Tomatoes deserve a spot in your garden this summer. They’re bountiful crops and the juicy fruits are bursting with sweet and tangy flavour! Add them to salads, roasts, sauces, soups, or drinks. You can grow them in garden beds or pots, but choose your tomato type wisely – especially if you’re short on space – as they greatly range in size and growth habit.
Bush tomatoes, also known as determinate tomatoes, grow to a certain height and produce all their fruit at once. Plants die down once they finish fruiting, so it’s a good idea to stagger plantings if you want to extend the harvest window. The plants generally grow between 0.5-1m tall and don’t require staking, unless planted in a windy spot.
Vining tomatoes, also known as indeterminate tomatoes, can grow between 2-3m tall and require staking for support. Fruits are produced throughout the season, only coming to a halt when the weather becomes too cool to continue. Pick regularly during the season to encourage more flowers and fruit.
Seeds or seedlings
This debate simply comes down to personal preference. Seeds are slow to start and not always guaranteed, but much more economical. Seedlings give you a head start but cost a few dollars more. Personally, I like to mix it up, especially as there is a greater range of tomato varieties available in seed than seedling form. For example, you’re unlikely to find the heirloom tomato ‘Tigerella’ commercially available as seedlings. Most heirloom varieties aren’t, but their popularity is growing, so you may see the range increasing at your local nursery.
Tomatoes need full sun. This means between 6-8 hours of direct sunlight, otherwise, they will fail to grow or fruit well. Ideally, the spot should also be protected from strong winds. Heavy gusts can cause plants to bend and snap, or in worse case scenarios, completely uproot your plants!
The soil should be well drained and enriched with plenty of organic matter, like compost and well-aged cow manure prior to planting. A dusting of garden lime can also help reduce the likelihood of blossom end rot (a physiological disorder that can occur as a result of a soil calcium deficiency). If the soil is poorly drained or you don’t have a garden bed, don’t worry, tomatoes are perfect for pot culture. Always use a premium quality potting – if in doubt, look for the red ticks on the front of the bag.
When flower buds appear, feed tomatoes with a liquid fertiliser that’s specially formulated for flowers and fruiting plants. Some companies may market it is solely as a ‘tomato fertiliser’, but any fertiliser that’s high in potassium is suitable. Apply organic fertiliser pellets every 6-8 weeks to help condition the soil and gently feed plants, too.
Water regularly to keep the soil moist, but not wet. The easiest way to tell is to insert your index finger into the soil down to about the second knuckle. If it’s moist, leave watering for another day, but if it’s dry, then give it a good drink. Mulching around the base with an organic mulch, like sugar cane or pea straw will also help retain soil moisture.
Pests and diseases
Unfortunately, you’re the not only one who finds tomatoes attractive. Sap-sucking insects like mites, aphids, and whitefly will also enjoy feasting on your tomato plant. If you see them, treat with an organic insecticide. The ‘tomato grub’ or budworm may make an appearance too, chewing holes into leaves and fruits. If seen, spray foliage and fruit regularly with Yates Dipel. It’s an organic product that is made up of a naturally occurring bacterium (Bacillus thuringiensis or BT) that causes caterpillars to die once ingested. Gruesome, I know, but necessary if you to keep your harvest.