Red nirvana as I like to say. However, with all the wonderful heritage varietals available now, tomatoes can be green, black, striped, yellow or even purple!
What tomato can I plant?
The seeds could be from a packet you have bought or saved from last years crop. I love the names of all the varieties and I always have a hard time deciding which ones to go for in a particular year. For lovely big fresh eating and salad tomatoes, I choose Grosse Lisse, Rouge de Marmande or Break o Day; for small sweet tomato bites I plant Tommy Toe or Red Cherry and for delightful taste and appearance, I plant Green Zebra and Burnley Bounty.
You can plant these in a punnet or shallow seed tray with a good seed mix of soil with no rocks or large twigs, a little sand and compost, so it’s free draining but nutritious for your baby plants. If you reuse commercial seed trays, clay or plastic pots, first soak them in a diluted white vinegar solution for a few minutes and scrub with a brush to ensure that any old soil or contaminants are removed.
Soil should be at around 20C to plant into, so you may want to raise your seed in a greenhouse or kitchen bench first about 6-8 weeks before the weather warms….then plant them out when it gets a bit warmer. If not, seed trays can be outside.
Sprinkle the seeds sparingly over the seed mix, as they have a high strike rate, and cover with another sprinkle of soil. Use a spray bottle to keep the seed mix damp, but not wet. Once they are about 3 cms high and have more than three leaves each, discard the ones that look sickly or weaker.
Carefully tap the tomato seedlings out of the punnet and gently pull the plants and new roots apart to separate each plant and transplant to a preprepared garden bed or into a self watering pot outside and position in full sun. I have found that in our very hot summers, the tomato plants enjoy partial shade as well if possible. They should be planted about 20-30 cms apart to allow the roots enough room to grow and the foliage to not be squashed once they reach fruiting stage. Water them in well; you can add a sprinkle of Epsom Salts to the water to aid in strengthening the root structure and some seaweed solution like Seasol to stimulate new growth.
If you have bush tomatoes, they won’t need staking, but all others grow better if they can ‘climb’. You will need to get some soft tape or string or plastic hold rings that don’t cut into the stalks to help the plant remain upright as it grows.
After the flowers have been pollinated, it is advisable to net the tomatoes as they form, as birds love the fruit just like you do!
If the plant gets stressed by lack of water or high winds, it may drop its fruit or the tomatoes may not develop fully.
Stuff to think about
Tomatoes are susceptible to fungus diseases. Everyone who grows tomatoes will have different advice, but I have found that I get good yields by not cutting or trimming the end growing points, but just keeping the plant free of broken or dying leaves and cutting off the lower branches of the plant to prevent mildew or a fungus taking hold. Try not to break the dead leaves and branches off as they sometimes tear the main stem of the plant. Make sure there is good air flow through the plant and not have branches bunched together or crossing over.
Tomatoes are thirsty, so water them regularly in the garden. A self watering pot can be topped up as needed and only water around the roots. Try not to get the foliage wet, as this will increase the risk of fungus developing. Also, keep the plants well mulched with some sugar cane mulch or home made compost.
Depending on the varietal, after about 50-90 days from germination you will be able to harvest your yummy fruit. Twist the fruit away from the main stem gently without tearing the branch. Wash and eat!
The first and most prolific are the cherry tomatoes followed by the bush and climbing fresh eating or cooking tomatoes. Next come the large summer slicing tomatoes that are ambrosia to eat. Your cherry tomatoes will continue to produce right through a 3-4 month period. I have harvested in April to May some years.
We would love to see some photos of your handiwork…or your harvests in Grow and Tell!