Tomatoes Like Milk


Readers of the You Grow Girl book might recall that I love a little milk mixed with water as a tomato disease preventative. Okay, I probably didn’t go so far as to indicate a “love” for the concoction but I will say it here: the tomato plants on my rooftop garden benefit from regular applications throughout the growing season and have been disease-free since I began this experiment a number of years ago. You can’t not LOVE those results. I’d cuddle a milk and water concoction on the couch while sharing a bowl of popcorn and a movie with results like that. After the movie we’d play some non-competitive board games and catch The Colbert Report before settling into our communal sleeping bag for the night. I LOVE these results.

Here’s what I do. Organic milk tends to go bad in the fridge faster than non-organic. I only drink milk in my cappuccinos so I often have lots of spoiled milk in the fridge. I dilute the milk with water to a minimum 50:50 ratio (I often dilute much further than this) and either pour it directly over the plant leaves or pour it onto the soil at the roots. I used to put it into a spray bottle first but am too lazy to take that extra step now-a-days.

I should add that this is the only time I water tomato leaves directly. I am careful to water the soil only on all other occasions. This is because tomatoes do not like wet leaves and can develop fungal diseases as the result of too much humidity and moisture sitting on the leaves for long periods of time.

One of my favourite things about gardening is experimenting and trying to improve on old ideas. Last year I figured I might as well mix up my milk remedy with my fertilizer routine. My thought process is that perhaps it all works better when it’s mixed together. I mix the same water and milk solution and add a splash of sea kelp and a dash of fish emulsion to the mix then pour the whole thing onto the soil.

It doesn’t smell great but the plants like it. And I like tomatoes. If it means more tomatoes come fall then I’m all for it.

Hint: If you’re not a milk drinker you can make up the same mix using powdered milk. In fact many people swear by dry powdered milk mixed directly into the soil.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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33 thoughts on “Tomatoes Like Milk

  1. Is it the calcium in the milk that’s helping? Last year I started a new garden in soil that hadn’t seen a vegetable in close to 20 years. Major problems with the soil and my tomatoes (50 plants) all had blossom end rot. This year I mixed fresh egg shells into the soil at the base of each plant, but tonight I’m going to go home and spray them with some milk, it sounds like a great idea.

  2. You have just totally solved my ‘organic-milk-gone-bad-in-the-fridge-AGAIN’ problem. I have been ranting about this for the past week, feeling bad about all of the wasted milk and packaging over the past few months, and here you are posting about it! Now I know what to do! Thanks!

  3. So, what if you had an upside down tomato planter with another flower uptop… will the milk hurt the other flowers?

  4. Organic milk goes bad faster? Is it different in Canada? I find Organic milk lasts forever, as opposed to non-organic, which lasts maybe two weeks.

    P.S. I love your site.

  5. Doafy: It may be in the dating. I find that organic milk goes off EXACTLY on the date indicated while non-organic seems to take a while to go off past the due date. So it may not be the amount of time it lasts but rather that they are more accurate in their due date.

    Destiny: I am growing an upsidedown tomato woth basil up top. And I often grow my tomato plants with something else in the container — upside down or right side up. It’s fine either way. The other plants like the milk too I just don’t have something obvious like disease issues to weigh the value against.

  6. I planted my tomatoes just in time for two weeks of annoying misty rain – good for flowers, bad for my tomatoes. They all started turning yellow and I almost cried about it as I’ve been nurturing those plants from seeds. I quickly sprayed the milk/water mix all over my tomatoes and some other nightshades that looked sad and lo and behold – they are all nice and green this week. I’ve been spraying them about once a week ever since… I hope that’s not too much.

  7. All I know is that your pictures are beautimous. I’m still trying to figure out how to grow “organic” tomatoes in an urban atmosphere like central Atlanta…so I’ll continue to admire for now! Yum.

    p.s. does anyone else get acne if they eat too many tomatoes?

