Organic Greenhouse Adventures: Ed’s Tomato Dilemma

 

Organic Greenhouse Growing:

Ed called us about his tomato plants, which were yielding smaller, fewer fruits after years of pesticide use. Here’s how we helped.

Our vision is to create a sustainable, enduring food-growing experience for our clients and our planet.

But while most greenhouse builders know to include a sturdy structure, weatherproofing, and waterproofing, many stop there. That means that once the structure is built, there’s little support on what a greenhouse owner should do next. 

The general trend is to start the planting process immediately: investing time and money in soil and seeds and getting to work. 

While this method works for a season or two, you might notice a sudden drop-off in harvestable food and that your plants are nutrient-deficient or disease-ridden soon after. To combat this, people often try pesticides and fertilizers, only to find a temporary increase in plant health and another drop-off in plant health right before harvest.

So, is adding fertilizers again and again and using chemical-rich pesticides the only way to keep your greenhouse plants thriving? Thankfully, there’s another, more sustainable way to grow. 

Greenhouse owners who want to take the organic route and avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides are often left in the dark about improving their growing and food quality without synthetic chemicals.

Creating Your Own Compost

While this option is effective, it takes a lot of care and attention to maintain the correct temperature in the heap and to continuously add organic matter. If it’s done incorrectly, the composting process invites insects and flies into the area, creating a hygiene problem. Here’s how to do it right. 

Ed’s Tomato Dilemma 

Ed had an excellent greenhouse structure in place. But when I met him, he shared concerns about his soil. Ed showed me his tomato plants, which yielded smaller and fewer fruits than in previous years. Outside his greenhouse, he’d made a small garden. Unfortunately, there was no longer any sign of the morning glory flowers he loved and planted with so much care and joy this year. 

Naturally, we stepped in to help.

Nourishing Soil 

Soil is a living organism, and like any organism, it needs nourishment and nutrients to sustain the complex biodiversity which lives in it. Billions of bacteria and microorganisms live in our bodies, keeping us healthy and alive. Likewise, these microorganisms and bacteria keep the soil’s structure and complex biodiversity alive to keep the whole system healthy. 

Ed was happy to hear that Shakti Farm Design takes an organic approach, avoiding short-lived solutions like pesticides and chemicals that would further hurt his soil and plants.

When to Fix Your Soil

We started this project in November to prepare his greenhouse and outside garden for the spring. Winter and fall are the best times to start a soil-building project. The extra time allows the foundation to settle and microorganisms to flourish under the right temperature and conditions.

Building Ed’s Soil Foundation

To build the soil foundation, we use aged wood logs and techniques inspired by Hugukulture. If you visit a forest, you’ll often see that fallen logs support life on the fallen branches and trunk where another tree or shrub grows. That’s because a fallen tree’s trunk provides essential nutrients to many living organisms, helping nurture life and healthy growth. 

This is the time-tested, forest-inspired organic philosophy we use in our soil structure. Once the growing mound is complete with logs, compost, and topsoil, we introduce our unique blend of microbes and mycelium to create a natural habitat and environment for the soil to flourish and grow. 

What’s Mycelium? 

Mycelium is the growing body from which mushrooms fruit, just like a tomato plant is the growing body from which a tomato fruit blooms. Underneath the earth, the mycelium network is the largest kingdom of growing organisms, and scientists are learning more about fungi all the time.  

Mycelium is vital for a plant’s health and the general well-being of your soil. Since mycelium doesn’t have its own chlorophyll for photosynthesis, it creates a symbiotic relationship with plants. These mycelium networks provide nutrients from breaking down logs to the roots of the plant in exchange for sugar, which the plant produces through photosynthesis above the ground. 

This relationship keeps Ed’s plants healthy and disease-free while keeping his soil structure alive and thriving in the long run. 

Living Plants Need Living Soil

Alongside fungus, we also introduced healthy microbes and our favorite European night crawlers to keep Ed’s soil healthy and provide additional nutrients to his growing plants. 

As with all of our clients, we advised Ed to keep feeding his topsoil with organic hay and/or cover crop. We include this and additional information on the fine details of growing in the plans we give each greenhouse client. Feeding the soil is essential for healthy plants since these living organisms thrive in equally living soil. 

We also provided Ed with a manual on how to grow sustainable year-round food in his greenhouse. 

Companion Planting

We also included layout plans for companion planting, with intensive research showing which plants will grow well together. When we grow plants that are compatible to grow with each other, there is less competition for a specific nutrient that a plant needs to grow. Companion plants help each other to fight off diseases and pests, along with nurturing a healthy growing plant. 

Before we stepped in, Ed was venturing out in every kind of weather to water his plants every morning and night. To give him some time off, we created a complete automated watering system for his greenhouse. These days, he spends less time watering and more time doing what he loves. 

We also provided Ed with more information about his system’s automated thermostat heaters and ventilation fans to keep his plants and his greenhouse thriving. 

Here are some photos from before and after Ed’s project:

Let’s begin with a five star rating, with five being the highest. In this case, we’d consider seven stars from the very start to the very end. It’s been a magical journey, from the project’s conception to Shiv’s knowledge of sustainable, year-round food growing, to permaculture designing with companion planting. It was truly magical, because it only took 17 days until the first germination of winter seedlings!
These people are great to work side-by-side with, and we had fun!
Thank you for the experience,

– Ed

We are looking forward to spring, when Ed and his plants will flourish and glow with joy, naturally and organically. 

Book your free Greenhouse consultation here.