Tomatoes

Growing tomato tips from The Diggers team

There is nothing like the taste of home grown 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.

Sowing

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.

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.

Planting your tomato seedlings

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.

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.

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