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Growing tomatoes

Beefsteak tomatoes
Beefsteak tomatoes growing on the vine

Tomatoes are usually one of the most rewarding vegetables to grow in your backyard. While tomatoes are technically a fruit, they belong in the vegie patch. These vegetables are so easy to grow and taste great.

They vary in size from the tiny and sweet cherry style tomatoes to big juicy and meaty beefsteak tomatoes weighing more than a pound. This is great for gardeners as it gives us so much choice.

Growing conditions

  • Tomatoes are usually grown in warmer months as they're badly effected by frosts. Except in our backyard we can grow tomatoes in the middle of winter. We live in sunny Queensland; beautiful one day, perfect the next. In all my years of living in Brisbane I've never seen us effected by frost. That's because Brisbane has a subtropical climate (except for the western suburbs). Even during the middle of the coldest winter it rarely ever gets below 5 degrees celsius (41 degrees farenheit). For three consecutive days in July we had maximum temps of 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees farenheit) and minimums of 17 degrees Celsius (62.6 degrees farenheit)... and that's in the middle of winter! So we can practically grow all year round. Obviously the vegetables grow a lot slower with the drop in temperature but they should still keep fruiting. Germination is the only problem so we still have to sow some seeds indoors during winter.

  • Tomatoes generally prefer a soil which has been manured the previous season (or following a green manure crop).

  • They love sunny well drained beds.

  • Tomatoes grown in the same spot each year can be badly effected by root nematodes. So it's important to rotate your tomatoes each season. They're grown in the same bed as eggplant, capsicum (bell pepper) and chillis (hot peppers).

Garden care

  • We've grown a lot of tomato varieties over the years. The best we've grown for taste, consistency and number are Beefsteak, Cherry Ripe, Yellow Pear and Broad Ripple Yellow Currant. The duds which I'd never recommend include Tiny Tim and Quickpick. Why not try your luck with some old favourites - heirloom tomatoes that go back hundreds of years.

  • Sow your seeds indoors during winter. I make sure the seed raising mix has a good dose of compost or old manure. During the day keep them on a sunny window sill and on the hot water system at night.

  • Mix some wood ashes or sulphate of potash to the soil before planting your seedlings. This encourages flowering. You'll need to stake most varieties, so hammer the stake in before transplanting. This way your tomato's roots won't get damaged.

  • Transplant the seedlings gradually into bigger containers. But keep them slightly root bound to encourage flower production.

  • Plant some basil with your tomatoes. They act as companions and make a wonderful impression on each other's growth.

  • When fertilising don't over water them with liquid manure; it encourages leaf and not flower growth.

  • Tomatoes are fussy with water. Too much water and they'll split. Not enough water and they'll split. It might take you a couple of seasons (depending on your local conditions) to perfect the right amount of water you should give them. We've generally found a 20 minute soaking around the roots once every 2-3 days works well here. Remember to avoid getting water on the leaves late in the afternoon or the tomatoes might get powdery mildew.

  • Tomatoes are very susceptible to pests and diseases. They seem to get problems at the drop of a hat. There is literally dozens of potential problems (too many to list here). One of the better sites on the web to help identify disease and pest problems is found here.

Harvest time

  • When should you pick them? Some people say when they're ripe on the vine. Others pick them at the first sign of colour, ripening them indoors. Experiment and see what you think.

  • To pick tomatoes make sure you cut the stem cleanly with scissors or a knife. This reduces the chance of damaging the fruit.


Last updated 13 December, 2008

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