By GEOFF MIERS
Tomatoes are a very high yielding crop for the home garden and there are so many varieties available today. However, it’s important to follow a few simple rules to ensure you are successful.
Planting tomatoes now will guarantee high yields provided adequate soil preparation is undertaken and protection is given as maybe required against any late frosts that may retard early spring growth.
Remember most tomato varieties rarely set fruit when temperatures climb over 36 degrees. By planting now the tomato plants will have matured enough to flower and set fruit prior to the days becoming hot.
Temperatures over 36 degrees are a common occurrence once late spring or summer arrives. The secret is to have well developed plants flowering before high temperatures become the norm.
Of all vegetables the tomato is the most popular vegetable variety that finds its way into home gardens. A high yielding tomato plant brings so much joy to the home gardener with each plant capable of producing up to 10 kilograms of produce in a season.
A good patch of tomatoes will provide fresh produce daily plus providing surplus that you can dry, preserve or covert into tomato sauce or other tomato related products.
Propagating tomato plants from seed should be given immediate priority to ensure plants have time to germinate, grow, mature and flower before hot weather arrives.
Planting seed is the most economical way, tomato seed will germinate easily if the instructions are followed and there are numerous tomato varieties that can only be grown from seed as particular varieties are not generally grown commercially and sold as seedlings.
Alternatively, particularly if you are impatient and want an instant garden then purchase a punnet of seedlings, this will give you four to six plants. With seedlings you are guaranteed instant plants and can carefully plan out your garden.
Tomato seedlings planted at this time of the year may need some protection for a couple of weeks if frosts are expected. Check the weather forecast regularly and if frosts are forecast place a frost protector sheet or cardboard boxes placed over plants on nights when frosts are predicted. This will provide ample protection.
Alternatively cut out a piece of cardboard 40 x 40 cms and bend it so it is curved and place this square of cardboard halfway around the seedling on the eastern side of the plant. This cardboard will slow down the thawing process if a frost has occurred preventing the plants cell structures from bursting and on cold days it will also have a warming effect promoting early plant growth.
Alternatively you may choose to purchase a premium potting mix and plant your seedlings into pots that can be moved around and even brought inside nightly until the frosts have passed. Remember on average August can have up to nine frosts and September one to three frosts.
Tomatoes grow well in light and heavy soils provided the soil has good drainage, plenty of organic content to improve the soil structure and or course adequate water and food.
Phosphorus and calcium are most important nutrients as a lack of them at seedling stage will reduce yields and can result in bloom-end rot. How often have you grown tomatoes only to see the fruits spoiled by a rot at the base of the fruit?
In preparing a bed for tomatoes blend into the soil a good organic fertiliser and a mix of well rotted compost or other organic content. A thin line of super phosphate / calcium placed 10 centimetres below where plants are to be grown will work towards eliminating blossom-end rot.
With adequate base fertiliser being applied prior to planting no further fertiliser should be required until the first flowers appear when a dose of potash weekly for four weeks should be applied to guarantee good flowering, fruit set and quality fruit.
Some gardeners however like to apply potash at seedling planting stage and again as plants flower.
Alternatively some gardeners like to apply every four weeks specific tomato food as plants grow.
A tablespoon of tomato food applied and watered in well every four weeks will certainly produce results however you must be consistent with your application. Forget and your tomato plants will suffer.
Remember when planting tall growing tomato varieties you need to provide a stake up to two metres high at planting stage allowing you to train up and tie the vine to the stake. For bush varieties staking is largely unnecessary. Put your stakes in position either prior to planting or immediately after planting, this way you will not damage any new roots produced by the tomato plants.
Today there are so many varieties of tomato to choose from. Grosse Lisse is traditionally the most popular tall growing staking variety, Roma is a great bush tomato and the ever popular Cherry, Tiny Tim or Tommy Toe all little cherry tomatoes are proven high yielding varieties.
Cherry tomatoes also largely are unattractive to fruit fly a great advantage as against the larger varieties.
Apollo Improved is an ideal early maturing variety that generally guarantees very high yields. Over the past two years it has not been uncommon for people to tell me they have experienced yields of up to 15 kgs per plant.
Burnley Bounty is also a good cold tolerant early planting variety, capable of being planted right throughout the winter months.
Mighty Red is a high yielding staking variety, an alternative to Grosse Lisse, and is an excellent variety for arid zone climates, and, of course you have a wide range of heritage species, a popular variety being Black Russian. Most people who experiment with Black Russian continue to grow them for life.
Consult with your local nursery they should have many varieties available over the next few weeks.
Tomatoes planted now will provide you with much joy, produce high yields and save disappointment when planting later in the season when temperatures are high and yields are guaranteed to be low.