This afternoon I was chatting with a friend over a cup of coffee and the topic of gardening came up. I bemoaned the fact that it's been a terrible year for tomatoes, and that I had to pull out some of my plants for fear that the mould they exhibited (mould brought on by all the freakish heavy rain we've had) would spread to the other plants. Coming home I decided to do some harvesting for my supper and the snaps below are of this afternoon's yield. My favourites are the fat black krims and the super sweet sungold cherry tomatoes. I love the end of summer when the tomato plants are at the end of their life and might look manky, but smell at their most amazing and best of all are hiding gems.
Here is everything I know about growing tomatoes:
- Infrastructure - On the day that I plant the seedlings, I create a framework to tie the tomato plants to as they grow. You may not need to tie the seedlings in the first month or so, but it's best to do the staking early on as if you put posts in later you might damage the roots and kill the plants. Bamboo is a cheap option (free for me) and if you choose some strong bamboo specimens and secure them tightly, they should last the summer. I use electrical tape to bandage the tops of my A Frame together.
- Earth - You can't grow good tomatoes without really good loose soil, and soil needs replenishing every year for optimal nutrition. Each spring I dig compost and vegetable mix through my raised beds about a week before planting seedlings. If I remember to, I also feed the plants with a liquid fertiliser when the flowers first appear to give the plants a boost to help the fruit set.
- Sun - Tomatoes need a lot of sun so it's best to plant them where they will get the most light. I have a few raised beds at the back of my section which have proven to be hopeless for growing tomatoes, and have learnt the hard way that your plants will dictate where they go - not the other way around.
- Water - Consistent watering is really important. There has been a lot of rain this summer so I haven't had to go out much with the hose but I always do if it's been a couple of days between showers. It's a fine balance between under and over watering, and I always water at the base of the plants and avoid watering the leaves to help prevent mould.
- Air - There are a couple of reasons for getting out the secateurs when it comes to tomatoes. The first is weight - if the plants get too heavy they will break under their own weight, particularly once the fruit sets. You can combat this by the odd bit of pruning, as well as securely tying branches to your frame as needed. The second reason for pruning is to allow enough air through to help prevent mould. When the plants get big I get rid of any unnecessary branches and remove the bottom branches altogether. I always think of that game 'the floor is made of lava' - you don't want the leaves to touch the ground as there will be an increased chance of them getting some sort of fungal disease. I know this sounds counter-intuitive (but plants grow out of the ground? How can it be bad for them?!) but trust me on this one.