Growing Tomatoes

Tomatoes are the most widely grown vegetable by home gardeners around the world. In recent years the interest in home grown tomatoes seems to have reached new heights because many of the tomatoes available through stores can be insipid and bland tasting. But many home grown heirloom species still pack the delicious taste of yesteryear.

Although tomatoes don't last through the colder autumn months in temperate climates, in some tropical parts of Australia some cultivars can be grown throughout the year. In temperate to cool regions you can start to sow tomato seeds in spring. They are best grown in pots to begin with so they can be moved under cover at night. If this is not possible you can move them to a more sheltered position instead. Another option is to place cloches over them or start them in a cold frame or poly tunnel. Cold will retard growth so if you're not careful seedlings started 4-6 weeks later will overtake them.

Tomatoes thrive in rich soil. To prepare beds, dig in some well-rotted animal manures and pelletised fertilisers. A sprinkling of rock minerals and potash is also helpful. You should never grow them in the same soil two years running because soil-borne pests and diseases build up. Instead rotate beds. Preferably have three vegie beds so they are only grown in the same spot every third year.

When it comes to planting out the seedlings, they should be staked at the same time to avoid disturbing roots later. One 2m stake per plant is usually enough. Some new dwarf cultivars grow more as compact bushes and don't require such tall stakes. If you can grow them up a trellis, that's just as good. Allow about 50-60cm between plants. Pinch off the bottom few leaves and plant the seedlings about halfway up the stem. This encourages a strong root system to develop.

Your seedlings will flower after about 4-6 weeks. Once you see the first fruit form feed with liquid manure and continue to do this fortnightly. 

Early cropping varieties like 'Shirley' will produce fruit after a couple of months. But you'll need to be more patient with those that take longer like 'Oxheart'. We would recommend growing several different types in the same bed to get tomatoes over a longer period. You can place lower growing cherry and grape tomatoes like the deep red 'Indigo Ruby' or Sweet 'n' Neat' at the front.  You can grow any tomatoes in pots too. Just be sure to go for large pots of 15-20 litre capacity.       

Fruit fly or other pests can be a problem in some places more than others; and for some cultivars more than others. Smaller cherry tomatoes seem to have less susceptibility to pests and may not require as much effort to produce continued crops.

Tomatoes grow well with asparagus, basil, borage, bee balm (bergamot), alliums (e.g. onion and garlic), carrot, parsley, marigolds, mint, sage, thyme, lemon balm, nasturtiums and asparagus.  Thyme and peppermint are said to help control white fly.  Avoid planting beside corn, beetroot, dill, fennel or apricots.