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Written by Wally Richards.
Tomatoes are the second most popular plant for gardeners to grow after Roses.
SECRETS TO GROWING TOMATOES
I wrote that in my first book called Wallys Down to Earth Gardening Guide first published 2006.
Some exserts from that chapter: The key to very successful tomato growing is to give them full sun, good protection from wind, UV and chills, they do best with even warm temperatures, ample moisture and the right foods.
These conditions are best found in a glasshouse in the early and late time of a season. Or outside in the garden, during a warm to hot summer.
Heat traps, where, because of walls and fences, facing north and protected from chilling winds, are the ideal spots to grow tomatoes in the early and late season times outdoors.
Dark brick or concrete type walls or fences absorb heat during the day and release this heat at night till they cool. Iron fences also do this but cool down faster.
I prefer to grow my early tomato plants in pots in the glasshouse. Starting off with small pots and gradually repotting into larger. The largest size that I use is a 45 litre container which is ample for producing a good sized plant, with a good crop.
A point to note is that with the large fruiting Beefsteak type tomatoes, you will always get the biggest fruit off Beefsteaks, if grown in open soil rather than in pots.
(Now days I prefer to grow in Wallys Hydro Flow Growing System)
The best producing pot grown tomatoes for good sized fruit are the dwarf types (Determinate) such as Scoresby Dwarf, Enterprise, Roma and Romadore F1 Hybrid. Russian Red is also very good in a pot.
No staking is needed as with tall growing Indeterminate types but some support maybe needed for heavy fruit.
For early season production or for winter growing you need a tomato type that will set fruit in cooler temperatures. Many tomato types will flower in cool conditions but will not produce pollen to set the fruit.
You need to obtain a variety that will set in lower temperatures or else you are wasting your time.
The smaller cherry type or bite size tomatoes, are the fastest to grow and ripen. These do well in a container but need staking because of their height. Nice for using the fruit whole in salads etc but I prefer the bigger fruit producing plants.
When transplanting seedlings always plant them deeper up to about the first leaves of the plant. The reason for this is that the plant will produce roots right up the trunk making for a much bigger root system and hence better results.
Tomatoes and potatoes both have this aspect (same family)
Perkfection gives great internal protection against blights and botrytis. Magic Botanic Liquid (MBL) and Mycorrcin provide minerals and food for beneficial bacteria as well as the plant.
It is a good practise to keep a monthly spray program of the three products going till the plant is finishing for the season.
One aspect that has always amused me is that when a tomato plant gets to the stage where it has its first ripe fruit and with a number of green fruit on it, people often stop feeding the plant.
This is silly as I have seen tomato plants growing in hydroponics (where they are fed constantly) months old, grown to near the roof of the glasshouse, then along the wires, some reaching lengths of 12 to 20 feet.
The last few feet having green and ripe tomatoes, where the rest of the plant is void of fruit and most leaves.
If you maintain a good constant source of food you are likely to get several more weeks of cropping.
As soon as the plant starts to show signs of going backwards and not producing more new healthy growth then stop feeding. (Use Wallys Secret Tomato food with Neem Granules)
When a tomato grows, it produces laterals or side shoots. When these are left on the plant they become branches which will produce flower trusses and more side shoots.
You can control the way the plant grows by removing some or all the laterals.
In the case of dwarf tomatoes, which are low growing and naturally bushy, you leave all the laterals on.
On tall growing types, (Indeterminate) if you leave all or most of the laterals on you need a number of support stakes.
I sometimes do this and have one strong centre stake and then place a roll of strong open netting around the plant about 3 foot in diameter.
The laterals grow out through the netting giving a reasonable amount of support. Some extra stakes maybe needed when the fruit becomes heavy.
A lot of energy is used by the plant in producing both foliage growth and fruiting growth.
This results on the larger beefsteak tomatoes are smaller fruit when compared to the plant that has its laterals removed, leaving only a few fruiting trusses.
