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Growing Tomatoes - Cubag's Home Gardening Guide

Growing tomatoes is a natural must with spring and summer home gardeners throughout New Zealand.  For me, tomatoes epitomise the coming of spring and summer. A vibrant burst of colour in stark contrast to the dull flow of seasonal greens throughout winter, means the arrival of salads, sandwiches and other fresh yet delicious meals. Tomatoes are a natural source of Vitamin C & K, Potassium, Vitamin B and countless other healthy antioxidant benefits. Whether you call it a vegetable or a fruit, it is a perfect addition to any meal and to every vegetable patch.  Albeit easy to eat, these plumptuous little beauties can be tricky to grow and under the scorching power of the summer sun can suffer if not cared for correctly. Thus to help you prepare for the coming season, here is our guide to: Growing Tomatoes - Cubag’s Home Gardening Guide!

The Preparation

Tomatoes are amongst the more light-needy products that you could have in the yard and therefore demand a section of land that will expose them to roughly 10 hours of light each day. If this is going to be an issue outdoors then find a well lit area indoors and plant the seeds into a fine seed raising mix in a small indoor container. Keep the seedlings here for 6 to 8 weeks before transferring to your vegetable garden outdoors. This will provide a healthy dose of heat and time for your plants to take root before braving the outdoors. This process will also reduce the risk of soil-based diseases such as early blight or even bacterial spot (both which give the yield of produce, the appearance of having a darkish rash across the surface). When making the transferral from indoor container to garden bed, it also helps to ensure that you do it when the sun is at its peak. This ensures that the roots are being transplanted into warm soil and thus can begin absorbing the nutrients from the ground immediately.

Indoor Preparation

If you plan on seeding the plant indoors to begin with then use a container that is at least 30 litres deep and fill roughly 25-30 litres of this with soil, to enable the roots to spread out and grow. Use a product such as Scoria 25/7 on the bottom of the container to assist with soil drainage.

  1. Lay a layer of drainage scoria along the bottom of the container or pot. This will assist with the drainage of excess water from the soil and prevent the plant from drowning.
  2. On top of this, add a layer of growing media such as Booster Garden Mix to the desired depth (just beneath the top of the pot is best)
  3. Using your fingers, you can create a 5-8mm well in the mix and depending on how many seeds in the pot, space them out by about 5cm each.
  4. Place the seed within the well and cover over with soil, before watering.
  5. In the lead up to summer, the soil needs to be watered only once a week. But don’t be afraid to give a little bit more if the soil looks like it's starting to dry out.
  6. After the second set of leaves on the stem have appeared, the plants are ready to be transferred to your vegetable patch outdoors.

The Planting Process  

  1. Ensure the soil is well turned, and use compost to rejuvenate it and ensure that the nutrients in the soil is being continuously turned and revived.
  2. Ensure the patch is exposed to plenty of sunlight and that the soil is warm and moist before the planting begins.
  3. If planting directly from seed, spread the seeds out by about 5cm and bury at 5-8mm depending on the size of the seed.

NOTE: If planting from the indoor options, then bury the roots and first part of the stem deep in the soil to keep them warm and to ensure continued steady growth.

  1. Once planted, water the soil, not the plant, once a week (more if the summer is warm and dry) to ensure that the soil stays damp and moist but doesn’t drown the plant. The importance of watering the soil and not the plant is that if the leaves are wet then they will attract the heat of the sun and thus burn and damage the plant itself. Applied to the soil, the water gets absorbed quicker and is taken down to the roots where it is needed.
  2. After three weeks of growing has passed, plant another batch of seeds as they will absorb nutrients from the plants reaching harvest and thusly you will benefit from multiple waves of harvestable tomatoes.
  3. When the tomatoes are full coloured, plump and firm to the touch, they’re ready to harvest. Easiest way to remove from the vine without causing damage to source or product is to twist the tomato until it drops off into your hand.

Supporting your Plants

Being so immensely delicate, you will be the first port of defence and support for your tomatoes as they grow to full strength. Ensuring to keep them well pruned, watered and exposed to light can reduce the onset of diseases and deter any potential pests who would seek to terrorize your yard!