  8. Kelly: I don’t think it is the calcium expressly however I’m sure the calcium helps with the plant’s overall health. The milk itself contains anti-fungal properties. It can also work on powdery mildew.

    Blossom end rot is the result of a calcium deficiency but is not usually the result of a lack of calcium in the soil. It is most often caused by inconsistent watering… and plants not getting enough water in general. The premise is that the plant is not getting enough water and can’t take up the required amount of calcium. I would suggest watering deeply. One tomato plant, especially an indeterminate can suck up a LOT of water.

    I add eggshells to my soil too.

    Ehwin: Once a week isn’t too much. I have heard of people spraying daily when there is a problem. I apply less often because I am doing it more as a preventative.

  9. K8tron: I’ve been growing organic tomatoes in urban Dallas with great success, so don’t give up! Keep trying a number of different varieties to see what works in your particular microclimate. I’m experimenting with ten different varieties of heirloom tomatoes this year.

    Gayla: Thanks for this great tip! I’m going to send my readers over to this entry for this interesting idea. I look forwa
    rd to testing it out.

    Callie Works-Leary

  10. on the organic milk usage front, make yogurt or ricotta cheese if you are having trouble using up a gallon. both are easy.

    i too find that you have to use it by the date on the container (Organic Valley in a 1 gallon jug).

  11. Gayle, Thanks for the tip. Have a question. I got three containers of expired yogurt in the health food store where I shop. Can I add water, 50/50 and give it to my tomatoes? I am thinking of freezing some of it for later.

  12. Seth: We do make yoghurt on occassion in a large thermos. I did not know one could easily make ricotta cheese. I will have to look into that!

    Lemongrass: I don’t know about yoghurt. It didn’t occur to me. Maybe if it’s just the plain stuff and not strawberry flavor or somehting like that. Probiotics are good for us so…. maybe worth giving it a try. I would maybe try diluting it further than 50:50.

  13. I’m definitely going to have to try out this milk tip – I’ll try the powdered milk since I don’t drink milk (milk allergy = no fun)

    k8tron: I bought three organic tomato plants at a sale held by my school’s biology club. I placed all three plants (plus a variety of herbs and lavender) in a large metal tub and placed it on the steps outside of my front door and so far have not had any problems. I live in Indianapolis, but I imagine the hot Atlanta weather will be ideal for your plants. Good luck!

  14. Just to clarify–you use milk that has already spoiled or you use up non-spoiled milk before it spoils so as not to waste the whole carton.

    Can’t wait to try this on my tomatos!
    PS: LOVE your site!

  15. Emily: You can use milk that is spoiled or not spoiled. I wait until it is spoiled so that I’m using up milk that would just go to waste otherwise but either is fine.

  16. Gayla, thanks for the follow-up. Last season was a terrible draught and I was very inconsistent in my watering because we were in the process of moving. This year I’m watering each plant deeply at the base every night because the days are so hot, sunny and windy, and have mulched with a thick layer of fresh straw. The plants themselves look good, we’ll see how they fare with the blossom end rot. I’m going to do the milk spray on all of my cucurbits as well, they’re starting to get mildew spots. I also read it can help with other fungus problems. Cheers!

  17. I am giving it a try, with the plain yogurt. I will mix a 2:1 ratio and see what happens. Will keep you posted.

  18. Great site and information. I have grown tomatoes for years and did not know this. I will pass it on to my sister and put it in practice myself.

  19. Oh brilliant – I knew milk was good as a mild fertilzer, but wasn’t aware it ‘medicated’ as well. Thanks for the tip, and I’ll be trying it on my courgettes (zucchini) too, as they are starting to look a bit mildewy…

    [ps] LOVE the new badges – green fingers, dirty nails, that is so me! lol

  20. Woo-hoo! Thanks for the encouragement girls. I’ve got 12 started up and will keep the milk recipes handy. I do love me some milk, mmmm-mmmm….

