Top Tips for Growing the World’s Best Homegrown Tomatoes.
For many of us, cup weekend marks the celebration of all things Melbourne. It marks the change of the seasons. For some, it’s a time to get frocked up and head to the races, others it means playing Tetris with camping gear in the back of the car, and if you are a gardener like me. It means time to transplant those tomatoes seedlings.
If you haven’t got your seed sown by now, I dare say it's too late. But not to worry, as there will be an abundance of tomato seedlings for weeks to come at your local nursery. If you typically grow veggies in a small yard, raising your tomato from seed, is not required as a handful of plants will be sufficient. And, tomatoes are the one plant that commercial seedlings growers offer in abundance. So you will be spoilt for choice.
Growing great tasting tomatoes is very easy should you follow some of these simple tips.
I say time and time again, "You are growing soil first, plants second." So the first important approach to growing tomatoes is to work and prepare the soil before planting. I like to plants crops of legumes in the beds prior, as they are renowned for being high in nitrogen which will help feed the tomato plants.
If you are planting into a garden bed, add a small mixture of blood and bone, which is high in both Nitrogen and Phosphorus. However Blood and bone is void of Potassium which is essential for flower production, therefore add some Potash to the garden bed as well.
It is also an excellent time to work in some compost before planting. By adding organic matter to the soil, the soil structure will be able to hold and retain more moisture on those hot Summer days.
Typically Tomatoes like slightly acid soil, so it could be worth checking the soil pH and amend accordingly.
Tomatoes, also grow well in pots, making them great edibles for a courtyard or balcony. Choose a container that is large (both wide and deep) enough for the purpose. Pots larger than 45cm, are ideal as this provides them with plenty of room to grow, and won’t dry out quickly over the warm summer months. Also stay clear of terracotta pots if possible, as these can dry out quickly. It is preferable to fill your containers with a good quality organic potting mix.
Once you have prepared the soil, it is a matter of choosing what type of tomato you are going to grow. And there are a couple of considerations to take into account
Regarding size, there are two types of tomatoes.
Bush tomatoes (Determinate) these are varieties that are compact making them perfect for growing in pots and small garden beds. However, the fruit tends to ripen all at once, so you better get your hands on a great chutney recipe.
Staking Tomatoes (Indeterminate) tomatoes will grow large, and continue growing until killed off by colder weather. These will continue to produce both new flowers and fruit at the same time. These will require staking and potential pruning to maximise yields.
And in regards to types, there are,
Heirloom Refering to older varieties that are open pollinated. Meaning that you will be able to save the seeds, and they will contain the same genetic makeup as the parent plant. These are great for varieties that are not necessarily available at the local supermarket.
Hybrid are varieties that have been crossbreed for particular characteristics. These can be high performers; however, you won’t be able to save seeds from these plants, as they don’t breed true.
Both types have merit, and will ultimately depend on what you wish to grow.
The Hungry Gardeners recommendation is to choose an indeterminate cherry tomato variety. Such as Tommy Toe. Cherry tomatoes are low maintenance, require very little pruning, reasonably disease and pest free, and will provide you with a long seasonal crop.
When planting tomatoes, it is preferable to sink them. This is referring to planting them deeper than that of the soil level they come in when they are a punnet. Plant them to the first two leaves. Refer to the diagram below. By planting them slightly deeper, it encourages the plant to put out more roots, which aids the stability of the plant. It is also a good time to top dress each seedling with a handful of worm casting if you have. Then water in with a seaweed extract. Plant amongst other pollinator-attracting flowers such as borage to encourage the bees.
Staking and Tying up.
Stake seedling when you first plant them, this causes less soil disturbance and any damage to the roots at a later date. Make sure to use clean stakes, so not to be harboring any of last seasons soil. Hardwood stakes are ideal. When tying tomatoes to the stake, it is preferable to tie off the string to the stake first so not to slip down the stake. Refer to diagram below;
Tomatoes will require a regular watering routine. Make sure that your moisture levels are consistent. When your watering levels are inconsistent, it will cause issues such as splitting fruit, stretch marks and blossom end rot. It is not so much “how much water” but managing the moisture level. You don’t want the tomato to dry out too quickly. It is worth mulching the base of the plants once they have become established.
A common mistake with growing Tomatoes is to overfeed with Nitrogen-rich fertiliser. This causes the plant to grow beautiful and lush foliage, however, will be at the expense of flowers, then ultimately fruit. The soil preparation of blood and bone should be sufficient, with a fortnightly application of seaweed solution and potash.
Tomato pruning is often referred to as “pinching out.” This process is required on some staking tomatoes (Indeterminate) to keep them tidy. The idea is to pinch out new shoots below any flowers. The thought is that the plant's energy goes toward producing fruit rather than fresh new foliage. The new shoots occur at the node, between the leaf and the stem. Refer to the diagram below
Harvest vine ripen tomatoes as desired. Toward the end of the season when the foliage has begun to die back the remain tomatoes may take a while to ripen. Therefore your options are to run a knife around the root zone of the plant to kill back the plant, or pick and place the green tomatoes on a window sill to slowly ripen in the sun.
Overall, It has been said plenty of times “Nothing tastes better than a homegrown Tomato.” And that is because it is true. Growing the food that you love, such as tomatoes will produce nothing but the best flavor.
My Love affair for growing edibles began with some tomato seedlings that my Nonno had given me as housewarming present. If only he knew, what an affect, that gift has made on me. I hope that the above information has helped and will to help you along your edible journey.