Tomatoes are by far the most popular vegetable to grow in the garden. The taste of a home-grown, freshly-picked tomato is a driving force behind the passion for vegetable gardening. How can we successfully grow a tasty tomato which is pleasing to the eye, the taste buds and not too hard on the back?
There are three different types of tomatoes that you can grow. Cherry tomatoes are ideal for containers or small gardens. They are virtually indestructible, from my experience, and will reward you and most of your friends with bite size tomatoes for a fairly lengthy part of late summer. Of the regular tomatoes there are determinate types and indeterminate types.
The determinate types are the early varieties. They grow to a certain height and then stop in order to bear fruit. These are often called bush tomatoes. Determinate tomatoes do not require staking or pruning but need a little bit more room to grow. They should be planted at least 2 feet away from other plants so that they can sprawl and capture sunlight throughout the plant and produce the maximum number and size of tomatoes.
The indeterminate types are later varieties. They will continue to grow and branch until the gardener cuts off the growing tip. These perform the best if pruned to 3 stems which are tied to a trellis or stake. To prune, allow the two lowest shoots that appear in the leaf axils to remain so that they can turn into fruiting stems. All the others should be snapped off as they develop along the stem while they are still young.
The trellis or stake needs to be five feet above the ground and at least 1 foot below the ground. As the plant grows you have the pleasure of winding the stems around the stake and attaching them with twine. Make a figure eight out the twine by looping the twine around the stake, crossing the pieces, then looping it again around the tomato stem and tying a knot. This will give the plant plenty of flexibility to continue to expand and still be held firm. The main stems should be cut when the plant reaches five feet so that the energy will then be concentrated on producing fruit. Indeterminate plants should be planted 18 inches apart.
Tomatoes should be planted in deeply dug, well prepared soil which has been amended with organic matter or compost. They will need at least 6 hours of sunlight a day to produce good fruit.
Tomatoes should not be planted outdoors until day and night temperatures are above 13C (55F). The plants will be killed by frost. Plant them deeper than you would normally plant anything else, so that the soil level is just below the first true leaves. The plant will form new roots called adventitious roots from the buried stem that will help to secure the plant so that it can sustain the heavy fruit load you are going to get. Firm the soil around the plant and add a handful of tomato fertilizer such as 5-8-10. Water the plant well. Cover the base of the plant with compost or mulch to shade the roots and keep away weeds.
The best quality fruit will be produced when there is an ample supply of warm sun and a steady supply of moisture. Major variations in moisture levels will cause fruit to crack as well as promote blossom end rot. The mulching will help to maintain a warm and moist soil and assist in keeping the weeds down.
There are three major pest problems with tomatoes which can be avoided by purchasing plants which are resistant. Fusarium, verticillium wilt and nematodes are all fatal problems which can only be solved by re-planting a new crop. Most growers and garden centres will only produce these resistant types but I , for one, was disappointed last year and will always ask my garden centre in future when I buy. Blossom end rot is a common problem which is caused by fluctuations in moisture levels and calcium deficiency. To avoid this, apply limestone around the base of the plant at planting time and again in mid-summer. Fertilize the plants about every month with a 5-8-10 or similar blend. Keep the plants watered and re-apply mulch as needed to protect the roots.