How I Solved My Sickly Tomato Problem


When I was working as a papermaking artist I did a lot of "kitchen chemistry." I really liked to experiment in the studio and I do the similar kind of experimentation in the garden.
This season I planted tomatoes in three different plots. The first plot was a shallow raised bed of logs in a sun/shade space filled with a mix of soil and well composted horse manure. The second plot was grow bags (same sun/shade space) filled with just well composted horse manure. The third plot was an in the ground plot in full sun and against a brick wall and was covered by bark chips where I had grown tomatoes several years before and used Tree Tone organic fertilizer.
Plot one and two; the raised beds and the grow bags were doing very well, the third, in the ground plot was pretty sickly, yellow leaves and stunted growth. I needed to do something and do it fast! First I took some compost and made a ring around the stunted tomato plant. Within three weeks the plant was greening up. At the same time I made up some comfrey compost tea. Three weeks later I poured the compost tea on those same tomatoes and things began to happen!The moral of this story is that tomatoes love acid soil and the well composted horse manure soil was the perfect soil for them.
The compost tea steeping in 5-gallon buckets of water. I used old pots (see right hand side) on top to block the leaves and pine needles from getting in the bucket.
A better view of the comfrey compost tea. It's smelly and potent but effective!
The sickly and stunted tomatoes before the extra TLC of horse manure and comfrey compost tea.
An early view of the healthy tomatoes in the recycled cloth bags planted in horse manure soil.
The bed of sickly tomatoes covered in bark chips "before."

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Have a question about this project?

1 question
  • Beth Goucher Pettay
    on Feb 21, 2016

    What ratio would I use to make the "tea" with chicken droppings? I know it is super acidic and can burn plants. I have 6 hens that are fed organic feed and and free range but my tomatoes are in raised beds and just aren't as big as when I lived i the country.

    • Sandra
      on May 2, 2020

      Chicken manure is really “hot” it burns plants unless aged for a year. I’m not sure but after it’s aged probably a good few handfuls of compost to the 5 gallon bucket of water. Steep overnight or longer and strain.

Join the conversation

2 of 76 comments
  • White Oak Studio Designs
    on Jul 11, 2017

    Thanks fo your comment Nancy! I plop my used tea bags into my compost bins and turn them into black gold soil. Same objective....different method. Happy gardening! Donna at White Oak Studio Designs and The Small House Big Sky Homestead.
  • Annie de Vona
    on Jul 27, 2019

    Terrific advice, thanks for sharing. May ai ask how Comfrey Compost is made? A dear friend is about to lose a cherished plant and (Hardy Hibiscus) there isn’t time to make compost. I do have Arborvitae needles by the barrel full. I also have a couple of boxes of chamomile and green tea. Any ideas?

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