Friday, 16 November 2012

All Things Tomato!

Tomatoes are one of my favourite things to eat in a salad! I love them raw but they are such a versatile vege - you can almost eat them in every meal.

Big Beefy Tomato
My plan for tomatoes this year is to have such a wonderful crop that I'll have so many left over to preserve for the rest of the year! I have staggered the planting out a bit so I'll hopefully have an endless supply over summer too. I chose 'beefeater' and 'cherry sweet 100' as my types this year. There wasn't much thought into my selection. I love cherry tomatoes & my kids love eating them, and the beefeaters just looked really.... beefy! I've planted out 14 plants over the course of the last 6 weeks. The original plants are about a foot high now & I just put out the last seedlings yesterday.

Tomatoes can be grown pretty much anywhere... the main garden, a pot, hanging baskets even upside down! So everyone can have one no matter the size of their garden!

What I did learn was there are two types of tomatoes - indeterminate and determinate. Indeterminate tomato plants are vines. They will grow and produce fruit until the first frost appears and can grow up to 3 meters high, although around 2 meters is about the average. They require substantial staking and support. Determinate are bush tomatoes and only grow to about a meter high. They stop growing once there is fruit on the terminal shoot (the top of the plant), ripen all their fruit at the same time and then die. If you prune these, you wont get much fruit! They do better than vine tomatoes in containers.

What I did get confused about last year with my tomato plants is the pruning. When people told me to prune the laterals... I tended to prune off most of the branches! So they were quite tall & lanky. This year I've looked at many Youtube videos on how to do it & found some good diagrams which have given me a much better idea about things. The pruning is important in square foot gardening as there are more plants in one area, so I need to protect them from getting too overcrowded which would make them prone to disease.

There are some basic pruning things you need to do;

Lateral at 45 degree angle
1. Prune the Laterals. The laterals grow in between a branch & the main stem on a 45degree angle (see real picture & diagram below). To get rid of these it is better you pinch them out or break them off. This prevents disease spread which can happen using pruning shears. The basic reasoning is for the tomato plant to use its energy into producing fruit rather than branches/foliage.

Laterals diagram

2. Remove dead or diseased leaves. Some of the lower branches leaves will yellow when the plant reaches maturity, which is natural. Other times you may have a disease or bug ridden branch. To protect the rest of the vine it's important to get rid of the diseased parts of the plant.

3. Tie them Up! Tomatoes are a vine & need to be tied up at regular intervals to grow a healthy tall stem & to support the weight of the fruit.

Removing the branches 
below the first fruit Cluster diagram
4. Take a step back Take a look at the tomato plant as a whole. There should be one stem with branches coming off them. Often you will see a second lateral that's grown up from the base or branch that you've missed. You can see this in the  laterals diagram (its marked with an 'X').

5. Remove the branches from below the first fruit cluster. This makes the vine into a single stem & focuses all the nutrients and energy on the fruit. You need to wait until there are 4-5 fruiting trusses/clusters on the plant before doing this.

6. Top the vine. Towards the end of the season (about a month before the first frost) you remove the plants terminal shoot. This is because at this point, the fruit needs all the help it can get to reach maturity before the end of the season. Often people will do this because the tomato plant has hit the top of the greenhouse roof! The terminal shoot is the top part of the stem. You prune it back to the next branches (like you would a lateral, but the shoot is going straight up, not at an angle).

Pruning the terminal shoot

There are specific tomato fertilisers that you can buy & use. A high nitrogen fertiliser will get the plant off to a good start. Once it starts to fruit a fertiliser high in phosphorous & medium-high in potassium will boost your fruit along (See fertiliser blog for more information on this). I personally haven't used a specific tomato fertiliser. I've stuck with what I have which is the worm tea & I plan on giving all my vegetables a dose of Thrive liquid fertiliser this week to give them all a boost.

I also learnt that basil planted with tomatoes can enhance flavour and repel bugs! So I've planted basil in between the tomatoes and around the edges of the garden bed.

I can see that my early planted tomatoes have their first yellow flowers appearing! Wont be long before that fresh out of the garden salad will be here!

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