  21. Yes, ricotta is absurdly easy – you just heat the milk (various recipes say 120F to 190F, I personally find that “just before it boils” is best), add 1/3 cup of white vinegar for each gallon of milk, stir gently until it’s all separated into white ricotta and yellow whey, and then drain into a colander lined with paper towels. (If you want to save the whey for use in plants or baking, put the colander over a glass or metal container before draining the pot.) Allow to drain for a couple hours. It’s so easy that often I’ll find myself making a little fresh ricotta when I’m making spaghetti, to top the spaghetti with. :) And it’s great for use in Italian-style cheesecake, blintzes, etc.

    I must say, milk plus water did wonders when powdery mildew attacked my poor peppermint plant.

    Hmm, I wonder if strawberries would like milk? On the days when I do extra treatments, most of my plants get a fish emulsion treatment, and my tomato plants and strawberry plants get a treatment of liquid tomato fertilizer. It would be easy to add powdered milk to the mix. I suppose I could always water my strawberries first, then add the powdered milk, then water my tomatoes. (I use a lot of boiled-then-ground-up eggshells in the pots as well.)

  22. Great information for the tomato plants. I see the milk plus water helped Robin’s peppermint plant. So…can the milk/water mixture be used on all herbs?

  23. A diluted-milk spray works to prevent black spot on roses, too. You need to reapply it after every rain. In general, watering plants at the soil level does a great deal to prevent fungal diseases on plants. The key is to keep the leaves as dry as possible.

    Eggshell-water is also great for watering africal violets.

  24. Odd – I started buying organic milk because it seemed to last longer in the frig for me. Non-organic goes bad within a week, *long* before its expiration date, while the organic stuff seems to last much longer.

  25. I didn’t know about the milk treatment. Water saved from boiling eggs makes a great fertilizer too. A great pick-me-up for houseplants. They turn bright green practically overnight.

  26. Jo: Strange about the smell. It just seems to evaporate and doesn’t leave a bad smell lingering on my plants.

    Sandia: No idea about cream. I would need to understand more about milk to know how it might be different chemically. Why not give it a go and see what happens?

    Robin: Thanks so much for the recipe. I will definitely try it.

    Susan: I don’t see why the milk wouldn’t work on all kinds of mildew/fungus/viral issues on different plants. I just specifically like it for my tomatoes and cucumbers.

    Emy: I am guessing different brands date their cartons differently accounting for the discrepency.

    Jody: I also just crush my eggshells and work them into the soil or scatter them on the surface to deter slugs. No eggshell goes to waste around here!

  27. Can I use Parmalat UHT skim-milk? My tomatoes are green and wont turn red. Will the milk help them ripen? What am I doing wrong? I have 3 patio tomato plants in a huge pot. They are all green!

  28. Anne Marie: I don’t know about the Ultra High Temp. milks. I don’t know what is killed off when milk is pasteurized at high temperatures.

    Your tomatoes may just take a long time to ripen. Some varieties take longer than others. You’re calling your tomatoes “patio” so I’m assuming they are determinates. It is normal for determinate varieties to put out their fruit and then ripen around the same time. I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong. Just give it some time.

  29. No actually they are indeterminates according to the tag. On the tag when I bought them, it said they were called “Patio Tomatoes”. I bought them because I am growing them on my patio, and I figured they would be small and not hard to maintain. They were tiny little things when I planted them, and now they are 6 feet tall! They should be called green-giant tomatoes.
    My boyfriend said the same thing about just giving them time. I want to pick them and put them in a brown bag to help them to ripen. Either that or make a green tomato salad :p. I’m dying to eat them!! Thanks for the response! I love your book. I made my two best friends read it :)) We love dirt too :))))

  30. Thanks Anne Marie! Seriously I would not expect anything called “Patio” to reach 6 feet. False advertising. Either that or mis-identification.

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