Monday, February 16, 2009

Tomatoes – a mans best friend

Growing tomatoes in the vegetable garden is a great challenge. There is a sort of unwritten rule for vegetable gardeners; if you grow good tomatoes the rest of the garden must be good also.
The art and science of growing great tomatoes is actually very simple.
Glasshouse tomatoes
During early spring use a fork to turn the soil and make it loose and friable. Apply a liberal amount of compost to the surface. Some people like to dig this in but it is not necessary. Keep it weed free.
Purchase your tomato plants from the garden centre or you may choose to sow your own seed. (see seed sowing). When selecting your tomatoes make sure you get nice strong healthy ones. They should be dark green, with plump stems and just a hit of purple at the base where the roots appear.
When all signs of frost or really cold weather have gone plant them out on your glasshouse about 40cm apart. Add some slow release fertiliser or blood and bone to the soil and water well.
Keep the glasshouse temperature even. The main thing that a glasshouse does is prevent wind damage and stops cold air disturbing the plants.
As tomatoes are climbers you will need to attach strings to the roof and tie the string to the bottom of plants and twist the plant around the string periodically. As you do this remove laterals (side shoots) to encourage upwards growth and better fruiting. Some people may let the main shoot and one other strong lateral grow to produce fruit.
Manage the glasshouse so that it does NOT become a hot house. Tomatoes require a even temperature not hot conditions. Leave the vents open for good air exchange to prevent disease build up.
Water the plants well and regularly. Do not let the soil dry out and then saturate it. This is the cause of a problem called blossom end rot of the actual tomato fruit. Regular watering is best.
As the plants grow the bottom leaves will start to turn yellow. These can be removed. This will let light into the ripening tomatoes.
Pest will appear later in the season and ill include white fly and looper caterpillar. Spray these with your organic or traditional insect spray.
Should the plants look like they need some extra fertiliser use a general purpose fertiliser that does not have too much nitrogen in it.
Commonsense and care and attention to glasshouse hygiene are keys to success with tomatoes.
When ripe pick the fruit and enjoy.
Outdoor tomatoes are even easier. Select a sheltered part of you garden away from strong cold winds. Prepare the ground with lots of compost. Plant out a row of tomato plants about 40 cm apart. Insert a sturdy stake to tie the tomato plant up to as it grows. Some people prefer not to remove all the side shoots and have it spread out and not become too tall. The choice is really dependent upon how much room is available in the garden.
Again keep up a regular watering. Removal of yellow leaves and some side shoots will keep fresh air moving through the plant and help prevent a build up of pests and diseases.
Once again good care and attention will provide large rewards.


Jane Ellis said...

Hi Alan,
thanks for the recommendation... Im trying indoor incubation (with a small seedling biodome) for the first time this year. Fingers crossed.

Can you make any recommendations for staking tomatoes? Ive tried the cages (they fall over and break branches) and the bamboo sticks are no good (too weak). Just found another product that looks good -- Looks strong and easy (which will be a welcome change). Thoughts?

Alan Jolliffe said...

Hello PA

have had a look at and the idea is good. It appears to be a plastic extrusion with holes through to hold the ties.

The biggest problems in staking tomatoes are tying them at the right place and the ties slipping down. This appears to be a good solution as you can vary the length of the tie.

Also with staked tomatoes I still like to remove the side shoots and create a single vine.

The other option I like is to have a frame above and hang strings down and tie them up that way.

Good luck, let us know the results.

dinzie said...

I built a cage around my 16 square foot raised borders for the tomatoes. Each tomato has a cane for support but then all canes are joined by horizontal canes Near the top ... It's proved to be pretty sturdy as we've had quite a bit of wind of late ....

Pictures on my blogsite