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How to Grow Tomatoes in your Garden
Tomatoes are my favorite food or should I say fruit? Some say tomatoes are easy to grow, I find growing tomatoes organically is not as easy as they say. The very first crop of tomatoes grown in uncontaminated soil is easy as there are fewer chances of the plants picking up tomato diseases, such as wilt. Of course, you can grow tomatoes without too many problems in the same soil over and over again, by using artificial fertilizers and chemical sprays but you will be harvesting and eating a crop of tasteless tomatoes, full of chemicals with chemical residue on them.
Farmers that only grow the same crop over and over, all year round, such as tomatoes, have depleted the soil through lack of crop rotation, eroded the topsoil and lost organic matter. They are committed to using artificial fertilizers and chemical sprays. Their environment is artificial. (In the USA tomatoes are up to 70% deficient in vitamin C).
If you like tomatoes and you would like them to taste the way they use to, try growing them organically. I personally think everyone should have a couple of tomato plants growing in their gardens.
To grow tomatoes successfully, to start off you will need good seed, preferably non-hybrid seed. You can buy these from Eden Seeds. Commercial seeds are fine but are usually hybrid; the seeds from these tomatoes should not be used for your next crop. Only use non-hybrid seeds.
You can either sow the seeds directly in the soil or start them off in punnets. Or you could buy good seedling plants from your local nursery, but these seedlings will more than likely be hybrids. Pick young strong plants, not spindly specimens with flowers or fruit on them.
The optimum temperature for growing tomatoes and for the fruit to set is 18 to 24 degrees C.
For internal seed, treatment infections soak your seeds in hot water at 55 degrees C, for 25 minutes (anything over will only cook the seed).
OK, we have found a spot in the garden for our tomatoes. All we have to do now is hammer in the tomato stakes (not round ones – ties slip on these) before planting the seedlings and/or seeds, and dig in the compost around the stakes (150mm (6″) diameter, 200mm (8″) deep), with a small garden fork.
Pinch off the bottom leaves of your seedling, dig a small hole then bury 3/4s of the plant. This way the tomato seedling will grow more roots up the stem and should be larger and healthier plants.
Water in well, give them a good soak, then mulch up.
Then cover up with pots. Or if you are like me and you remember a week later that you covered up the tomato seedlings with pots the previous weekend and now they are dead, you should try this. Prune a shrub with lots of leaves, and then stick the cuttings in the ground around the seedlings so to shade them. By the time the leaves have fallen off the cuttings, the seedlings will be well over the shock of transplanting and hardened off from the sun.
They like Tomatoes
Tomatoes like rich soil, compost, mulch and lots of sun at least six hours a day, lots of water; they just love comfrey as a liquid fertilizer; they also like a good foliage spray such as seaweed, fish emulsion or liquid worm casting extracts. They also like Animal and Bird manures (preferably composted and dug into the soil) these manures can also be used as a liquid fertilizer, not too strong to start off with, around 25% Brew (liquid fertilizer) and 75% water.
Feed your plants once a fortnight; when they have fruit setting, feed once a week, preferably late in the day as plants feed at night.
Tomatoes do best with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. It is not necessary to test the pH every time you go out in the garden; as long as the plants have good color your pH is fine. A lot of new gardeners are always worrying about their pH and try to make changes overnight to the soil structure with catastrophe results. If your plant looks a little off color give it a good feed of liquid fertilizer. Plants have no trouble drinking but as you know they don’t have teeth to eat rock minerals overnight; these can take up to six months to break down.
Rather than overhead watering and of course if you have the time, it’s a good idea to hand water. Water around the roots. By hand watering it will also help to avoid the spreading of disease (water once a week).
A friend of mine Myrtle Charteris who is a life member of “BOGI” (Brisbane Organic Growers Inc) grows her Tomatoes without staking, straight on to the ground, and to avoid the fruit fly she covers the fruit with a rag, about the same size as a small hanky. I prefer to stake or cage my Tomatoes, I too also use the hanky trick but I usually pick the fruit just as they start to turn color, this way there is less of a risk of fruit fly attack. You can also buy a product called a Q wick, which is not organic but will kill the male fruit fly. The wick is put inside an open-ended container away from the vegetable garden. The fruit flies go into it and die. As far as I am concerned we need to get rid of this pest one way or the other.
For companion planting try planting Lettuce in between the Tomatoes also lots of Basil, Chives and Marigolds.
Crop rotation plays a big part in organic gardening, but it is difficult to maintain in a small garden, it is also a good idea to keep a diary of the last crops you have grown in that part of your garden. Rule of the thumb is to plant an above the ground crop then a below the ground crop.
Tomatoes, Capsicum, Chillies and Potatoes are in the same family the nightshade family (Solanaceae), by planting the nightshade family group to-getter or after each other is not a good idea as they will attract the same diseases and insect pests.
Ideally, a three-year crop rotation should avoid diseases, but as I mentioned before that is not an easy task in a small garden with a quick turnover of crops. If you have healthy plants and use lots of compost you should get away with a 12-month crop rotation.
Hygiene is the most important part of organic gardening; without good hygiene in your garden, you will be encouraging diseases and pests.
Diseased plants and rotting fruits do and will attract pests and more disease, get rid of them, even a leaf from a tomato plant. Place them into a plastic bag and throw them in the rubbish bin for the next collection, ( not on the compost heap as diseased plants and fruit that have been stung by the fruit fly will breed and spread into your garden. They are next years and the year after problems.)
Insects and pests will and do attack the weaker plants before a healthy plant if this happens to leave a plant for them and they might leave the other plants alone, five for you, one for the bugs and grubs. Better the hygiene, healthier the garden fewer diseases and pest.
There are lots of different varieties of tomatoes on the market. There are the thick-skinned varieties that can be tolerant of the fruit fly, there is the disease resistant, there are low-acid types, there are the pear shape tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. Not forgetting the large variety of heirloom types, which are the non-hybrid varieties, the ones you can keep the seed from for next season’s crops.
I have been experimenting to see what varieties grow best in my garden for the right season. At present Hardy Toms and Strobelle tomatoes seem to be growing well. They are heirloom varieties purchased from Eden Seeds.
If you are going to save seed for your next crop, you need to know if they are hybrid or non-hybrid seeds. Only save seed from plants that are not- hybrid. You can buy non-hybrid seeds from Eden Seeds a $1.80 a packet contact no 1800 188 199.
Commercial seeds are fine but are often hybrid; the seeds from these plants should not be collected for use for your next crop.
Eating the End Product
Now after nurturing your tomato plants for 60 to 90 days, you should be, and your friends should be, eating the best tomatoes you have eaten for quite some time, if not in your whole life. You can not beat homegrown organic tomatoes.
Never store tomatoes in the fridge it will retard the taste of a good tomato; the best place to keep tomatoes is on a sunny window cell (not too hot).