As another growing season is underway and my tomato plants begin climbing upward - on 10 ft. high netting for the indeterminate types and in wire cages for the bush-types - it is interesting to observe the effects of mycorrhizae on their root systems.
The combination of very small amounts of dry organic fertilizer, plus the addition of volcanic trace minerals and mycorrhizal fungi spores produces tomato plants that look and perform considerably different from typical garden tomatoes.
My goal is for the plants to not lack any essential major, minor, or trace element. A chemically-oriented soil expert would say that they were not given enough NPK - what they would mistakenly call "complete" or "balanced" fertilizer. This idea that growers must provide all the nutrients that plants uptake is as prevalent as was once the idea that the sun revolves around the earth.
In fact, a healthy biologically-active soil contains living organisms that produce N and also convert mineral elements into forms that plants can use. Intensive plantings do call for supplemental fertilizing, which is why I add a little feather meal or fish pellets before planting. This and broad-spectrum rock dust are all the fertilizing my plants receive all season. The mycorrhizal fungi, beneficial bacteria and other soil biota generate all the "plant food" that my veggies require.
Having a full spectrum of nutrients continually available in ideal amounts creates tomato plants with stockier stalks -as much as 3-4 times thicker than those of chemically-fed plants. There is also shorter distances between branches. The result is a stronger, more compact plant that produces yields closer to full genetic potential. Nearly all blossoms set fruit, a measure of good nutrient uptake, and there are never any serious disease or blossom-end rot problems, another mark of a fully-fed plant.
The "Wow!" factor is high for these plants. Visitors are always impressed with the crowded numbers of fruit on the vines, but for me the more impressive features are the minimal inputs of fertilizer and water they have received. In effect, my plants are pretty much self-reliant after the initial soil preparation. A little training and pruning are about all the care they require, and any drenching of liquid fertilizer or side-dressings of granular "plant food" would only diminish their health and productivity.
Finally, there are the flavors. If you have never tasted a fully-ripe tomato grown in a mineral-rich soil with limited water, you quite honestly do not realize what you are missing. There are complex acidic-sweet mixes of flavors that add depth to even modern hybrids not necessarily bred for superior taste qualities.
It's too bad that so much R&D funding went into soil chemistry instead of soil biology after WWII. We could all been joying dramatically better tomatoes with fewer problems today.
Cheers, my friends,