Feature

How to grow great tomatoes

Green Lifestyle

There's few things better than harvesting ripe, juicy tomato fruits from your own garden. Make sure you read our guide to get them fresh off the vine this summer.

Tomatoes

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Tomatoes can be grown all year round in some parts of Australia, such as the north Queensland coast.

They’ll pretty much grow anywhere in frost-free conditions. If you don’t have a lot of garden space, it’s worthwhile to have at least one tomato plant in a pot, or somewhere in the garden.

These succulent red fruits are hungry plants that like nutrient-rich soil, so before you even think about starting your organic non-hybrid seeds (or, let's face it – heading off to the garden centre to buy seedlings), do some work on improving your soil.

Dig in some well-rotted compost and cow manure a few weeks before planting. This will help to create the rich, crumbly, well-drained soil that tomatoes like.

Seed or seedlings
Tomatoes can be planted from seed or seedlings.

You can start seeds in trays or pots in early spring for planting out in mid to late spring. Put the pots in a sheltered spot, perhaps a mini glasshouse or on your hot water heater, about eight weeks before you intend planting them out.

If sowing seeds directly in the garden, take care not to oversow – the seeds are small and you can end up with many more plants than needed. If that’s the case, pull out some of the weakest seedlings when sprouted. Remember, many tomato varieties grow quite big and will need spacing 40–50 cm apart. Check the recommended spacing on the seed pack.

Wait until pot-grown seedlings have at least two sets of leaves before planting them out in the garden. Bury the stems in the soil as they’ll put out roots and keep the plants stable.

Caring for your plants
Tomatoes are frost tender so give them some shelter until all threat of frost has passed. Stake them if necessary when planting seedlings as this will avoid root damage later on. Stakes at least 1.5 m in height will be needed for many tomato varieties – you can even use multiple stakes per plant if they’re particularly bushy. No need to tie them to the stakes now – wait until they’re about 30–40cm high and then use soft ties to hold the plants in place. Keep adding ties as the plants grow – you can pinch out side branches for a more upright growth but with most tomatoes this isn’t necessary.

Water at least twice a week while plants are establishing – more if weather is unseasonably hot. Tomatoes are prone to fungal problems, so avoid watering the leaves. If you start will fertile soil they won’t need any more feeding until they flower and start making fruit. Mulching around plants will keep weeds in check but wait until October at least when the soil has warmed up.

Harvesting
The fruit will be ready to pick anywhere from eight to 17 weeks after planting from seed – sooner from seedlings. Don’t leave them too long on the vine or they may not be as sweet.

Try some cherry toms

Cherry tomatoes are usually 2–4cm in diameter and come in red, yellow, orange, purple-black and variations in between. Almost all of the 10 or so varieties I’ve grown have proved disease-resistant and not prone to insect attack. Here are three tasty varieties to try.

- ‘Tommy Toe’ produces fruits 2–3 cm in diameter on bushes up to about 2.5 m tall.
- ‘Sweet Bite’ has very sweet fruits up to 3 cm in diameter and is good for planting in pots.
- ‘Patio Prize’ is also good for pots as it’s compact, growing up to about 50 cm tall with 2–4 cm fruits.

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If you’re growing particularly great tomatoes (or any other great vegies) send us some photos, and share your growing tips! Email us at: editorial@greenlifestylemag.com.au