Tomatoes are a top vegetable for getting kids into gardening thanks to their delicious, mouth-watering rewards - especially smaller cherry varieties which never normally make it from the vine to the table in our house thanks to our team of hungry young poachers.
Tomatoes are one of the most important vegetables in the Western diet thanks to the quantity of vitamins they supply - particularly vitamins A and C. Tomatoes also contain Lycopene, a potent anti-oxidant, high intakes of which are linked with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. Lycopene is also said to help protect the skin from UV light damage which, as we anticipate the savage rays of New Zealand spring sunshine, make this a good time to get some in.
Companions marigold, basil, parsley, onion, garlic, shallot, carrot, lettuce.
Quantity 1 plant per person.
Roma yeilds Italian plum shaped fruit that are great for making sauces and for drying.
Baxters Early Bush Cherry compact plants that need minimal staking, very good in containers and early to bear fruit.
Beefsteak Select an old-fashioned tomato with large fruit that can easily top 250g, sweet, acidic and good to slice.
Gardeners Delight fast growing and heavy cropping with small to medium sized juicy red fruits.
Tommy Toe heavy crop of small, red plum sized fruits, said to be blight resistant
Late October in warmer areas and December in cooler areas after frosts have passed.
Assuming the weather conditions are on your side choose a site that gets plenty of sun and has adequate air movement to prevent dampness that can cause fungal attack. If these conditions are to be found in your vegetable garden then all well and good but make sure that tomatoes have not been grown in the same location in recent years to avoid increased risk of diseases such as blight
Tomatoes are 'gross feeders' which means they are like hungry teenagers most of the time. They need a soil that drains freely and does not hold onto moisture for more than about a day and has been well dug through with rich rotted compost.
Sow your seeds as deep as they are wide in a loose, free-draining compost, spread out in a seed tray or in punnets. Once seeds have germinated (usually within 10 days), water carefully for about a fortnight until they have formed two true leaves (the cut-edged tomato-looking leaves that will appear after the initial seedling leaves have developed). The seedlings are now ready to be transplanted into separate small pots around the height of a mug and grown on until they have reached the same height as the pot they are in. They should hen be large enough to go into the garden. This will normally take about four or five weeks in total if all goes well.
You can sow your own plants indoors or in a greenhouse and should allow 4 to 5 weeks before they are ready for planting outside. Choose varieties based on suitability to your local area and conditions - qualities such as tolerance of humidity or tolerance of lower temperatures can be important factors. Look on the back of seed packets for details or ask the folks you are buying them from. There are great varieties to try - from huge 'Beefsteak' to diminutive 'Sweetie' all of them lip-smackingly good.
Traditionally tomato seedlings are planted from Labour day onwards and whilst this can be brought forward in warmer areas - or where a greenhouse is handy - care should be taken in colder areas to ensure all risk of frosts has passed before planting outdoors. Seedlings should be spaced about a full arm's length apart and can be planted deeply so that soil is pushed up against their stems - but not over the leaves. Push in a sturdy bamboo cane - about 6 feet high - just behind each seedling for support.
Tomatoes can be grown in pots which means you can position them where your garden will offer them the best growing conditions. You can also grow them in bags of compost that are enriched with a slow-release fertiliser. Make about 10 holes with a medium-sized screwdriver in the under side of the bag for drainage and lay it flat, next cut a square - about a hand's length by a hand's length - from the middle of the upwards facing side through which you can plant your seedling (best to do one or two seedlings per bag depending on size). Small cherry tomato varieties can even be grown in hanging baskets which harks back to their early days as ornamental oddities.
As your tomato plants grow, tie them carefully onto bamboo canes to support their stems. Old stockings are traditionally used to do this but you can get foam-covered wire and elasticated cord from garden centres that is designed to do the job. Even better to use dried cabbage tree leaves if you can get a hold of some - totally organic and biodegradable. These important ties should be supportive but not so tight that they squeeze and damage the stems. Tie round the cane first and then round the tomato stem away from leaf joints. You can buy spiral metal poles which the plant stems just slot into as they grow - this does away with having to tie-in.
Plants will head upwards and produce leaves straight off the main stem. In the upwards-facing 'armpit' of these leaves that marks their junction with the main stem you will see lateral shoots developing. These should be pinched out whenever they appear (preferably on a dry day to ensure a quick seal of the damaged tissue). The flower heads appear straight from the main stem. Usually the top of the plant is pinched out after four or five flower heads or 'trusses' have been produced to focus the plant's energies on producing and ripening fruit.
Good ventilation, removal of any damaged foliage (on a dry day) and regular and even watering are all important factors in producing a good haul of healthy fruits on plants that are best able to resist pests and diseases. For this reason leaves are stripped from the lower part of the stem beneath the first truss to develop.
As plants become laden with fruit there can be a rush to get fruits ripe before plants and fruits succumb to a range of assaults. On a dry day remove excess foliage that is shading trusses of fruit so that they are exposed to more sun. Do this carefully and confidently - push leaves sideways at their base and they should snap away from the stem. These surplus leaves can be used to make a Tomato leaf spray for use on aphids attacking other plants. Green and black Shield bugs may turn up in numbers and start eating holes in fruits. These can be removed by hand and disposed of in the cool of the morning before they become too agile.
All cause leaf damage and can spread fungal diseases such as blight. Treat any visible infestations with Neem oil, Garlic oil spray or Tomato leaf spray.
This is a serious problem for tomato plants and rapidly destroys plants and fruit. Fungal spores are carried through the air and are particularly prevalent during warm and humid weather - common towards the end of summer when tomatoes are ripening. Plants at most risk are those where foliage has not been controlled by pinching out laterals during the time leading up to fruiting - this reduces air flow around plants and creates ideal conditions for blight to take hold. If you notice brown, freckle-like patches appearing on leaves with a whitish or yellow halo around them and dark brown patches on stems then your plants have blight. There is not much that can be done once an infection is spotted - apart from a swift harvest of unaffected produce, removal of whole plants and sanitary disposal of all foliage in household rubbish. If you add infected foliage to your compost heap you will spread infectious spores through your compost. It may be that long-awaited bottles of home made tomato sauce have to be replaced by jars of green tomato chutney instead. Avoid planting potatoes or tomatoes in the affected area for at least couple of years.
Twist the red, ripe fruit so that they come away from the stems easily without tearing or dislodging other ripening fruit. On a warm sunny day there is nothing better than a sweet, succulent tomato straight from the plant. At the close of the season, when foliage starts to curl and shrink, if there are still fruit on the plants then they can be cut at the base and hung upside down under cover to ensure all remaining fruit finish ripening.