Since our TGN Community is so spread out geographically—across the globe, really—I wanted to go ahead and post this Homesteading Basics video because there are certain climates where this question is starting to come up. And if your tomatoes are still producing (or maybe are just starting to produce if you’re in a colder climate!), it’s never too early to start thinking about this!
So, here’s my question: When your tomatoes have stopped producing, what do you do with your tomato debris?
I share my intention for my own tomato plants in the above Homesteading Basics video—but are my garden cleanup plans truly necessary? I’d really like to know what you think, so please let me know your opinion in the comments!
This article was originally published on June 21, 2018.
Marjory Wildcraft is the founder of The Grow Network, which is a community of people focused on modern self-sufficient living. She has been featured by National Geographic as an expert in off-grid living, she hosted the Mother Earth News Online Homesteading Summit, and she is listed in Who’s Who in America for having inspired hundreds of thousands of backyard gardens. Marjory was the focus of an article that won Reuter’s Food Sustainability Media Award, and she recently authored The Grow System: The Essential Guide to Modern Self-Sufficient Living—From Growing Food to Making Medicine.
I’ll be interested to hear what others say. I have always taken it out of place and composted it also. That is mainly because I typically pull up my plants when they have become taken over by some sort of unpleasant thing or another. I feel that even if my tomatoes were looking great for most of their growth, if I leave them long enough, they will get very yellow or black spotty so I want to get that out of the area.
Good question. Do you have to replant them if you compost the old plants or do they come back on their own? Were those sunflowers behind you Marjory?
Yes, those were sunflowers behind me. Thankfully those don’t hardly have nay pests or diseases…
I’ve had some volunteers come up, but usually in my climate once they are done, they don’t come back. And most of the old timers here yank out the old tomato plants at the end of the summer season and start with new young plants versus trying to resussitate the older plants.
Yikes, I wonder how you spell that ‘resussitate’?
I’d consult with “David the Good,” author of “Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting.” I don’t recall this particular plant matter being addressed in his book but he is the guru of turning trash into gardening treasure!
I grew up old school I guess and was told to pull them out root and all, rake the leaves out, really even put them on the burn pile instead of compost because of fungus that could be carried on the leaves and after spending three years in Pensacola, FL and finding out about wilt (woke up one morning and my gorgeous plants were limp and dead looking overnight) and nematodes that cause knots all over the roots of plants, but will sometimes only be isolated to one spot I believe that is correct way to dispose of them. Better safe than sorry.
I leave my tomato debris in the area all winter, and then I clear it out when it’s time to plant new tomato plants. The reason I do it this way is just laziness. So far I haven’t had any problems doing it this way. I don’t have a compost pile or anything; my yard is very small, with neighbors close by. I imagine that compost would get stinky, and people wouldn’t like it (including myself).
We live in the north, zone 6. Our vines do not finish producing until after the first frost. So when frost is called for, we clean pick everything to bring it inside to finish ripening. The vines can actually be pulled and put to use in the dyepot. I like to chop up the vines and put them in a bucket of water to soak for a few days. I boil out the color and add the deleted organic material back into the compost pile. Tomato vines give a yellow to tan shade on wool.
Darn auto correct. Should be depleted not deleted
Ah! using them for dye… thats a new twist. Huh, I wouldn’t have guessed a tan color.
BTW, nice hat! I made one just like that and I absolutely love it.
Great question! I have grown heirloom tomatoes organically in north Texas and southern Oklahoma. I keep my vines alive through the summer heat by watering and fertilizing a little after the initial production and have discovered that when the temps go back down some, they put on a second crop that is only a little smaller than the first, both in volume and fruit size. This works best when I cut off the bottom branches and suckers to keep the plants further from the ground and with better air circulation. I try to keep up with cutting off the branches that yellow and spot. I have in the past completely removed the debris, as I doubted that composting completely kills the disease agents. But I grow in raised beds and a very large deep hay-covered in-ground garden and I have been thinking that it is impossible to completely isolate the ground from the bad stuff. Also, plants have immune systems and when they are given what they need, they have resistance to the bad stuff. So I am starting to just compost everything (like David the Good) and so far I haven’t suffered any disastrous effects. And it’s easier and returns nutrients more completely. Now if someone could just control the weather…
Personally, I remove all the dead stalks and vines, and whatever and burn them. I remove them from the garden mostly because I sow some kind of nitrogen capturing plants (wheat, clover, vetch, etc…) in late fall so I can turn it all into the soil in the spring. I burn the stalks and vines because it just takes too long for them to decompose. Thanks!
I have always pulled mine up after the first frost or first snow and discarded them as compost does not do well here in winter and we are always dealing with bears. – (I am in southern BC Canada) I like the look of a clean garden as it becomes blanketed in the first snow of winter.
Most rudiment animals should not eat nor digest night shade plants like tomatoes. Thus, these get pulled up and placed into a shredding pile for the push mower. The shredded matter then goes to the compost. Once the entire nightshade plants are done, allowing goats the free range the old garden really cleans things up all around. 🙂 If goats are not an option, your chickens can work it too.
I’m intrigued that tomato season is way past in your area of Texas. I live in Houston and am a backyard gardener. I’m still picking tomatoes off my vines. Picked some cherry tomatoes this morning. All my tomato vines are still green and producing-no shade net used this season. But to your question, I compost them.
Hi BM, glad to see you posting!
We had some cows get sick from eating a bunch of excess tomatoes and vines. Not sure why they got into that as I am sure it tastes horrible.
Yes, the nightshades are poisonous.
Here in Houston I still have a few tomatoes ripening on the vines, including a Black Krim that volunteered from the compost I used when planting a Meyer lemon. That monstrous tomato vine crawled up the lemon tree and nearly took over a third of my large flower bed. I have cut back most of it, left a branch that rooted to see what might happen as well as those supporting the last 3 tomatoes, but I never thought about composting the massive amount of vine I cut out until I read these comments. Thanks for that reminder!
I too like to go into winter with a clean garden space. I pull everything and compost most of it but tomatoes I always burn due to disease thing. Better safe than sorry. But I loved Linda mentioning using them in the dye pot. Don’t know why I’ve never tried tomatoes plants before as I sure do collect plenty of other plants to use for dye! Thanks Linda!
I pitch my vines— I don’t have enough space to compost those big gnarly babies!
I removed the vines and left the roots intact this year, but the comment about the nematodes made me question this practice.
Anyone have a reason that I should pull up the roots the tomatoes or is it okay to leave them in the soil to decompose?
Thank you Marjory— love your super valuable work!
It really depends on where my tomatoes are for me. If they are in my aquaponics or smaller containers, I pull everything and compost it. The year ai grow them in my larger raised dirt bed, I cut the tops off and compost right in the bed as mulch. I do this almost everything unless it is diseased.
I guess I didn’t think about pulling them up. My dad came over and plowed them under. Is that bad?
We live in WI and I hope any bad bacteria dies in the freezing temps? Might plowing them under deplete my soil of nitrogen?
Hi JMJ, well I guess that’s the point, I’m not totally sure. All the older experienced gardeners I know do pull from the roots and compost, but as you can read in these comments lots of other people just let it compost in place. You are probably fine!