The different stages of a tomato plant
There are approximately 25,000 varieties and several colours of tomatoes and most of them are easy to grow.
Listed below are a few of the main ones.
Cherry Tomatoes are easy to grow, ripen early, and are a perfect snack.
Grape tomatoes are egg shaped, small, sweet and tasty and are very popular in salads these days.
Main Crop tomatoes are the common varieties of tomato found in most home gardens. They mature early, have fruit that is big, round and fleshy.
Plum or Roma are small tomatoes, cylindrical in shape with a pointed bottom. Mainly used to make pastes and for canning.
Beefsteak tomatoes are a very large and if cut into slices one slice will cover a slice of bread. This tomato is very tasty and takes long to mature.
Long Keepers are just that, they last a long time if kept in a cool dark place. They are yellowish orange in color.
There are two distinct types of tomatoes.
Determinate tomatoes are compact and bushy with vines growing to a point where once reached they will stop growing. These tomatoes are good in confined spaces and in containers.
Indeterminate tomatoes continue to grow and their vines will eventually need support. These tomatoes take longer to produce fruit.
Selecting your tomato plants
Before selecting your tomato plants or seeds decide where in your garden you want to plant them and depending on the space you have available choose one of the above types.
For seeds select the variety you want to grow.
If you are puchasing tomato seedlings (which will save you two months of work) ensure that you pick out healthy plants with no yellowing or speckling on the leaves .
Planting your tomatoes
If you are growing your plants from seed, plant them in a container at least six to eight weeks before the last frost of the season is expected. For the seeds to germinate you will need a temperature of around around 65 degrees Fahrenheit or 18 degrees centigrade.
Once the tomato plants have germinated thin them out until you can ensure a number of healthy plants that will be strong enough to make it outside when the time comes to transplant them.
Once your seedlings are up and the weather outside has warmed up to a constant 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees celsius) at night the seedlings are ready to be planted outside.
Before planting your seedlings in the ground it is necessary to acclimatise them and this you do by placing the seedling trays outside for a full day and night before planting them in the ground.
Select the area where you intend to plant your seedlings remembering that tomatoes like full sun. Check the PH of the soil which should be between 6.0 and 7.0.
Add fertiliser and lots of compost to the soil as tomatoes love soil that is rich in organic matter.
Depending on the variety of tomato you are planting plants should be spaced about 30 to 45 centimetres from each other.
Now dig a hole for each plant around about 20 cm wide. Place the plant in the hole and fill in around it with soil mixed with compost and fertiliser. Place the plant deep into the hole as this encourages root growth, Do not cover all the leaves, you need about four of them to stick out of the ground. Firm the ground around the roots and place a paper collar around your seedling to protect it from cutworms.
As the plant grows it will be necessary to stake it or place a cage over the plant. Secure the vines to the stake or cage with soft string and ensure that the string is loose enough to allow the plant to grow, If not loosen the string.
To ensure that your tomatoes grow strong fertilize them on a regular basis with early applications of fertiliser that are high in nitrogen. Once the plants start to flower change to fertilizers which are higher in phosphorus and potassium as too much nitrogen fertilizer causes the plants to have lots of lush green leaves and not much fruit. Ask at your nursery for fertilisers especially prepared for tomatoes.
Regular deep watering of your tomato plants is preferable as you want the moisture to go deep to all the roots of the plant. Try not to water the leaves and aim for the roots of your plants.
Watering the leaves makes the plants susceptible to diseases.
Diseases that affect tomato plants.
Blights and fungus infections often occur in high humidity and can be treated with fungicides.
If your plants are planted too closely together air circulation is impeded and this can promote disease.
A disease called Blossom end rot can also affect the tomato fruit. It shows up as a round, brown, indented spot on the bottom of the tomato and is caused by uneven watering or a lack of calcium in the soil.
The trick to avoid diseases in humid areas is not to water your tomatoes at night and if doing so to aim at the roots and not the foliage.
Tomatoes likes and dislikes
To germinate seeds need a temperature of around 18 degrees centigrade or 65 degrees Fahrenheit
To live outside at night the night time temperature should not drop below 10 degrees centigrade or 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
If frost is suspected overnight cover your plants as frost will kill them.
If you have forgotten to cover them and they have been caught in the frost water the leaves early in the day before the sun gets to them to wash off the ice. They might survive then.
Tomatoes like hot sunny spots with with soil rich in organic materials.
Tomatoes like regular watering aimed at their roots.
Looking after your tomatoes after picking them.
Keep in a cool, dry location.
Do not store them in a refrigerator as although they will last longer they will lose their flavor and texture.
Store out of the way of direct sunlight.
If you pick your tomatoes while the are still green or orange wash them thoroughly in a light solution of water and bleach. ( 10 litres of water to a tablespoon of bleach) This will ensure that any bacteria on the fruit will be killed and will lengthen the shelf life of your tomatoes.
Before storing them in a cool dark dry place allow the tomatoes to dry.
An easy way to ripen a few tomatoes at a time is to bring them indoors and place them on a nice sunny window sill.
I hope the above will help you in your efforts to grow good healthy tomatoes.