GROWING GREAT TOMATOES

Apollo Tomatoes

In the wake of coronavirus related social distancing measures it seems that Australians have embraced gardening like never before. 

I recently read an article that resonated with me from Richgro where a national survey identified that 75% of people are spending more time in the garden than they ever did previously. And I suppose it’s not surprising when we consider supermarket shortages, movement restrictions and isolation measures. 

This is great to see, particularly at the start of spring where there is so much opportunity to get out in some beautiful weather and enjoy the garden. And in this beautiful weather the most common question we get asked at the nursery from both current and budding gardeners are all about tomatoes. So I’ve collated some tips to make the growing season a successful and productive one.

Preparing to Plant

Choose an open position for your tomatoes that receives at least six hours of full sun each day. Tomatoes grow happily in most soils but, like all plants, a little time spent on their soil will go a long way to have healthy plants and an abundance of fruit. If you have clay soil (like many areas of the Manning), it’s best to raise the planting area to help with drainage. Add compost to help with soil structure, dolomite to prevent blossom end rot (calcium deficiency) and a tomato and vegetable fertiliser around one week before you plant your tomatoes. Make sure you water it in well.

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 the following year – though the longer you can leave it, the better.

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

Choosing Your Variety

There are a huge number of varieties available, with differences in both the plant’s growing habit and the size, shape, taste, colour and acidity of fruit. We sell many varieties at Wingham Nursery, available as either seedling or seed – here are a few of our favourites. Don’t forget to drop by to see our full range of delicious tomatoes!

Small fruit varieties

Tiny Tim: Produces sweet cherry sized fruit on a dwarf bush – perfect for pots.

Tommy Toe: Super sweet, bit- sized balls of fruit that produces hundreds of 50-cent piece sized tomatoes.

Medium to large fruit varieties

Apollo: Produces high yields of full flavoured, round, red fruit early in the season with good pest/disease resistance.

Black Russian: An heirloom Russian variety from the 19th century with a full flavoured, slightly flattened fruit.

Grosse Lisse: Medium to large deep red fruit mid to late in the season, our most popular and rightly so with fantastic flavour.

Big Yellow: A sandwich sized low acid tomato with beautiful sweet flavour.

Roma: Rich red medium to large egg-shaped, full flavoured fruit mid to late in the season.

Planting 

When you’re ready to plant, place your seedlings about 70cm apart. This may seem like a lot while they are this size, but any less and they’ll be crowded when they grow. Your plants will need support as they go, so put in a hardwood stake around 5cm from the plant. Mulch the plants well, preferably with an organic mulch like sugar cane that will add nutrients back to the soil as it breaks down. Mulch should be applied 5cm thick with a 5cm gap around stems to prevent collar rot.

Feeding

To get the most out of your tomato plants, it’s best to keep them well fed. Use the same tomato and veggie fertiliser that you added to the soil prior to planting to feed them once a month as per the pack instructions, commencing when your plants first start flowering.

If your plants seem to be fattening up with leaves instead of fruit, try adding potash to encourage flowers and fruit.

Watering

Tomatoes require lots of water and regularly. Drying out will drastically reduce their yield, and irregular watering leads to blossom end rot – a sunken black patch on the bottom of your fruit. Water your plants weekly, and once fruit has developed try to water daily during very hot weather. Try to avoid overhead watering as this can encourage leaf blight and other fungal diseases.

Pest Control

Tomatoes are as popular with pests as they are with people, but it’s easy to protect your crop. Here are some pests and diseases to look out for.

Caterpillars: These guys will eat holes in your leaves and green fruit. Pick off if it’s only a small problem or spray with Neem oil Success Ultra to protect your plants.

Fruit Fly: If you’re not careful, these critters will lay eggs in your ripening fruit. Try hanging fruit fly bait traps near your plants.

Aphids: These rascals suck sap from foliage and spread plant disease. Check your plants for ants – ants are themselves harmless but come to feed on the sticky residue left by aphids and white fly so are a sign of an aphid problem. Spray with Neem oil or pyrethrum or try to encourage the aphid’s natural enemy to take up residence – the lady beetle.

Early blight: If you notice tomato leaf spots and yellowing lower leaves you may have tomato early blight. This disease causes damage to the leaves, stems and even the fruit of the plant. Treat with Copper Fungicide.

Blossom end rot: The bottom of the tomato fruit will discolour and rot. This is a sign of calcium deficiency. You can try to add dolomite at this stage, but it’s likely too late.

Unsure? Bring some of your affected plant in top us in a sealed container along with some pictures if you can and we’ll see if we can find a solution.

Companion Planting

For a completely organic approach, try planting basil and/or marigolds with your tomatoes – they can help to deter aphids, white fly and nematodes (a disease affecting roots).

Harvesting

You’ve successfully grown your first tomato, and now it’s time to enjoy it!

Pick your tomato when it is red-ripe. As pretty as they look, leaving your fruit on the vine too long will cause it to lose its sweetness and become floury.

Happy gardening!

Caitlin Sawyer

Wingham Nursery & Florist

02 65534570

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