Summer Vegetables - Tomatoes
Capsicums, Chillies, Eggplants and TOMATOS
It's Tomato time!! There simply is no better home grown produce than a ripe tomato, fresh off the vine. With some extra unused space, prone to weeds and unwanted grass, we extended the vegetable garden for tomatoes. Forseeing problems with Tomatoes this year, we got a little carried away. The terribly wet spring and early summer on the East Coast of Australia this year wreaked havoc with our seedlings, most of which were really struggling and normally would have been selectively removed, but, with nothing better to persist with, we now have over 120 tomato plants in the garden bed. Roma, Cuor di Bue, Marmande, Marglobe and Principe Borghese. We also have a smattering of unknown cherry tomatoes that we allow to grow "wild" each year. They pop up in unlikely places and produce fantastic, fat sweet cherry tomatoes. With all the rain this year, attention to preventing mould outbreaks will be critical to success as will ensuring that the plants get enough calcium. Even though we prepared the beds, the excessive rain can cause leaching and excessive dilution of calcium in the soil, so we will side dress with some more lime/gypsum before fruit set gets under way.
The Tomato seems to be one of the most popular of all home grown vegetables (well technically a fruit...) They are easy to grow, generally prolific in baring fruit and can be grown in garden beds, potted vegetable gardens or even hanging baskets!
It didn't take me long to abandon shop sold tomatoes. We tried them all, commercially grown (like eating apples without the taste), vine ripened (look good, but not much on the taste side) and hydroponic (look good, taste ok, but are expensive too). When they are out of season, we generally don't eat them fresh, using frozen and bottled supplies from the previous season to get us through the colder months.
Tomatoes belong to the Solanum group in the vegetable garden and can be planted with others such as Capsicum, Chilli and Eggplant as well as potatoes, but I wouldn't plant in with potatoes. (I grow potatoes in container vegetable gardens)Tomatoes are warm season plants and I find the most common mistake people make is planting them out too early. Plants are usually made available in commercial nurseries LONG before it is warm enough to grow them outside and many people struggle, often losing plants in the cold (certainly here in Melbourne)so don't plant out seeds, seedlings or advanced plants until the last frosts have passes AND temperatures remain above 15 deg C (lower temperatures can be couteracted by the use of microclimates created by things such as nearby brick walls radiating warmth) Tomatoes prefer slightly acidic soils that are well prepared with rotted manures and compost and fed with chicken manure and potash.
The only real difference when it comes to variety is personal choice, i.e - the type you like, when you want them to fruit and how much room you have.
Growing from seed
Growing tomatoes from seed is easy and quite rewarding, although it doesn't give the instant results that planting an advanced, nursery bought plant does. The trick is to start early, but you must do this (in colder climates) in either a green house or indoors. Basically a warm sunny position, if you have access to a heat pad, even better.Start your seed raising in late winter to get a good head start, if you have enough space, select a few varieties and try to get some that fruit early and some that fruit late to extend your harvest season.
"Staking" the plants
Unless you are growing tomatoes in a hanging basket, or are happy to allow them to ramble along the ground (which I wouldn't, it increases the risk of fruit rot, fungal and rodent attack) tomatoes need to be supported.
We've tried quite a few different ways of growing the plants with mixed results and will include a feature in the summer members' ezine on this years approach.
We have already tried:
Rambling along the ground over straw
Tying to a single stake
Tying loosely between two stakes
Supporting up wire mesh/trellis
Growing inside a wire mesh vertical "tube"
Position: Full Sun to partial shade (shade in extreme temperatures only), protected from strong winds
Plant: Can be grown in pots or planted out as seedlings in spring when the soil temperature has warmed and temperatures remain above 15 deg C
Frost Tolerant: No Heat tolerant: Yes - but protect from extreme summer heat to prevent sunburn of the fruit
Feeding: Well composted soil, liquid feed weekly when the plants are maturing from mid summer onward to ensure good fruit development. Tomatoes like phosphorous and some calcium. See general description above.
Planting group: These are both Solanums and are grouped with Chilli, Eggplant and Potatoes.
Pests: Main pests are birds/slugs/snails as young plants, then white fly attack on the plants and bird/rodent attack on fruit. If you experience higher humidity levels, good plant spacing is essential to ensure air flow and help minimise a number of potential mould problems. Tomatoes can also suffer from blossom end rot. See description below.
Harvesting: Tomatoes are fairly tough plants but can break if you're too rough moving/tying plants. Although fruit can be picked by twisting when ripe, when they will pretty much fall off in your hand, if you are likely to harvest before they are fully ripe, they are best harvested with scissors or secateurs.