How to grow tomatoes

September 5, 2012, 12:13 pm Yahoo!7


Spring is the perfect time to grow tomatoes in your garden. Here are our tips on how to grow tomatoes by choosing the right seeds, where to grow them, how to keep them from turning rotten and which type of tomato will work for you.

How to grow tomatoes

Check the climate

Tomatoes are warm-season, frost susceptible plants that need a growing season of at least three months, so they’ll grow in all climate zones of Australia. In warm, frost-free regions, tomatoes can be grown throughout the year; in temperate and cooler climes, the best time to plant is from the end of winter right through spring. However, to give tomatoes in cooler climates a head start in life, the seeds can be germinated in small pots under glass, or in a mini propagator. Simply sow your seeds six to eight weeks before you intend to plant them out, and keep them in a warm, sunny spot. When plants have at least three leaves, they can go in the ground.

Choosing the right spot

Choose an open position that receives at least six hours of full sun each day and is protected from strong winds.

Getting the right fertiliser and compost

Tomatoes can thrive in either light or heavy soils, as long as they’re well drained and enriched with organic matter. Before you plant them out, prepare the soil by digging in well-rotted compost and a tomato-specific fertiliser, such as Osmocote Plus Organics Vegetable, Tomato & Herb. To encourage flowers and fruit rather than leafy growth, avoid adding too much animal manure. And, to help prevent disease build-up in the soil, don’t plant your tomatoes in the same spot two years running. As for pots, use a top-quality potting mix.

Choosing the right stake

Most tomatoes require staking, as they have a natural trailing or climbing habit. But there are certain compact varieties, such as ‘Tiny Tim’, that don’t need to be staked, so check when you’re buying. If you train the plant upwards, it will take up less space and you’ll save the fruit from the damage of coming into contact with damp soil. Use stakes that are 1.5-2m long and hammer them into the ground near the plant’s base, about 5cm from the stem. As the plant grows, tie it to the stake using soft cloth or twine.

How to water your tomatoes

Give your tomatoes regular water after planting, then water weekly while they’re still small. When the plants are carrying a heavy crop or the weather is hot and dry, increase this to twice a week. To help avoid fungal problems, avoid getting the leaves wet when you’re watering the soil.

Keeping them alive

With fertiliser dug in during soil preparation, you won’t need to add any more until the plants start to flower. A soluble fertiliser high in potassium, such as Yates Thrive Concentrate Flower & Fruit Liquid Plant Food, is a good choice. Or, you could use one that’s been specially formulated for tomatoes (for example Yates Thrive Concentrate Tomato Food). Apply it when the flowers first appear, then weekly through the growing season.

Conserving your soil

To suppress weeds and help conserve moisture in the soil, apply a good layer of mulch. Lucerne, sugarcane or pea-straw mulch are all good options – just make sure you keep it away from the stem to discourage stem rot.

When to pick them

To enjoy the best-tasting fruit possible, it’s best to pick your tomatoes when they’re red-ripe. If they are left to overripen, they will become floury and lose their sweetness.

Top 5 tomato choices

‘Tiny Tim’ has a compact growth habit, which makes it an ideal choice for growing in a pot – great if you’re an apartment dweller. It doesn’t require staking either, so it’s easy to look after.
Harvest: Early-mid season.

Fruit size: Cherry.

‘Sweetie’ is a prolific producer of miniature tomatoes, which hang like bunches of grapes from the stems. This cultivar is one of the sweetest cherry tomatoes – eat them whole or add to salads.
Harvest: Early season.

Fruit size: Cherry.

‘Grosse Lisse’ produces perfect balls of bright-red fruit with a much-loved rich flavour. It’s one of the most popular backyard tomatoes.
Harvest: Mid-late season.

Fruit size: Medium-large.

‘Mighty Red’ is a well-liked cultivar. It bears a large vibrant-red fruit that’s full of sweet, traditional tomato flavour.
Harvest: Early-mid season.

Fruit size: Medium-large.

‘Roma’ packs a flavoursome punch – if you’re a fan of fresh tomato sauce, this deep-red oval tomato is the perfect choice.
Harvest: Early-mid season.

Fruit size: Medium.

Types of Heirloom tomatoes

‘Black Russian’ may not win you over with its dark reddish-brown colour, but cut it open and you will discover a sweet flavour, laced with spicy, smoky undertones.
Harvest: Early season.

Fruit size: Medium.

‘Green Zebra’ has unusual lime-green stripes, making it an eye-catching and delicious addition to your garden. The flesh is surprisingly sweet, with a refreshingly sharp bite.
Harvest: Early season.

Fruit size: Medium.

‘Tigerella’ has striking red and yellow stripes. It looks fantastic when tossed in a salad and has a rich and tangy taste.
Harvest: Early season.

Fruit size: Small-medium.

‘Tommy Toe’ is highly rated for its sweet, fresh flavour, thin red skin and smooth good looks. This tomato is a must-have in either the garden or in a pot on your balcony.
Harvest: Early season.

Fruit size: Large cherry.

Graham Ross Picks

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