Tomato time!

Tomatoes are one of the most popular home-grown vegies of all and it’s fair to say that once you’ve tasted a tomato you’ve grown yourself-there’s no turning back! 

Wikipedia claims that close to 170.8 million tonnes of tomatoes were grown worldwide in 2014. This statistic makes it easy to see why when you consider how highly productive, and just how incredibly versatile in both the kitchen and the field they are;-with the ability to be successfully grown in large market gardens, right down to a small apartment with a window-box. 

Tomatoes are warm season plants and are frost sensitive. So, provided you’re free of the frosts; its tomato time now. But regardless of their allure and popularity, tomato growing isn’t without some potential difficulties. So as the tomato season begins; it seems like the perfect time to talk tomato troubles, tips and techniques.

The key to growing great home-grown tomatoes is good soil health, consistent moisture and nutrition, positioning and aspect. Success is also dependent on weather and climatic variations, but they’re definitely worth the effort! Here’s what I’ve learned on how to succeed:

Position

Planting position must be sunny, wind-protected and frost-free. Soil ideally should be well-drained and fertile with aged manure and organic matter dug in a few weeks before planting. We’ve found in our area, come Summer, plants seem to do best if shaded from the afternoon heat in 35+ degrees temperatures.

If you grew tomatoes last year, it’s best to choose a new spot for your plants this year to eliminate any risk of soil borne disease. Plants can be returned to the same location every second year – although the longer time between, the better.

If you’re planning to plant in a pot, choose a good quality Tomato and Vegie growing mix to plant them into.

Planting

Unlike many vegetables, tomatoes love to be deep-stem planted. This is achieved by pinching off the lower leaves and then planting each tomato plant about halfway down the stem. This will allow the plants to form aerial roots, which result in a much stronger root system, with better structural roots as they mature. Stake your plants at this stage also. This will save any potential root damage caused if you stake them at a later date.

Fertilising

Tomatoes are not heavy feeders. In fact, high nitrogen fertilisers can cause excessive leaf growth at the expense of fruit flavour and yield. For tasty, long lasting fruit and resistance to pests and disease, apply liquid fertilizers regularly. At the nursery we like to add Searles Flourish, but any reputable liquid fertilizer will be suffice, provided it’s balanced in nutrients.

Ralph also likes to add what he calls his “secret ingredient”- Liquid Potash to his watering can (which I’m sure he thinks is still a secret). Potash is high in Potassium which promotes flowering and therefore increases yield. Potash also increases the thickness of plant cell walls, making them more resilient against pest and disease.

Mulching

A thick mulch such as sugar cane around the roots will keep the roots cool and moist, as well as discouraging weeds growing as competition. Mulching can also help reduce blossom end rot, a disease caused by inconsistent watering and roots drying out in between watering.

Pruning

It’s important not to over-prune tomatoes, as the foliage that hangs over the ripening fruit can create desirable shade. Remove some of the lateral stems (side-branching) by hand as they grow to create better air circulation and reduce fungal problems.

Watering

Direct water flow to your tomato plants on the roots — not the foliage. This will reduce the risk of fungal infections and prevent leaf burn should you need to water during the heat of the day.

Another important and simple tip is, should you notice your plants leaves drooping, do not always assume that they are dry. Check to see if the soil is moist first with your finger, as tomatoes are often affected by heat stress and are regularly mistaken for needing water. Plants can appear to look the same in both cases, with leaves appearing wilted. Although heat stress is the result of extended hot periods affecting the plant regardless of adequate water. Watering a plant in these conditions will cause further damage. As we know, the Manning Valley area, often experiences temperatures well into the 40 degree mark during Summer. If this is the case in your area; positioning your tomato plants so that they receive afternoon shade will help to prevent heat stress.

Pests and Diseases

The warmer the weather, the more difficult it is to prevent insect attack. Gardeners in cooler climates will not have the problems of fruit fly and fungus attack, but they pay for the easy life with a much shorter tomato season. Try these tips for minimising pests and disease:

  • Hang yellow sticky traps to lure thrips and aphids away from the fruit, as these insects can spread disease.
  • Mulch the tomato bed to stop splash and the spread of diseases.
  • Control fruit flies with eco-friendly lures such as Wild May.
  • Consider covering maturing fruit with paper bags to protect from tomato grubs. 
  • Tomato fruit can suffer sunburn so offer shade protection on heatwave days.
  • Remove lower leaves as soon as leaf spot or other diseases appear, so as to reduce the spread.

Best tomatoes

Our favourite include: Grosse Lisse, Roma, Oxheart, Tommy Toe, Apollo and our newest favourite Tuscan Sun.

Gross lisse are a perfect sandwich sized tomato while Oxhearts are great for pasta sauces and chutneys; Romas for cooking; Tommy Toe for flavour and in salads and Apollo and Tuscan Sun were our winners last year for sheer supply and pest resistance. 

However everybody’s got their personal favourite and generally any home-grown tomato is always better. Select varieties to suit your need. Drop in to Wingham Nursery; we have loads of varieties to pick from and plenty of staff to help you choose.

Caitlin Sawyer

Wingham Nursery & Florist

65534570

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