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The latin name Lycopersicon esculentum translates to 'edible wolf peach'. Strange but true. They originated from South America and grow very well in many parts of the world with mild, temperate or tropical climates (depending on variety). And speaking of varities, there are hundreds of different varities available. If you want to blow your mind, check out the varieties available at www.edenseeds.com.au.
Tomatoes are often categorised into 'Determinate' and 'Indeterminate' groups.
Determinate tomatoes often (but not always) have a more bushy growth habit, and tend to require minimal staking. They often bear fruit all at once, which is handy if you wish to grow tomatoes for bottling or preserving.
Indeterminate tomatoes are often more vine-like in growth habit and require staking or training. They tend to bear fruit over a longer period here and there, which is great for most home gardeners who like to have tomatoes on hand for salads over summer.
Both varieties have their good points, and it may be a good idea to select a couple of each type to grow.
To Stake or not to Stake
Staking a tomato plant and keeping it tidy has the advantages of increased sunlight and airflow around the plant, making them less susceptible to some fungal type disease. It also makes working around the plants easier and accessing fruit to pick. However, it is certainly not essential. Allowing plants to sprawl has advantages too - namely fruit tends to be more protected from sunburn, and ripening is often a little more staggered. It can be either fun to play 'hunt the ripe tomato' or frustrating - depending on your point of view.
To Prune or not to Prune
Some gardeners swear that to grow the best tomatoes you must pinch out lateral growth to keep the vine strong and to get a greater crop. Others selectively prune foliage to allow greater sunlight and air circulation. Other gardeners don't bother trimming anything. Again - both methods work. Do what works for you.
Peter Cundall is a staker, and a tip pincher-offer, so there you go. But I also bet his garden is very tidy and he never leaves his tools out in the rain. Just a guess.
Tomatoes like a rich, improved soil and are hungry feeders. Don't over feed them nitrogen rich fertilisers (eg. chicken manure) as this encourages more leaf growth over fruiting. Use well rotted sheep and cow manures, and give them potash once a month to encourage flowering and fruit set. Do mulch plants over summer and ensure regular watering. If the soil is allowed to dry out, plants will stress and be more susceptible to problems.
Pots or Garden?
Tomatoes grow very well in pots or grow bags which are large enough (approx. 20 - 30L) so even small courtyard gardens can be productive! If you have had problems with any soil borne disease or nematodes, perhaps try growing in pots for a season or two. If you have limited space, cherry tomatoes are absolutely the most productive you can grow.
Unfortunately tomatoes are susceptible to a number of pests and diseases, including:-
Blossom End Rot
Ensure you keep insect pests under control to avoid spread of the disease.
Fusarium wilt and Verticillium wilt are nasty soil borne viruses that can come from contaminated plants, seeds, stakes and gardening equipment. It can be very hard to eliminate once you have it in your garden. Strategies include crop rotation, using wilt resistant varieties, not saving seed from affected plants, and destroying (not composting) any infected plant material. In extreme cases growing in pots may be the only solution.
Solarisation over summer also works - lay clear or black plastic over the soil and weigh down the edges. Leave for at least a month over the height of summer. Note that this has a detrimental effect on all soil micro-organisms! You will need to work to recolonise the soil with lots of healthy organic matter and fish hydrolysate when next preparing for planting.
French and African marigolds grown in high numbers and left in the ground for at least two months also help with nematode control - they exude a natural chemical found to be toxic to nematodes. Plant them very thickly and enjoy their amazing colour while they do their work!
Tomato Bugs/Shield Bugs
Tomatoes benefit from having asparagus, basil, carrots, chives, mint, nasturtium, parsnip, onion, corn, borage, parsley, marigolds and celery as companion plants.
Growing Winning Tomatoes! - by Damo Mansfield
Growing Tomatoes with Damo
We are grateful to Damo for sharing his tips with us - thank you!!! And - in case his "green thumb" status was in any doubt - here are some more photos from his garden. From left to right: Carrots and celery growing together, Parsnips and peas together, and finally a strong crop of green manure - almost ready for slashing and turning in.
So if you've never grown your own Tomatoes - what are you waiting for? It's easy, and fun - so call in and see us and get started on growing YOUR own winning tomatoes now! Keep an eye on our newsletters December/January for announcements about the next Tomato Competition we run.
Resources for Growing Organic Veggies & Herbs: