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.
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).
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
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.
13 December, 2008
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