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HOW TO GROW TOMATOES

There is nothing like the taste of homegrown tomatoes, warm and fragrant off the vine!

Tomatoes are rich in nutrition and antioxidants, namely lycopene, vitamin E and potassium, all essential for good health. When you plant heirloom tomatoes you become part of a link in a chain that stretches back for generations. A single seed holds that much history.

Growing from Seed

When growing your tomatoes from seed sow them 6 to 8 weeks before you intend to plant them out. Tomato seeds are best raised in punnets or pots to be transplanted when the seedlings have grown their second set of leaves.


Planting Out Your Tomato Seedlings

Tomatoes need an open sunny position with plenty of air circulation to thrive and a good loam will produce the best results.

It is best to plant tomatoes in a different bed each year, returning to the original bed after a break of three growing seasons. This is to prevent the build up of disease carrying organisms in the soil.

Tomatoes are best planted in beds that have been heavily manured for a previous crop, such as broccoli. A soil that is too rich in nutrients will produce prolific, but soft, sappy and disease-prone growth. Well-rotted compost is high in organic matter and low in nitrogen, making it the perfect addition to a tomato bed. If your soil is acidic, below pH 6.5, add lime (calcium) or dolomite (calcium and magnesium). Spread it at rate of 2 handfuls per square metre (about 60-70g) and work it lightly into the surface soil. Calcium is essential for tomatoes. It prevents the disease, Blossom End Rot, which is when the bottom of the tomato, furthest from the stem begins to rot.

Plant out your seedlings into the garden when the soil temperature reaches 15°C or more and after the risk of frost has past. Don't worry if they look uncomfortable, they will soon straighten up.

Tomatoes form roots along their stems when they come into contact with the soil, so you can plant them quite deep, just ensuring that the leaves remain above soil level. In doing this, a good strong root system should result.

Training Tomatoes

There are two general types of tomatoes and they require different training techniques.

TRAINING INDETERMINATE TOMATOES

The most useful for the home gardener are the indeterminate types. These tomatoes have no determined limit to their growth, so they will need support. Indeterminate tomatoes produce fruit from January to June, or until the weather stops them. They are the highest yielding tomatoes.

They produce best when they are treated like a climbing pea. Train them to a trellis (a double row of ring-lock fencing is ideal) or a teepee. They may be trained to a single stake, but this will involve pruning.

To pinch out the laterals or not? The laterals are the small side shoots that develop just above a leaf and look exactly like a seedling, but without the roots. If you are after high yields and long harvest, leave them to develop further. However, if you do pinch out the lateral, it can be planted, like a cutting, and given warm moist conditions, it will develop into a separate tomato plant identical to its parent.

TRAINING DETERMINATE TOMATOES

Determinate tomatoes are short and bushy. They need no support to grow on. They are ‘determinate’ because their growth will stop once a ‘determined’ amount of growth has been produced providing a shorter, earlier and more concentrated harvest period. It is advantageous to have most of your crop ready to process in a short period of time, but they won't provide fruit in April, May or June.

How to save Tomato Seeds

Saving tomato seed couldn't be easier and it's the best way to make sure you have access to your favourite varieties year after year. By collecting seed from the strongest plants grown in your gardens particular conditions, you will ensure a good harvest each season. Simply scoop out the flesh into a glass jar, add some water and stir. Leave for several days to ferment and for the flesh to fall away from the seeds. Remove the pulp from the top and then use a sieve to rinse and clean the seed. Leave to dry on kitchen towel and store in an envelope. 

Shop heirlooms tomatoes

The Diggers Club is the home of heirloom tomatoes. Our varieties are tops in taste and yield. From bite-sized cherries for salads to whoppers for the biggest of hamburger buns, we have a tomato for every taste bud.

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Q&A - TOMATO GROWING

Our Diggers Club garden experts answer your top questions on growing tomatoes in this growing tomatoes Q&A. Find out which fertilisers to use, the best trellis system and how much water tomatoes need. 

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TOMATO GROWING PROBLEMS

Caromy MacDougall explains some common tomato growing problems and how to minimise them.

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Growing Tomato tips

Home gardeners can grow tomatoes from seeds or seedlings. Tomatoes are grown over the warmer months, as they dislike frosts.

Growing tomatoes from seed
- Sow tomato seeds in punnets, jiffy pots or coir pots. Seeds are sown 5 to 6 weeks before you want to plant them in the ground

- Place in a warm, well lit spot to germinate, taking care not to let them dry out

- Once the seeds have germinated make sure they get enough light to avoid becoming 'leggy'. Start watering them with a weak solution of liquid fertiliser

- When seedlings have developed their second set of leaves, transplant the young plants into larger tubes until they are big enough to plant in the garden

Growing tomato seedlings

Tomato seedlings are planted out into a well prepared soil once the chance of frost is over and the soil temperature is about 18-20 degrees

- Space plants 1m apart to ensure good air flow and provide enough room for support for tall varieties

- Watering with drip irrigation will avoid water splashing onto the leaves and disease setting in

- Mulch to keep root cool and to reduce soil evaporation

Feed tomato plants throughout the season to ensure a beautiful crop

2021 TASTE TEST RESULTS

Salad and cherry tomatoes have higher sugars, less flesh and more juice, which usually sees them at the top of the charts when it comes to taste tests, but this year a saucing tomato made the top 10!

1. ‘Valentine’ (cherry)

2. ‘Tommy Toe’ (salad) 

3. ‘Lemon Drop’ (cherry)

4. ‘Pink Bumble Bee’ (cherry)

5. ‘Brown Berry’ (cherry)

6. ‘Tigerella’ (salad) 

7. ‘Rose de Berne’ (salad) 

8. ‘Wapsipinicon Peach’ (salad) 

9. ‘Sunrise Bumble Bee’ (cherry)

10. ‘Amish Paste’ (saucing) 

 

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