Tomatoes picked straight from the bush are one of the best summer treats most of us love. The beauty of tomatoes is that they can be grown in small or large spaces, in vegetable patches or containers, depending on your needs and available space.
Hanging baskets of tomatoes are a delightful addition to a balcony.
To have your own home grown tomatoes in summer, follow these tips and you will soon be picking them for yourself, family and friends.
1. Sunlight is the key
Tomatoes need between 6 and 8 hours of sunlight a day for you to get the best results. To a degree more is better and will give a greater yield of tomatoes.
However, this does not equate to hot sunshine. If you are in a hot climate, you need to ensure you take steps to ensure the tomatoes thrive – not struggle to provide any harvest.
When daytime temps stay above 90° F (32°C) or nights don’t drop below 75° F (24°C), tomato plants need some shade after 1 or 2 in the afternoon. Morning sun is important. Tomatoes, along with other disease-prone plants, need sun in the morning as soon as possible. This ensures the dew evaporates from their leaves and promotes healthy tomato bushes.
2. Rotate your tomato crop each year
Tomatoes and other vegetables need to be rotated every year over a three year period.
Why? To prevent the buildup of soil-borne diseases and pests. The diseases can include verticillium wilt and southern blight. Pests controlled to some extent include soil-borne pests like wireworms, nematodes, and beetle larvae.
If you choose not to rotate you will, sooner or later, be fighting off problems that you will wish you had been able to avoid.
An example of a rotation plan is:
|Tomato, potato, peppers, eggplant, tomatillo|
|2 Cabbage||Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, kale|
|3 Onion||Garlic, leeks, onions, scallions, shallots|
|Year 2||Year 3||
|Bed 1||Group 1||Group 2||Group 3||Repeat year 1|
|Bed 2||Group 2||Group 3||Group 1||Repeat year 1|
|Bed 3||Group 3||Group 1||Group 2||Repeat year 1|
3. Choose the right variety
When trying to decide which tomato varieties to grow, here’s what we think about:
- disease resistance
- growth habit
- time to maturity
- flavor and texture
Disease resistance – see the information in point 2. Disease resistance is vital to this discussion because tomatoes are vulnerable to a number of diseases. These diseases can weaken the plant and reduce the tomato yield. Look at the seed packet or plant label to see if the variety has resistance to two common tomato soil-borne diseases verticillium and fusarium wilt. Diseases for tomatoes vary from area to area and country to country and you need to check what is prevalent where you live.
Growth habit falls into:
- Determinate varieties grow to a height of usually 2 to 3 feet (60 – 90 cm). Determinates stop growing when fruit sets on the top bud. The tomatoes from the plant ripen at approximately the same time (usually over period of 1- 2 weeks). The plants require a limited amount of staking for support and are perfectly suited for container planting. They are also useful if you have limited space or do not want to have to stake your plants.
- Indeterminate varieties just keep growing taller and taller. The setting and ripening of the fruit occurs until the plant is killed by frost. Indeterminate varieties require more support e.g. from cages or stakes and a bit more attention from the gardener. Once fruit has set, these will produce fruit that ripens until the warm weather ends – so chose one of these if you want a steady harvest throughout the growing season.
Time to maturity is important if you are in a location where the growing season is short and frosts come early. To look up the general dates for first and last frosts in your area the Old Farmer’s Almanac is useful if you live in USA or Canada. The Utah State University has a wonderful Climate Control Centre where you can find information about frost dates in all countries.
Flavour and texture is a purely personal thing. You need to know which variety you prefer to make this decision.
4. Prepare your soil
Tomato plants are called “heavy feeders”. One of the easiest ways to ensure they get good nutrients is to prepare the soil in advance. Dig in compost, manure and scatter some dolomite lime on the soil at least a month before planting. Top the patch with good organic mulch and leave it to rest. If you are planting in a container, use a good quality potting mix and add in a small amount of manure or worm castings and a little extra compost. Our next post will provide further info on the importance of soil in the veggie garden and how you can improve your soil.
5. Plant them deep
Although we know that everything you’ve been taught and learnt about gardening is “if you plant too deeply you will kill the plant.” Tomatoes are the exception that prove the rule. It doesn’t matter if you are growing the tomatoes in the ground, in a raised bed, or in a container. When you plant them up so that 2/3 of the plant is buried, they sprout roots along the buried stem so that the extra roots strengthen the tomato plant allowing it to support more fruit. It will also be able to survive hot weather better.
6. Give them support
This will depend a little on the growth habit of the tomatoes. Climbing tomatoes require good support or they will most likely be scraggly weak plants which are susceptible to fungal disease. There are a number of choices of supports you can use. You can tie them to wooden stakes are old perennials but many people are now using a metal or homemade tomato cage.
7. Provide them with companions
Companion plants work really well with tomatoes which can be especially susceptible to pests and disease. Companion planting also helps with the organic gardening approach we maintain. Flowers and vegetables also look great in the garden and will ensure there are plenty of good bugs hanging around to control the bad bugs. Some good companion plants include: nasturtium, calendula, basil, mint (don’t forget to plant your mint in a pot so it doesn’t invade the garden), carrots, nasturtiums, calendula, garlic and lettuce.