Tomaato, tomayto...however you pronounce it, this bright red delight is certainly a staple. From adding a healthy, fresh touch to a lunchtime sandwich or providing the base for a whole raft of dinnertime delicacies, it’s a must-have in any good home garden.
And while it’s quick and easy to grab a few toms from your local store or simply open a can (as I do on occasion), there’s nothing quite like the taste of a home-grown one.
As we spring into the warmer months (hopefully the chill is starting to abate at your place), now’s a good time to get out into your vege patch and put the groundwork in place for a healthy summer crop.
To get started, grab some Awapuni Nurseries tomato seedlings from your local supermarket, The Warehouse or Bunnings store. Or order some from our online shop at www.awapuni.co.nz and get them delivered direct to your door. Don’t be too conservative when it comes to plant numbers – tomatoes are so versatile I reckon you can never have too many.
When thinking about the best place to plant your seedlings, look for somewhere that’s sunny, but sheltered from strong winds. And here’s a tip: if you’ve grown tomatoes before, plant them somewhere different this time. You’ll reduce the chances of your tomatoes developing nasty diseases like blight.
If garden space is limited, why not give pots a go? The bright red fruit will add a welcome splash of colour to your porch or deck. You can even plant cherry tomatoes in the middle of hanging baskets, with a range of herbs around the outside, as long as you position them in a warm, sunny spot.
If it’s been a wet winter where you are, add a bit of lime to your earth. That’s because tomatoes thrive in soil with a moderate pH and large amounts of rain tend to lower your soil’s acidity level. Don’t forget to dig in compost to improve soil conditions.
Once your prep work is complete, dig a hole, approximately 3cms deep and space your tomato seedlings about one foot apart. Fill in the holes with soil.
Once planted, spray your tomatoes with liquid copper to prevent fungal diseases. And add a general fertiliser, like nitrophoska blue, to the soil surrounding the tomatoes to encourage large, juicy fruit.
When it comes to watering, avoid overhead hosing as it can leave your plants more susceptible to diseases like downy mildew, rust, and blight. A better way to keep your plants moist is to layer newspaper around them, and then cover the newspaper with peastraw. This creates mulch that will prevent your plants drying out during the day and in between watering sessions.
I also recommend picking off the laterals as they develop. If you imagine a tomato plant has a main trunk that grows straight up with branches growing off this trunk at roughly 90 degrees, the laterals are the smaller stems that develop at approximately 45 degrees in between the main trunk and branch.
Often laterals won’t produce fruit but can produce a lot of leaves. If you pick them off it allows the plant to put all its energy into growing fruit, rather than a whole lot of leaves you don’t need. Apply the same formula for working out the laterals on the main trunk to working out which are the laterals on each subsequent branch. Make sense?
And if spring hasn’t quite sprung in your neck of the woods, try cutting the base off two litre plastic milk bottles (recycle the base) and place the remaining parts of the bottles over the seedlings. These mini greenhouses will protect your plants from frosts and cold winds.
Once your tomato seedlings grow a bit taller they’ll need staking to help stabilise and protect them from strong winds. You can do this any way you like but I prefer the teepee method. Take three stakes and place them in the ground with the tomato plant in the middle, then tie the stakes together at the top with rope or string. And why not get the kids to decorate the stakes while you’re at it?
Simply follow these instructions and I bet you’ll have a great crop of anti-oxidant rich fruit by November, adding colour to your garden and flavour to your plate.