1. Water   

As the natural source of all life, water is the key element to keeping your plants alive throughout the growing season. Keep the soil moist (but not saturated) throughout the seasons and ensure you have a routine in place for watering them. Heavy watering for several days followed by a drought period will result in unfavourable growth and your tomato plant will not thank you for it. In some cases, this can even lead to the death of the plant.

2. Keeping it Safe (And Tidy!)   

In our previous blog post, we stressed the importance and value of various mulches, and this is a perfect opportunity to implement its use. Mulches are your 24/7 surveillance and insulation system for your garden. When it gets too cold, it helps retain the heat; when it gets too warm, it helps keep them cool. This wondrous product also keeps the yard tidy and makes your vege patches blend in perfectly with the rest of the yard layout. Here are some mulch products available to assist your plants:

3. Pruning   

Ensure to keep your plants well pruned and maintained so that the stalk remains strong. Unkempt plants can have the tendency to bend and split under the weight of the tomatoes. For any produce yielded too early, misshapen or diseased, aim to remove this as swiftly and tidily as possible and prune back towards the stem, so that the plant can focus its energy into the other boughs.  Check out this great guide from The Chef’s Garden for how to prune your tomatoes to produce more fruit: 

 Greenhouse Growth   

If you are aiming to grow your tomatoes in a Greenhouse then you will effectively regulate and control the heat circulation for your tomatoes. Just as it is life giving however, heat can also cause early death and burning in your plants and therefore if you intend to grow them inside a Greenhouse, you must ensure to keep the soil moist. It is advised to keep the tomatoes beneath 3-5 Fluorescent lights for approximately 18 to 20 hours a day to ensure their optimum “sun” exposure, but without the changing weather. During the peak of summer, it is also advised to self-pollinate the flowers or open up the doors/windows to allow bees to enter into the greenhouse. For tomato plants, the pollen is stashed in the stem and therefore in order to get it out of the plant and pollinate other stems and flowers, you must simulate the vibration of a bee's wings. To simulate this, take an electric toothbrush, or something similar therefore and apply it to the main truss and each thick branch of the tomato plant. This will cause the pollen to be released naturally through the flowers and it can then spread to the other boughs of the plant. Ensure to do this in the peak of the day when humidity is at its highest point as the plants will not release pollen if they or the soil are cold.

Pest Protection

A natural part of any yard, pests such as aphids can pay a visit to your tomato beds and ruin the plants that are growing. There are two quick fixes to this. Firstly is to use a natural, organic pesticide spray to help clear them away. These sprays help in the prevention, clearance and killing of all these pests so as to keep your tomatoes rosy red and delicious. Secondly, you can give your tomato plant some friends and plant a companion product:

1. Basil

Basil is one of the best options to go for as it attracts Butterflies to your garden, who in turn take care of the pests that are harassing your plants. This combination is a double-whammy as the plants protect each other and when eaten together, fresh tomato and basil is just delicious. The basil plants are best planted after they’ve reached their first blooming period as younger basil plants can sometimes be targeted by aphids.

2. Floral Protection

For a pop of colour, try using Marigolds. Marigolds have been used for generations on the outskirts of planter boxes and garden beds as they release natural pollens and scents which deter most pests from the garden. They also provide a pop of colour and stand out beautifully next to the vivaciousness of the red tomatoes. Try using French or Mexican Marigolds as they project a natural chemical into the soil which can help provide future protection even after the marigold season has finished.

Nifty and Unique Ideas

If, like me, you’re the kind of person who has random bits and pieces lying around the yard, then now is the time to use some of them. If you can get your hands on some old pallets (aim for 2-3) then layer them on top of each other and connect the pallets together with nails. Along the bottom and around the insides of the planter attach weedmat to help stop the weeds from growing through and soil falling out. Fill the newly made container with scoria to assist with drainage along the bottom and then add your garden mix. Plant the seeds in the large open gaps between the slats. As the soil will be more contained, you may need to water the soil more regularly to maintain the high moisture levels required.

By using the above tips as a guide, we hope you will enjoy a bountiful crop and many delicious tomatoes in the coming months.  Happy eating!

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