The energy then is directed into the fruit rather than the foliage. You choose what way to go or have a combination of both methods.
There is a great danger of disease entering the plant when you remove laterals. This is often botrytis which causes a collar rot somewhere on the main trunk of the plant.
When the disease starts the rot on the trunk, you will notice that the top foliage goes droopy during the day to recover later in the day.
Then you notice that the tops do not recover and progressively the plant wilts till its dead.
A darker area on the trunk will be seen where the rot is happening, blocking the flow of moisture and nutrients from the roots.
The little bumps of aerial roots will often appear just above the rot area.
If there is foliage below the rot part, with laterals, then the top can be cut off and the good part allowed to grow.
If you don't remove any laterals you will likely avoid this disease unless the plant is damaged by rubbing on a stake or similar.
To help prevent the problem you should only remove laterals when they are very small. (Which means checking every day or two) Only remove on warm days when there is low humidity.
Spray immediately the area where the lateral is removed with Wally’s Liquid Copper.
(You can make up a solution in a 250ml trigger spray bottle and it will keep well for sometime, just shake before spraying)
Removing older leaves can also allow the disease to enter the plant. Only do in low humidity conditions and spray to protect.
Humidity levels will often be much higher in a glasshouse and so special care must be taken by opening up the house, to remove the air moisture, before taking off laterals and lower leaves
The removal of the older bottom leaves can be an advantage as insect pests are attacking the early leaves as the plant is growing so later on removing these leaves may mean you are removing lots of baby insects feeding on the plants. Destory these leaves..
Tomato plants tend to come fairly true from seed, even hybrid and special types, some which can be fairly expensive to buy in either seed form or plant form.
The logics of this is if you have a tomato that you really like whether you brought the tomato in a produce shop or grown the plant yourself, you should keep a few seeds for next season.
Just scoop a few seeds out of the tomato and place on a paper towel. Allow the seeds and pulp to dry and then store in a sealed glass jar in the fridge, with the information to identify them.
I have kept tomato seeds this way for over 20 years and found that they still have over a 20% germination rate.
Tomato seeds kept off a Supertom type tomato will not be Supertoms unless they are grafted.
Another way of obtaining extra tomato plants is to take laterals that are about 2-3 inches long and strike them as cuttings. On some of the expensive special tomato plants (not grafted) this is a way to have a number of plants for the price of the first one.
Seeds gathered from the crop can then be saved so you don't have to buy again next season.
If you don't remove laterals off tomato plants and let them run wild you will get a monster plant with untold fruit. (smaller fruit than normal for that variety).
Branches become very heavy and if you allow some of these to lay on the soil they will root up. You can assist this by covering with more soil. The new roots will help a monster plant produce better.
If you have problems with the psyllid insects affecting your ability to grow tomatoes then use Wallys Cell Strengthing Kit.
This comprises of a soil drench used only twice when starting off followed by the important 2 weekly sprays.
What it does is makes the cells of the foliage so tough that the baby psyllids cant feed after they hatch out so you break the cycle. Works a treat.
Now here is an interesting thing my gardening friend in Gore who grows using Wallys Hydro Flow system told me last season he grew some sweet corn which he had never done before and had no idea how they should be grown.
Having a punnet of 10 plants he divided them between two 15 litre pots (5 in each) Now any one would know that you just do not plant 5 corn plants so close together in the garden and in particular in a 15cm pot and expect much at harvest time.
He told me he looked up on U-Tube to find out about them and learnt that they had to have the silks pollinated from above to set the cobs.
So every few days once the silks were out he vigoursly shook the plants.
I said ok but you would not get much in the harvest? He said heaps of cobs on every plant average 4 per plant! That is very impressive and the plants grew over 2 metres tall.
The reason is that being in the Hydro Flow solution the corn, which is a gross feeder had all the food and moisture they needed and exceeded by far any grown in any other way. I am going to do that this season in the Hyrdo flow system. Amazing stuff.
Tomatoes are the second most popular plant for gardeners to grow after Roses.