In the gardening world, it seems everyone rates your gardening skills by how well you can grow tomatoes. Tomatoes themselves are not necessarily hard to grow but are prized by the gardener. Once you have had organically homegrown tomatoes to eat, you’re never going back. Tomato growing in our backyard garden is taken quite seriously as we like to grow enough tomatoes to eat over summer, and make enough sauce, paste and canned tomatoes to last us for the rest of the year. We are always looking for ideas to use our tomatoes, this year we will be trying to ferment tomatoes. Everyone has their trade secrets, but here are our tips on how to grow tomatoes.
Choosing the Correct Tomatoes to Grow
There are 2 types of tomatoes which are determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes are a bush type plant which all the fruit on the vine ripens together like the Roma tomato. An indeterminate tomato is a climbing type that will produce fruit throughout the season like the Grosse lisse. There are many varieties of tomatoes, some of our favourites are grosse lisse, amish paste, beefsteak and pineapple.
Planting your Tomatoes
Tomatoes are a heat-loving crop, so we start sowing our seeds early in August in a seedling tray. Once the seedling has a set of true leaves we will transplant to a 100mm pot. We let them grow on until mid to late September when we transplant them into the garden. Tomatoes like plenty of sun, needing a minimum 8hr of full sunlight a day. Before transplanting the tomatoes into our garden, make sure to prepare the soil well as tomatoes are very hungry plants. We prepare our garden beds by adding plenty of homemade compost, manure, blood and bone and we finish it off with a generous layer of mulch. After transplanting the tomatoes we liquid feed with a low nitrogen seaweed solution.
How to Care for your Tomato Plants
After transplanting our tomatoes we like to liquid feed weekly with something like powerfeed for the first few weeks to give the plants a head start and promote lots of growth. Tomatoes are thirsty plants, so make sure you keep the water up to. Avoid wetting the leaves as this can create fungal diseases.
Support your tomatoes
Tomatoes also require a structure to grow onto. There are many methods that you can use to grow your tomato onto and these are a cage, staking, string line and trellis. The easiest way to support your tomato is with a cage, which goes around the outside of your tomato plant allowing your tomato plant to grow freely inside. We don’t mind using these on determinate tomatoes, but we find the cages make it harder to access your plants to maintain which is required more for indeterminate plants.
The next most common method would be staking. There are 2 ways to stake your tomatoes: The first is to place a stake next to the tomato plant and tie the tomato plant to it. The other way is to place a stake at the end of your rows, tie string lines to the stake and then tie the tomatoes to the string line. There is also another method of tying your tomatoes up called the Florida weave. To do this you tie the string line to one stake and weave in and out of your tomato plants go around the stake then weave back again.
Another method to support your tomatoes is to tie a string to and overhead structure and back to your tomato. We use this method in the aquaponics and have built an overhead structure in our garden this year to do the string line method. We like this method for intermediate tomatoes as it is really simple to train the one stem up string line.
The last method that is commonly used is to use a premade trellis, something like weld mesh or the temporary mesh fence panels. You grow your tomato up the trellis tie the tomato plant off to the trellis.
To support our tomatoes we either tie them off with cloth plant ties, twine or the plastic green plant clips.
Prune your tomatoes
To reduce the chances of fungal disease and also improve tomato production you will need to prune your tomato, but first, you will need to know if it’s determinate or indeterminate. For determinate tomatoes, it is important to only prune the leaves, as if you are pruning suckers you are pruning flowers off. This only matters on determinate tomatoes as all the fruit set and come on at once. When removing the leaves we remove the lower 30cm leaves and thin out the other leaves to ensure good airflow.
Pruning an indeterminate tomato needs to start from young. What you are looking for is to grow one main stem up. To do this you will need to remove the sucker which appears in the corner next to a branch and main stem. We also remove the lower 30cm of leaves and thin out the other leaves to ensure good airflow.
Problems that can happen to your Tomatoes
My tomatoes have gone black at the base of the fruit
Blossom end rot is a very common issue with growing tomatoes and is caused from a lack of calcium getting to the tomato fruit. Calcium is one of those elements in a plant that is not mobile, so once the calcium is in the leaf the plant cannot distribute to the fruit, unlike nitrogen which can be distributed. As such, there are 3 causes for blossom end rot which are a lack of water or inconsistent watering, nutrient lockout and a lack of calcium in the soil.
In most cases, a lack of calcium in the soil is not the issue but lack the of the plant’s ability to uptake calcium through a watering issue or nutrient lockout. To prevent this we normally ensure plants are well watered regularly and water once a week to the roots with a liquid seaweed solution as this contains calcium as well as other minerals.
I have flowers but not fruit setting on
Tomatoes setting flower but not tomatoes is another problem you may occur. This issue is likely due to lack of pollination. Tomatoes flowers are wind-pollinated, so if the plants are planted in a sheltered area it is likely for poor pollination to occur. You can hand pollinate your tomatoes by shaking the plant or just by flicking the gently the flowers.
My Tomato has brown spots all over the leaves
Fungal issues on tomatoes is a major issue and can spread spores to other plants. To control fungal issues keep your plants well pruned to keep good airflow and minimise water on the plants. Remove any diseased leaves before it spreads. If it has spread you can spray the plant with a potassium bicarbonate spray. We use Eco- Fungicide made by OCP.
I have holes in my tomatoes
Caterpillars – we find this to be one of the main reason for a loss of tomatoes. To control caterpillars check plants regularly and remove them. You can also spray with dipel, a bacteria which kills the caterpillars.
My tomato plants are dying and there are little insects all over the plant
Tomato potato psyllid has become a major pest problem for some people in the past few years. Luckily we have not been affected by it yet, however, we know of others with issues with them. They breed like crazy and will kill whole tomato plants quickly, so it is critical you deal with them swiftly. We recommend using neem oil or a pyrethrum spray at night time. Although organic, they are a non-selective pesticide and will kill pretty much anything it touches – including beneficial insects – but is required to control them. This may seem like a drastic step, but harsh measures are required to keep the situation in hand. Spraying at night will minimise damage to beneficial insects. We recommend doing this weekly until you notice there numbers dropping, then go to fortnightly spraying. You can also place yellow sticky traps close to plants help catch them.
My ripe tomatoes are being eaten in a night!
Rodents can be another issue with tomatoes. Last year, We had several tomatoes that wouldn’t fit in my hand eaten overnight by mice. Rodents, in general, can be hard to combat but we have found the best way is mouse trap bucket.
Until next time Grow Safe, Grow Organic!