RED HOT TOMATOES (Adapted from Tony Fawcett’s “Guide to planting a bumper crop”. Sun Herald Sun November 6th, 2016) PLANTING
Tomatoes need warm soil and around Melbourne Cup Day (November 1) is just about perfect planting time – and keep planting a few seedlings up to Christmas.
Plan seedlings in a spot that gets at least six hours of sun today, is out of the wind and has good drainage. If drainage is poor, build up the bed by 10-15 cm.
Prepare bed before planting by digging to about a spade’s depth and working in compost and a handful of lime a week or two before planting. (Our soil is very alkaline so lime might not be necessary).
Never plant where tomatoes (or potatoes, peppers, eggplant) have been grown in the previous few years. (Nightshade family)
Plant at least 80cm apart to allow air movement between plants, to minimise disease spread.
Give plants a good foundation by planting a little deeper than normal. This encourages extra roots to develop high up the stem.
In hot weather, plant late afternoon or evening.
Water in seedlings with the seaweed tonic such a Seasol to reduce transplant shock and help plants to establish. (John King sprays the whole plant with Seasol!)
Stake tall growing varieties when planting to avoid excessive damage. If plants become super bushy, use extra stakes to support side growth.
Mulch around plants with grass clippings, pea straw, sugarcane or lucerne hay.
If growing from seed you need to be quick. Sow seeds in a tray of seed raising mix in a warm spot.
Treat plants a little mean by holding back fertiliser until flowers appear. Charles Darwin got it right with his observation that the plants fight to survive, to preserve the species. A hungry tomato plant will desperately fight to flower a little earlier if it suspects its end is near. Once fruit is underway, keep them fat and happy with fertiliser.
Tie growing tomatoes to stakes using tie twine with loose figure 8 loops – one loop around the steam and the other around the stakes.
Feed with a tomato specific fertiliser once flowering, but stick to recommended application rates because excessive nitrogen will produce fabulous looking leaves but minimal fruit.
Water around the base of the plants not on the plants.
Water regularly and neither over or under water. If in doubt, push your finger into the soil. Tomatoes need calcium and the way they get it is in water taken up by their roots. Deny them calcium and they can suffer blossom rot. (Our bore water is high in calcium)
You don't need to, but pinching out the laterals (new growth that forms between the joint of two stems) prevents overcrowding and makes maintenance easier.
Resist the urge to prune plants to with an inch of their lives. Too much cutting back reduces vigour and leads to less fruit.
HINTS AND TIPS
For a tasty variety, grow a mix of tomatoes – maybe a few old standbys such as Grosse Lisse, Improved Apollo, Mighty Red and Roma – and a few heirlooms such as Tommy Toe, Brandy Wine, Pink Bumble Bee etc.
If soils are cool, lay black plastic on the ground around the tomatoes – but don't forget to remove it later in the season when soils are warm.
Once plants are going well, cut off low leaves near the ground. This is where fungal disease is often introduced, caused by water droplets bouncing up off the ground and onto foliage. And as the lower fruit are harvested, cut away neighbouring foliage to allow air in an under the plant improving fungal protection.
If you use mulch and drippers, locate drippers under mulch to minimise evaporation.
In cool, windy spots, use cheap plastic tree guards around individual plants to keep them warm.
To boost fruit flower, sprinkle a handful of sulphate of potash around plants fortnightly or so and water in. (Ian Bell says other sources of potash are granite and sugarcane mulch)
Don't get sentimental over sickly looking plants. Whip them out quick smart. They are likely diseased and could infect other plants. Likewise, destroy diseased leaves or fruit once you can see them. (Put in green bins not compost or back into the soil).
Don't remove leaves around fruit to encourage quicker ripening. It's temperature – not direct sunlight – that ripens tomatoes. Too much sunlight can cause scald.
If thrip (tiny sucked sucking insects) appear, spray a pyrethrum product, because these nasty creatures can spread wilt, a major disease.
If using plastic sheeting as mulch, use black plastic in cool spots to boost warmth in the soil and white or grey/blue to keep soil cooler over sweltering days.
Rig up a temporary netting cage over the fruiting plants to discourage foraging birds, possums and rodents.
Once picked, store tomatoes at room temperature – not in a refrigerator. They will taste better
OLD WIVES TALES
Place a banana skin under the soil in the planting hole before planting seedlings to supply a potassium hit.
Drop an aspirin in the planting whole (Its salicylic acid is said to ward off diseases).
Water occasionally with slightly warm water (many claim it aids growth).
OTHER (not from Tony’s guide)
Water into trenches around and/or between plants. Consider a drip system.
Use tomato dust at first sign of spots on leaves.
Pull out diseased and sickly plants at the first sign to avoid contamination. Don’t dig back into soil or compost. Google “Verticillium Wilt”. (DES SAYS IF YOU CUT BACK THE WILT AT THE FIRST SIGN AND SPRINKLE WITH TOMATO DUST, YOU MIGHT SAVE THE PLANT)
Netting may block bees and sunlight. Use a larger weave.
Ideally, don’t plant tomatoes in soil that has grown any of the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants etc) in the previous 3 years. (OK- unrealistic in our veggie plots). Practice crop rotation.