Growing tomato plants is one of the big items for gardeners at this time of the year and even non gardeners will likely have a go at growing a plant or two.
Some gardeners are very fastidious in their selection of types grown, the special culture methods used and like wines, some years have better vintages than other years.
From garden centres you can obtain a good range of different types of tomato plants from grafted or Supertoms types to traditional varieties and heirlooms.
Seed stands will likely increase the number of types you can grow and through seed mail order companies the range extends dramatically.
Many gardeners have their own favourite ones, most of which are only available from over the fence from a friendly gardener. Some of these have been hand-me-down seeds, originating from returned servicemen from the World Wars, collected while in Europe especially from Italy.
Italy might be called the home of tomatoes at they have over 500 known varieties growing yearly and the Italians would likely be the world’s biggest consumers of tomatoes as it is reported that they eat 38Kg of tomatoes per person annually.
A Palmerston North gardener, Mr P Boulton, while in Europe recently, came across an article in a UK paper entitled ‘In Search Of the Ripe Stuff’, Mr Boulton clipped out the article, thinking of me and presented yours truly with a copy .
The article talks about the experiences of a journalist visiting Sicily with a tomato expert, Paolo Battistel, looking for the best tomatoes in the world. Traveling through Mafia territories to Scoglitti and then beyond to a farm very close to the sea where they find their goal.
The article explains that it is a combination of the sun and the saline soil that produces the best flavoured tomatoes. The mineral rich soil due to sea salt is the key as it has been found that tomatoes desire 56 minerals and elements for best results. (You are not going to get that from your bag of tomato food.)
The health benefits from eating tomatoes either raw or cooked are great if you grow your own tomatoes naturally with all the minerals that they would like.
You are not going to obtain the same health benefits from tomatoes you buy especially the ones in winter that are picked green and then chemically treated to make them go red.
The chemical does not actually ripen the tomato in just changes them from green to red, so you are then eating a tasteless green tomato that is red in colour.
Scientists have discovered that eating five tomatoes a day can help to protect against sunburn and premature aging.
Tomatoes are a super food; oozing lycopene, folic compounds, magnesium and potassium, reports suggest that they can help fight both Alzheimer’s and cancer as well as improving your overall health.
Let us now look at some of the finer points on growing these wonderful plants.
In the following I am going to give you as many aspects as I can remember, you may not want to use all the points but even a few will make your tomato production results better than before.
Firstly if you want to grow a tomato plant without any great problems or care then plant a couple of Sweet 100’s they are prolific, grow like weeds and will give you lots of small sweet tomatoes for salads and eating.
If you have a tomato variety that you like and have grown successfully for some years, keep the seed and grow them for the rest of your life, keeping fresh seed from the best tomato each season for the following year.
Try one or two other types for variety, you will have successes and failures and in a never ending search you will likely add more favourites to your annual collection of seeds.
Seeds are picked out of tomatoes, laid on a bit of paper towel to dry (with the type written on the paper) then the paper is rolled up and placed in a sealed glass jar for storage in the fridge. (I have tomato seeds over 25 years old that still give me a 50% germination rate using this method.)
To germinate cut the paper to obtain the required number of seeds and place paper and seed on a seedling tray or punnet that contains a friable compost or a good potting mix, spray the paper/seeds with undiluted Super Roots (alternatively use Magic Botanic Liquid (MBL) with Mycorrcin added)
Leave to dry and then cover with a little more of the mix or with sharp sand. Moisten down with MBL by misting. Keep moist in a warm bright light situation till seedlings emerge and then immediately place in a glasshouse or cold frame so the plants receive overhead natural sunlight.
Keep moist with non chlorinated water. (During the life of the tomato never water with chlorinated tap water) When of a size to transplant, soak the tray with water and lift the individual seedlings and spray their roots with Super Roots (Alternatively MBL & Mycorrcin)
Pot into individual pots about 100mm in size using a friable compost (not potting mix) Plant deep up to the first leaves as they will then root all the way up. (Do not do this with grafted tomatoes) This applies also to purchased seedlings in punnets.
Place a couple of grains of Ocean Solids along with a quarter tea spoon of Rok Solid and a similar amount of Dolomite & Wallys Secret Tomato Food with Neem Granules on top of the mix. Keep moist but not wet allowing the mix to dry a bit between waterings. Place in full sun.
When the plant is about 150mm tall then it is ready to plant into open ground or a large container.
For containers use a large bucket about 20 litres for dwarf type tomatoes, 45 litres for average size fruiting types and 100 litres for Beefsteak types and Supertoms.
Use animal manure based composts, apply more Ocean solids, Rok Solid, Dolomite and the tomato food mentioned. The plant can once again be planted deeper than previous. Spray the foliage with diluted Super Roots. Repeat this once again 6 weeks later.
Two weekly; spray foliage with MBL (Mycorrcin can be added) but miss the cycle that the Super Roots is sprayed. Place more of the special tomato food with Neem Granules at about 4 weekly to 6 weekly on top of soil/mix.
Do not remove laterals on humid days and spray the wound immediately with Liquid Copper.
A monthly spray of Perkfection will also assist in disease prevention.(This can be added to MBL or Super Roots) The same will apply to open ground grown tomato plants as above for containers.
Support the plants with stakes etc.
In glasshouse grown plants on sunny days when in flower, tap the plant to cause a vibration which aids in setting fruit.
Protect ripening fruit from bird damage with Bird Repeller Ribbon or pick fruit as they turn colour to ripen indoors. (Best if ripened on plant.)
If cooking tomatoes only cook in a good Virgin Olive Oil as it brings out both flavour and health benefits. Wishing you a great tomato year.