There is just nothing to beat tomatoes in terms of taste, variety and satisfaction. In addition to this, they feature in just about every kind of cuisine, besides being a staple in salads and sandwiches. Tomatoes are easy to grow but they need more care than most other vegetables.
Any sign of insect activity or disease affecting tomatoes needs to be dealt with immediately, otherwise the harvest is affected. Indeterminate varieties need pinching and staking and even determinate varieties can be staked if space is limited. Besides that, however, no pampering is required. This basic guide for growing tomatoes includes some specific, very helpful tips.
Unlike other vegetables, tomatoes can be grown in the same place year after year, except if last season’s plants were diseased. Tomatoes like a soil which has lime or high calcium, otherwise the fruit itself may split. It is also recommended that you add agricultural lime before planting into your beds. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and lots of compost should be dug into the soil. Raised or mounded beds improve drainage and aeration.
Site and spacing
Tomatoes grow into substantial plants and should be spaced at least 60 to 80cm apart. Rows should be about 1m apart. They do best in positions that get full morning sun and afternoon shade. They can take more sun if there is good air movement otherwise they become susceptible to red spider mite.
Plant tomatoes ‘deeply’: when transplanting out of a smaller pot or from a seed tray, position the plant in the ground so that the lowest set of leaves is at soil level and press the soil down gently – this produces a sturdy plant. Planting deeply is particularly important if you plant tomatoes in pots – if the plant is not set deep enough, the roots seem to push themselves out of the potting soil.
To avoid a glut of tomatoes, do two plantings with an eight week gap in between the first and the second. Two healthy tomato plants should meet the needs of a family of four. By planting two plants at the beginning of the season and two plants eight weeks later you should have tomatoes right up until winter. Of course, you may want to grow one or two extra plants in case something goes wrong; you can always freeze the surplus (for later use in sauces, juice, pastes or purées) if all goes well. A suggestion for sowing seeds – do not plant all the seed at the same time or you will have to harvest them all at the same time. Rather spread your planting over a couple of weeks to ensure fresh harvesting ongoing direct from the vine.
Tomatoes don’t like water on their leaves; it can lead to fungus diseases like early or late blight, so watering by flooding around the plant is best. Create a ‘dam’ around each plant and mulch deeply to retain the water. Regular, deep watering is best and when the plant starts to flower make sure that the soil remains consistently moist. Mulching is essential for retaining water and it keeps the roots cool as well.
If good compost is added to the soil before planting, then fertilising only becomes necessary when the plant starts flowering and fruiting. We would recommend feeding every 4 weeks with a fertiliser high in potassium, or 8:1:5 granular fertiliser.
Unfortunately, whitefly, aphids, American bollworm and red spider mite are all attracted to tomatoes. The most destructive is American Bollworm because the larvae burrow into the fruit, causing it to rot from inside. Their presence can be detected by the holes they make in the tomatoes. One needs to identify the pest or problem and then spray the correct insecticide for the correct pest. Visit your local garden centre for advice on what product/s to use for the type of infestation which has been identified.
Fungal disease can be prevented by watering carefully and making sure that the position in which your tomatoes grow has good air circulation. Long periods of rain do, however, create ideal conditions for fungal disease. If you want to use a fungicide then it’s a good idea to go to your local garden centre for a recommendation as to what works best in the area. At the end of the season, burn any fungus-infected plants that you are discarding – never add to a compost heap.
Pick tomatoes when they just begin to change from orange to red. The longer you leave the fruit on, the more it stresses the plant. By picking at this stage you also extend the harvest period. Let the tomatoes finish ripening at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. Don’t store them in your refrigerator because the cold temperature will cause them to lose flavour and texture.
Varieties of tomatoes
There are 4 basic varieties of tomatoes (cherry, sauce or paste, medium to large, and large to extra-large varieties):
- Cherry variety
This variety consists of huge vine types, medium bush types, dwarf bush types, and dwarf trailing types, and includes:
1. Black Cherry – Well flavoured and very productive black fruit. Vine type. Heirloom variety.
2. Yellow Pear – Prolific producer of small pear shaped, yellow fruit. Vine type. Best eaten as is, or in salads.
3. Sweetie Red – Prolific producer of small red fruit. Vine type. Best eaten as is, or in salads.
4. Tumbling Tom Red – A productive red cherry tomato. Trailing type for containers. F1.
5. Tumbling Tom Red Stripe – A productive red striped fruit. Trailing type for containers. F1.
- Sauce or Paste Variety
These consist of different shapes and sizes, but are mostly tall vine types and are mostly red. Types include:
1. Roma (Jam tomato)– Oval shaped red fruit. Vine type. Used for making preserves and sauces.
2. Thai Pink Egg – Acidic pink tomatoes used for Asian cooking. Bush type. Good in containers. Heirloom variety.
- Medium to large tomatoes
These vary in size, shape, colour and growth habit and include:
1. Golden Jubilee – An award winning medium sized Yellow/orange tomato. Very tasty. Vine type. Heirloom variety.
2. Green Zebra – produces masses of medium sized, light green, striped fruit that are very sweet. Vine type. Heirloom variety.
3. Heinz – A popular medium sized slicing tomato with red fruit. Vine type.
4. Money Maker – a popular medium sized red tomato. Good slicer. Vine type.
5. Oxheart – Large Red beefsteak type tomato. Vine type. Meaty flesh.
- Large to extra large varieties
These, like the medium to large variety, vary in size, shape, colour and growth habit and include:
1. Big Rainbow – A very large Multi-toned tomato. Good slicer. Vine type. Heirloom variety.
2. Purple Cherokee – A large beefsteak type tomato. Meaty with great flavour. Dark purple fruit. Vine type. Heirloom variety.
3. Black Krim – A great tasting, meaty tomato. Fruit very dark purple. Vine type. Heirloom variety.
4. Great White – A large yellow/white tomato. Good as a slicer and in salads. Vine type. Heirloom variety.
5. Pineapple – A large, multi-coloured tomato. Meaty flesh with good flavour. Vine type. Heirloom variety.
Roasted tomato and zucchini soup
Try this fresh, zesty soup with delicious herb and onion bread today! Perfect for those in-between weather, rainy spring days.
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
5-6 zucchini, roughly sliced
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 onion, chopped
½ cup herbs (basil and origanum was used for this recipe)
2 tablespoons vegetable stock powder
Cut the tomatoes in half and place on a baking tray, cut side up. Sprinkle with olive oil and season with salt, pepper and sugar.
Place in an oven at 150°C for 1 hour. Place all the other ingredients in a pan with 2 cups of water and simmer for ½ hour. Blend and set aside. Squeeze the juice out of the tomatoes using a potato press or a sieve, and add the juice to the other blended vegetables.
Check seasoning and serve hot with herb bread.
Herb and onion bread
1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup Nuttywheat
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup grated cheese (use a strong cheese like Gruyere)
½ cup herbs – thyme, basil, origanum, and parsley were used for this recipe
½ cup plain yoghurt
½ cup warm water
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper
Place the chopped onion in a pan with a tablespoon of butter and sauté until the onion is soft. In one bowl add the dry ingredients: flours, grated cheese (save some for the top), baking powder, salt and pepper. In another bowl add the wet ingredients: yoghurt, eggs, herbs (de-stalked and chopped), warm water and cooked onion. Mix the two together until all the ingredients are well mixed, but do not over mix. Place in a greased loaf tin and bake for 50 minutes at 180°C. Serve hot with lashings of butter.