4 November 2016
how to plant tomatoes
- There are a few decisions you have to make when choosing which tomatoes to grow.
- Tomatoes can be determinate or indeterminate. Indeterminate means the plants fruit over a long period of time but they grow rangy and need secure staking. Determinate plants are smaller bush varieties which set fruit all at once, so they’re great for harvesting and using for sauces, pastes and chutneys.
- There are heritage and modern varieties. We like heritage tomatoes best because of their richer taste.
- Then you have to choose between hybridised and non-hybridised. Hybridised varieties are a cross between two genetically different tomato varieties. With a hybrid, you get the best qualities of both parents. They are bred to be more disease-resistant and more consistent in yield and size. But we like non-hybridised. If you start your tomato plants off well with compost-enriched soil and feed the plants well, they’ll be strong and healthy enough to withstand pests and diseases. Non-hybridised tomatoes produce large numbers of seeds and bear tomatoes identical to their parents.
- Next there’s the choice of whether to buy a grafted or non-grafted tomato. Grafted tomatoes are big dense plants which limits how many plants you can grow. We prefer non-grafted tomatoes because then you can grow lots of different varieties. We also plant our plants deeply in the ground which increases the root mass anyway, like a grafted plant.
- Lastly consider how you want to eat tomatoes. If you like cherry tomatoes in salads or for snacks then make sure you have a couple of cherry tomato plants. Roma and Oxheart are good varieties for sauces and pastes. You may like slicing big beefy tomatoes into a sandwich or just to eat on their own – Beefsteak is good for this. And Money Maker produces consistently good tasty medium-sized tomatoes.
- When it comes to planting, make sure there’s plenty of organic matter in the soil to help retain moisture content during summer. Into each hole add a handful of gypsum and a handful of neem granules. Gypsum adds calcium to the soil which helps prevent blossom end rot and strengthens the cell walls of the tomatoes to make them more disease-resistant. We add neem granules to ward off a psyllid attack, should we have one. Neem is also a soil conditioner. Usually we would put our additives on top of the soil and let the rains and watering take it down to the plant’s roots, but this time we want the additives to reach the roots immediately.
- We use gypsum rather than lime to add calcium to the soil as gypsum doesn’t affect the pH of the soil. Lime alkalises it. Tomatoes like slightly acidic soil.
- Position your plant deeply in the hole. It doesn’t matter if laterals are covered by soil – they’ll rot away. Don’t take any laterals off as this can open the plant up to disease. If you have a planter box that’s not very deep, lay your plant on the side with the roots lying horizontally. The plant will right itself, but it gives the roots the maximum amount of soil to feed on.
- Put a stake in the soil before you put your plant in because you don’t want to damage the roots. Make sure the stake is strong – maybe use something like a metal waratah. Wooden stakes can rot and break off at ground level with the weight of the fruit over a season. If you use bamboo maybe use several and arrange them in teepee fashion.
Planting companion plants for tomatoes
- This year we’re putting a basil plant at the top of each row of tomatoes and then French marigolds in between the plants. The flowers on basil and French marigolds attract beneficial insects and are also edible.
- Don’t plant anything that’s going to get bigger than the tomatoes themselves. It’s important to keep good air flow among the plants.
- We’re planting chia plants (salvia hispanica) at the end of the row away from the tomatoes. These are big plants but we like them because of their prolific blue flowers – good for the bees and beneficial insects too.
Fertilising and watering tomato plants
- Give each tomato plant a handful of sheep pellets – great because of its slow-release nature. Then apply a handful of rock dust to strengthen the plants and increase their nutrient value. During the growing period, we’ll also periodically apply comfrey liquid and fish and seaweed fertiliser.
- Water it all in. Water the bed a little and often to keep the soil moist at all times. As we move into summer we’ll mulch the plants to help with moisture retention.
Camera: Davian Lorson
Editor: Thomas Asche