, and to what effect? What's your favorite organic soil amendment for great tomatoes? What has worked best? And why?