An old German word for tomato is ‘Liebesapfel’, meaning ‘Love Apple’ and what’s not to love about this most popular, juicy, tangy, versatile vegetable that is, in fact, a fruit!
Tomatoes are literally good for your heart in that the high concentration of Lycopene that give the fruit its red colour, is also a powerful antioxidant. Furthermore these little love apples are high in Potassium, a mineral known to play a role in lowering blood pressure and ultimately decreasing stress on your heart.
You might think we’re a bit early in telling you all about planting tomatoes, and you’re perfectly right, but if you sow your tomatoes early and keep them warm and cosy, you will be harvesting your own, home grown, organic tomatoes ahead of the pack.
The great thing about tomatoes is that they can be grown in gardens big and small and will do just fine in pots and baskets on sunny patios and balconies. Lifestyle Home Garden sells a nifty hanging Tomato Bag as well as various pots, troughs and planter boxes and all the supports and stakes you need to grow tomatoes in your space in your very own style.
Sow seeds or plant seedlings in Summer. January is an excellent time to grow tomatoes – sow in succession and enjoy a harvest through-out summer.
The only problem with choosing which variety of tomato to sow is choice! Do you go for the big, fleshy ones; so good on your favourite burger? Or a smaller, bushy cherry tomato for salads and snacks? Oh, but what about the irresistible Roma for your favourite pasta sauce?! And surely you should consider one of the very trendy heirloom varieties – perhaps a black one? The choice is yours and our advice is to choose what you know you will use and what is suitable to the space you have. Happy hunting!
Another important consideration when choosing tomatoes is the growth habit. Tomatoes either have a determinate or indeterminate growth:
- have a vining habit that continue growing throughout the growing season and can become very tall,
- start forming fruit later in the season, but fruit will ripen steadily and continuously through the season until the first frost and
- need taller, sturdier supports and stakes.
- have a bushier habit and will grow to a fixed mature size,
- start forming fruit earlier in the season and all fruit ripens within about a 2 week period, after which the plant will die off and
- need support in the form of lower stakes or cages. These are good to grow in confined spaces and containers. For tips on Balcony gardening click |HERE|
Tomato seeds can be sown 6 – 8 weeks before the last average frost date (in Gauteng that is the 27th of August), provided they are kept in a warm space indoors or in a hothouse. When they are big enough, and all danger of frost has passed, they should be hardened off for at least a week before transplanting them into beds or containers.
Planting Tomato Seedlings
Choose a site that receives at least 6 hours of full sun per day – with our hot summers morning sun is preferable to the very hot afternoon sun.
Good soil preparation is key! Prepare in advance for planting by mixing a generous layer amount of compost and earthworm castings and organic 2:3:2 fertiliser into your soil or potting soil. Also add a dash of dolomitic lime as this will make more calcium available to the plant; important in the prevention of blossom end rot.
Good drainage in beds and pots is very important.
Transplant your seedlings when they have at least 4 true leaves and have been hardened off. Lifestyle Home Garden also offer healthy, hardened off seedlings of a very good quality.
Choose the type of support you would like to use and install prior to planting to avoid damage to the young seedlings.
Plant your seedlings on a cloudy day or early in the morning when it is still cool. Water the seedlings 15 minutes before planting and carefully remove from the cavity, keeping the soil around the roots intact.
Plant seedling 60cm apart and, if planting in rows, allow 1m between rows. Tomato seedling should be planted a little deeper than they were in the trays. Pinch off a few of the weaker, lower shoots and plant to a depth of just below the first leaves. This ensures strong root development.
Water well along the root zone after planting. Avoid watering tomato plants directly on their leaves.
Caring for your Tomatoes
Water the seedlings every day for the first week. Thereafter water consistently to keep the soil moist, but not drenched. This is very important, especially during flower formation.
Another essential for healthy tomatoes is good air circulation between plants as well as within the plants themselves. If you’re planting in containers, avoid placing or hanging them right against a wall and space containers to allow for good air flow. For good circulation within the plant, prune regularly to remove excess and weak stems and ensure that plants are sufficiently staked and not falling over.
4 Weeks after planting, when the seedlings have reached a good height and the soil has warmed up, spread a layer of mulch between the plants.
6 Weeks after planting, apply an organic 3:1:5 fertiliser to promote healthy leaves and abundant flower and fruit formation. Supplement during the flowering and fruiting period by drenching the plants with an organic liquid fertiliser every 2-3 weeks. Again, avoid water or fertiliser on the leaves as much as possible.
Harvesting your Tomato crop
Keep an eye open for your first ripe tomatoes 10 – 14 weeks after planting.
You can either pick your tomatoes while they are still firm with a tinge of green or you can let them ripen on the vine; you might just have to fight off a few other contenders like birds and bugs!
Keep picking as the fruits ripen and always remove over ripe and rotten fruit from the plant as this will attract diseases and pests.
Good companions: Basil, marigolds, borage, chives, garlic, onions, beans, nasturtiums, parsley, carrots, celery, sage, asparagus, gooseberries and marjoram.
Bad companions: Potatoes, Brassicas, fennel, kohlrabi, beetroot, rosemary and sweetcorn.
We have a lovely blog all about companion planting – click |HERE| to read more.
Get in touch! We’d love to hear from you.