Tomatoes are ideal container plants, offer a choice of over 1000 varieties and define a change of seasons. After all, what is summer without a good old tom?
If you plan to grow tomatoes from seed, sprout them in pots indoors so you can regulate watering. Once seedlings are 15-20cm tall, they can be planted out in compost-enriched soil, provided night temperatures are above 12°C. Seedlings respond well to a fortnightly liquid feed such as seaweed solution.
- Place a cardboard cup with the bottom cut out around the seedling to minimise pests.
- Cut out the bottoms from plastic drink bottles and stick the necks down into the soil, then keep filled with water. Regular watering prevents rot and tomato skins from toughening.
- Once the soil has warmed, place a layer of straw or wood chips over the soil but not touching the plant stem. This mulching prevents soil drying out from evaporation.
- Plant French marigolds and basil around tomato plants. The marigolds deter pests, while basil is essential for a tomato and mozzarella salad!
- Crumble eggshells around the stems to promote calcium-enriched soil and to avoid possible blossom-end rot.
- Inspect your plants regularly for pests such as caterpillars, whitefly and aphids. Remove these by hand or use pyrethrum spray (organic insecticide). Always spray late evening to avoid killing bees.
- Plant out seedlings slightly lower in the soil. This encourages secondary root growth from the stem, giving a hardier plant.
- Give your plants plenty of breathing space – good air flow around the base of the plants is essential.
Tomatoes need staking with garden canes so put these in when planting out the seedlings. This way you’re less likely to damage the roots. Remember to continually tie up the plant as it grows.
As flowers appear at the height of summer, keep feeding the plant and nip outside stems (laterals) growing out from where leaf stalks join the main stem. This concentrates growth towards producing plump red fruit rather than a tangle of greenery.