To experience the best tomato flavour, you have to grow your own, and now is the time to plant them.
Tomatoes give a higher yield for space occupied than any other vegie.And they’re not hard to raise, growing as well in pots as they do in beds.
For container growing, use large 500mm pots and a good-quality mix.
Tall tomatoes need a stake in the bed or pot, so add one when planting. Some don’t need stakes and are suited to pots like Mr Fothergill’s ‘Tiny Tom’, which has bite-sized fruit and grows to only 400mm high.
Potted tomatoes need regular watering, as they dry out faster than garden beds, and lots of food.
Raise tomato plants
Find the sunniest spot in your garden, as full sun is essential for tomatoes.
MULCH around the seedlings with straw, lucerne or sugar cane to help retain soil moisture.
WATER regularly and deeply, as erratic watering will cause the fruit to split. To prevent disease, water at the base of the plants, not overhead.
FEED when the first flower truss appears with a soluble plant food such as Thrive Soluble Flower and Fruit or a high-potash fertiliser.
PICK tomatoes from the vine when they are ripe. Cut the stalk but leave the calyx attached. In mild climates, you can harvest tomatoes for about five months if you sow in August and November for an early and late crop.
Growing from cuttings
Tomatoes grow easily from cuttings, and it’s a good way to extend the season, as the new plant will produce fruit later than the parent.
So if you take the cuttings in November, you get an autumn crop.
CUT OFF a 100-200mm side shoot and remove the lower leaves.
POSITION THE SHOOT in a glass of water and leave it on a sunny windowsill. Keep the glass filled with fresh water and after a couple of weeks, roots will develop.
PLANT THE CUTTING in a 100mm pot and keep the mix moist until more roots develop and new growth is seen, then transplant into a bed.
Another method is to plant the cutting directly into a 100mm pot filled with potting mix. Cover with clear plastic to maintain humidity and when roots have developed, and new growth is seen, transplant it.
In the garden
Make use of the shade cast by tomatoes to grow lettuce and rocket, so you can make fresh salads with produce you pick from the backyard.
Asparagus, parsley, cabbage, marigolds, chives and carrots are also good companion plants for tomatoes.
Tomato and basil go well together on the plate and in the garden.
For pest control, sow nasturtiums nearby as they lure aphids from tomatoes.
If you don’t have a vegie patch, simply scatter some tomato plants throughout your flowerbeds.
In the kitchen
Tomatoes are kitchen all-stars that can be eaten fresh or cooked and are one crop that will never go to waste, as any excess can be made into a pasta sauce and frozen for later use.
Make a salsa with 450g chopped tomatoes, one clove of chopped garlic, chopped basil leaves and olive oil. Serve with fish or on a baked potato.
For a simple starter, grill slices of eggplant, put each one on a plate and add a slice of mozzarella and tomato, then top with a basil leaf.
Stuff large tomatoes with rice and other fillings, and use cherry varieties for salads with baby bocconcini.
Tomatoes, olives and goat’s cheese make an easy, but tasty, savoury tart.
Make a salsa with 450g chopped tomatoes, one clove of chopped garlic, chopped basil leaves and olive oil. Image: Thinkstock
Fruit on the vine splitting as it begins to ripen.
CAUSE Too much water or heavy rainfall after a dry period.
FIX During dry periods especially, water the plant regularly around the base of the plant so it is directed at the roots. Keep mulched.
Fruit on the vine splitting as it begins to ripen. Image: Alamy
Blossom end rot
The base of the fruit becomes sunken and blackened.
CAUSE Lack of calcium together with irregular watering.
FIX Add soluble lime to the soil before planting the seedlings and water regularly. Improve the soil’s condition by adding organic matter.
The base of the fruit becomes sunken and blackened. Image: Alamy
Tomato russet mite
Lower green leaves become a dull grey and eventually turn brown and papery.
CAUSE Small yellowish mites that are difficult to see.
FIX Spray with Yates Nature’s Way Insect & Mite Killer Natrasoap Gun when the symptoms first appear.
Lower green leaves become a dull grey and eventually turn brown and papery. Image: Alamy
Lower leaves wilt and dry out and eventually the whole plant dies.
CAUSE A soil-inhabiting fungus that enters through the root hairs.
FIX Remove and destroy infected plants. Don’t plant members of the Solanaceae family in the same spot for at least three years.
Holes appear in the fruit and the young growth is eaten.
CAUSE Fruit has been attacked by the tomato caterpillar, also known as a fruit worm.
FIX Apply tomato and vegetable dust as soon as you notice caterpillars attacking the young leaves.
Holes appear in the fruit and the young growth is eaten. Image: Alamy
Tiny holes can be seen in the fruit.
CAUSE Flies lay eggs under the tomato skin and the hatching larvae feed their way to the centre, causing the fruit to rot.
FIX To detect this pest, use a fruit fly bait early in the season. Destroy any infested fruit, don’t compost it.
Tiny holes can be seen in the fruit. Image: Alamy
How to transplant tomato seedlings
Add organic matter like compost, aged chicken manure or Dynamic Lifter to the soil and dig one-third of a cup of complete plant food per square metre into the garden bed one week before planting. TIP Add dolomite to acidic soil before planting to prevent blossom end rot.
Position the seedling in the hole, burying the stem up to the first set of leaves, as tomatoes can produce extra roots from the stem. To plant up an entire garden bed, position plants about 600mm apart. TIP To reduce the risk of disease, plant tomatoes in a different spot each year.
Add a 2m high timber stake to the bed, positioning it 100mm from the stem. Stake at planting time, as later on you can damage the root system. As the tomatoes grow, secure them to the stake for support using soft ties. TIP Water in the seedling with Seasol to prevent transplant shock.