Fish head/Tomato Growing Project

How do you grow lots of healthy tomatoes?  Many books, articles, and internet resources are available to answer that question.  Your answer will come from the type of farming you want to do.  Our goal as farmers is to enrich our soil and grow healthy produce at the same time.  Because of this we chose a biodynamic method and it goes something like this. 

For heirloom tomatoes that grow as tall as nine feet, space plants three feet apart.  Dig holes one foot wide and 18-24 inches deep.  Some tomatoes can develop roots to a depth of six feet or more.






Find a seafood restaurant or fish market with fish heads for sale cheap.  Place head at bottom of hole, stand back and admire it.  As the roots grow and reach deep into the soil the fish head will serve as a source of nitrogen and calcium.  Albertson’s Fish Counter is a great source for fish heads @ $0.99/pound.  If they don’t have them at the time you  request, the head can be ordered.




Next add 4-5 crushed eggshells and two aspirin.  The eggshells are natural and easily accessible sources of calcium which helps protect the fruit from blossom end rot a condition characterized by brownish-black sunken spots on the fruit.  The aspirin, containing salicylic acid, has been proven to boost the plant’s immune system.


Throw in one heaping handful of bone meal, a good organic source of phosphorus







Next, put in two handfuls of 4-6-4 organic fertilizer and one Tablespoon of nutrient rich worm castings and top with 3-4 inches organic garden soil or compost.






Trim off lower spent leaves at bottom of plant.  Place in hole so that the dirt will come within an inch or two of the remaining leaves.  If you examine the stem of a tomato you will notice hundreds of furry hairs.  These are all potential roots.  When you bury as much of the stem as possible, you give the plant a better chance to grow strong roots which translate into a stronger plant and more fruit.  I prefer to remove the peat pot and then tear it up and use as mulch on the top of the plant.  This helps the young plant get immediate root exposure to all the nutrients in the soil.




Fill in the remainder of the hole with garden soil and compost.  Water deeply.  This method of planting worked incredibly well.  Plants were extremely healthy and big with some varieties producing up to 40 pounds of tomatoes per plant.  To help with pests we interplanted with basils and borage.  I didn’t see a single horn worm all summer.  Once a large crop developed we did cover with bird netting.  This year all tomatoes will be planted this way in our growing areas.



Each year we plant several heirloom varieties from across the globe.  No matter their origin, paying close attention to the soil makes all the difference in productivity and flavor.  When the fruit ripens and you are enjoying your delicious tomatoes remember that this growing method has also replenished the soil.

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15 Responses to Fish head/Tomato Growing Project

  1. Ellen says:

    Thanks for being kind and generous with information at the end of a long day. We came by the booth around 9pm last night and you talked with us about lettuces, tomatoes, and herbs and what can be container grown and how deep tomato roots can be. As you can see, I found your blog and it is as charming as you are.
    Thanks again for your inspiration.
    Ellen from Texas

  2. Russ says:

    im you new best customer

  3. maryetta ferre says:

    I’m on my way to the fish market and can hardly wait to try the new tomato planting recipe. Thanks for the info. Looking forward to great tomatoes.

  4. Consuela says:

    Hi M & J
    I finally went to the site. About time I had my first blueberry yesterday, yum!!!!
    They are plumping up nicely, my flower girl didn’t admit picking any,but when I asked “was it yummy?” “Yes, I mean no…”. Busted!
    Fish heads (usually salmon) can be bought at many asian markets, locally @ the market (Redlands Blvd. & Mtn. View/ A-Dong restaurant) and the market on Mill St. just east of Waterman, San Bdo.

  5. Linda Brown says:

    An amazing site for a neophyte “farmer”. I’m looking forward to your open market tomorrow in Redlands. I’m also going by Albertson’s to order my fish heads.

  6. Amanda says:

    I just bought a healthy looking tomato plant from your stand at the Redlands Farmers Market this morning and I just wanted to say how impressed I am with your website growing information and variety of heirloom tomatoes. I’m looking forward to tasting the beautiful hillbilly tomatoes later in the season and might be back next week to try another variety (if I can find space in my overgrown garden, haha). Thanks! It’s great to have local farmers down the road.

  7. terry ingram says:

    Hi again,
    Just bought a tomatoe plant and two jams. Thanks for giving me your web site and
    the good information on planting tomatoes.
    See you next week,

  8. Linda Brown says:

    Harvested eight ripe, juicy, delicious blueberries from the Blueberry Misty plant purchased about two weeks ago. I was going to put them on cereal, but ended up eating the berries by themselves as I wanted to savor the full flavor.

  9. Charlie Tseng says:

    Should I follow the instructions in preparation of hole & fish head etc now, or wait until March 2013?

  10. mindy says:

    Charlie, Tomatoes are warm weather plants and require many months of warm growing weather to produce. With fall just around the corner, you will want to wait until late March or April to start your new tomato plants. Ideally, night time tempuratures should be in the 50-55 degree Farenheit range before you plant. At SunnysideLOCAL we grow for production so we have found that this technique works best for our farmers market fresh produce. Not only will your tomatoes taste great but you will improve your soil by growing this way. Thanks so much for your question.

  11. Walker Price III says:

    Mindy….great talking with you last night at the Farmer’s Market. I’m going to use your tomato planting method and take photos of the progress. Thanks for the great info! Walker

  12. mindy says:

    Good to see you too, Walker! You do the experiment and send me photos and I will post them. Thanks, Mindy

  13. John Fragoso says:

    I used your method of planting tomatoes with fish head and also using the egg shells within the soil. I used a topsy-turvy planter for these tomatoes. I now see that maggots are within the soil. I can only assume that the maggots are feeding on the fish heads.Will these maggots harm the tomato roots as well as other herbs that I have planted in the topsy-turvy planter? If these maggots are harmful to the plants, what method can I use to remove or destroy these maggots? Please advise, THX.

  14. mindy says:

    John, I’m sorry to tell you that this method is only for growing tomatoes in the ground. I never counsel customers to use the topsy turvy planters. Usually the only tomatoes that do well in those are small hybrids. I sell heirloom tomatoes that naturally grow 6-7 ft. tall and are not suited to growing in planters. I’m sorry you are having this problem, but at this point I feel you have an UNHEALTHFUL situation on your hands. I would sacrifice the planter and plant. If you look at demo photos on the website you will see that all plant material is going into the ground. There is no way for a large fish head to decompose properly in the amount of soil you have provided.

  15. John South Louisiana says:

    I live in south Louisiana and catch lots of fish. I’ve been burying the fish scraps in my garden for over 30 years. I grow the most incredible produce and feed half the neighborhood. My totmatoes have never had bottom rot. Nearby gardeners that don’t have access to the fish scraps do have problems with bottom rot.

    I also bury all of my crab and crawfish shells in the garden. My neighbors now know to throw their leaves and grass clippings in my compost pile. I use little to zero fertilizer.

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