It is funny now to think that the tomato was once considered poisonous and not considered safe to eat, probably because they belongs to the nightshade family. Tomatoes grew wild all through South and Central America, where they were a part of the local diet since 700AD. Introduced to Europe in the 16th century, where they were used for decoration only, now it is hard to think of summer without them!
Tomatoes taste so much better when they are fresh from the garden and warmed by the sun, whether you stick to the tried and true favourites or prefer the heirloom varieties, the choices are vast.
Tomatoes require the same conditions for a good harvest, light free draining soil, in a warm sunny spot, out of the wind.
Give them some space, don’t crowd them in with other vegetables, they need room to grow and for the air to circulate around them. This will also help to prevent fungal growth.
Prepare the soil by digging through plenty of compost and sheep pellets, and then at the time of planting add a small handful of Blood and Bone to the soil.
Lightly water the plant prior to planting and gently tip out of the pot, careful not to disturb the roots.
If using stakes now is the time to put them in so as not to disturb the roots later on.
Removal of the side laterals needs to be done regularly, to avoid the plant going wild. Laterals are side growth that will appear in the angle of each leaf on the main stem, (see diagram A) remove these when they are small by pinching out with your fingers.
Make sure when you water it water reaches the roots by watering long and deep, this is especially important as the fruit develops.
Apply mulch to help conserve water during the hottest months but keep the mulch away from the stem and water before you apply it.
Feed with Seasol this is a balanced liquid fertiliser that will benefit your entire garden, apply with a watering can every two weeks.
They like the same growing conditions as normal tomatoes but there are a few things you need to do differently due to their fantastic growth.
Produce a much larger crop than the normal tomatoes; this is because they are two plant types grafted together. The top part of the plant is chosen for the flavour, size and colour of the fruit then grafted on to rootstock that is chosen for its vigorous growth, root development and disease resistance.
The clip that you see around the plant near the bottom is where the graft has been attached; make sure it is planted above the ground. It will fall off as the stem grows.
Plant at least 1m apart they need to room.
They need a framework to grow up rather than just one stake and it needs to be at least 2.5m high. Use a fence, wall or trellis using wire or string to support the plant.
When your tomatoes are about 30cm high pinch out the growing tip, this will encourage the side shoots to grow, and the vigorous rootstock will provide up to 10 or more leaders. Let the leaders grow without pinching out the tips, but do remove the side shoots or laterals.
Tomatoes have a few bugs and diseases that attack them, so your first line of defence is vigilance, check over your plants on a regular basis. This way you can spot and remove any harmful bugs and catch any disease before it becomes a larger problem.
Keep them well feed and well-watered; a healthy plant is better able to fend off pest and diseases.
If pests do take hold use Pyrethrum Spray it is safe to use around food crops, made from the pyrethrum flower, it has a 1 day withholding period. This spray will control aphids, whitefly, mealy bug, caterpillars and passion flower hopper but it needs to touch the bug so spray the underside of the leaves as well. It is harmful to bees so spray in the evening when they have gone home
Don’t plant tomatoes in the same place as the year previous, use crop rotation to minimise the spread of bugs and diseases.
Tomatoes like being planted next to basil – they are great eaten together too!
Harvesting is often a case of personal choice but as a rule of thumb, pick the fruit when they are fully coloured and firm to the touch, this will allow the fruit to stay firmer longer and encourage the plant to produce more fruit.
As a lot of fungal diseases are soil borne, remove the lower leaves form the plant as it grows. This will help reduce soil splashing on to the plant as you water.
Tomatoes trusses become heavy with fruit so keep supporting your plant as it grows. As the trusses get close to harvesting you can remove some of the leaves surrounding them to expose the fruit to more sun.
Don’t store your tomatoes in the fridge they will taste so much better left at room temperature.