How to Plant and Grow Your Own Tomatoes

Want to grow your own tomatoes as seen in River Cottage Australia? Charlie Albone shares his top tips!

Home-grown tomatoes are really easy to plant and grow, they taste amazing and they go hand in hand with outdoor entertaining in the warmer months.  Tomatoes at the supermarket are bred purely for their ability to stay fresh after picking and not for their flavour, so really it makes sense to grow your own.   It can be a bit depressing when you put in all the hard work and your crop fails but you’re sure to have success if you abide by the following tips.

First you need to decide on what type and variety of tomato you are going to grow, the heirloom varieties come in an array of colours that burst onto the plate with an unrivalled juicy flavour, Beefsteak and ox heart tomatoes are great if you’re all about size and black Russians give a dark almost charcoal unusual accompaniment to any plate.  If you are a bit restricted on space you can try growing a rambling / climbing variety such as the cherry tomato on wires on a fence just make sure you pick a good spot in the garden as tomatoes need 7-8 hours of direct sunlight a day to give the best flavour and maximum number of fruit from your crops. 

This fruit needs good quality free draining organic soil so if you are growing tomatoes in a pot make sure you buy the best potting mix you can get your hands on.  If planting straight into the ground or a veggie patch enrich the soil with some well-rotted manure or compost as this will hold onto the water and nutrients longer, for the plants to take up.   Wherever the plant is to grow dig through some slow release pelletised organic fertiliser to feed the plant as it matures.

When planting its best not follow conventional methods and to plant the root ball deep in the ground.  Remove the first set of lower leaves and cover the stem with backfill as this promotes the plant to shoot out new additional roots from the stem.  More roots means increased ability to take up water and nutrients, which leads to a bigger healthier fruit.

All tomatoes like to have a drink; it makes sense as they are in the sun for most of the day.  Potted plants or those in a raised veggie patch will dry out quicker than those in the ground so a daily drink is a must. A great tip for watering tomatoes is to do so in the morning; tomatoes suffer from quite a few fungal diseases and evening watering will leave the plants moist overnight, which is a breeding ground for those pesky diseases.  Its also important to keep the water regular as infrequent watering will lead to splitting of the fruit.

Start by feeding your plants with a complete liquid fertiliser every couple of weeks to promote healthy green leafy plants.  Heavy cropping plants like tomatoes need specific food to produce their fruits so go for something high in potassium (as this is the element used to build flowers and fruits) when you see flower buds forming and apply it at the specified rate – adding more won’t necessarily make them grow quicker.  When choosing a fertiliser remember you are what you eat so go organic wherever possible.

It’s good practice to mulch your tomato plants with an organic mulch such a pea straw as helps to lock moisture into the soil, keep the weeds down and it also breaks down to feed the plants.  Apply a layer 75 mm thick.

Sadly humans aren’t the only animals that find tomatoes delicious and it’s inevitable you will encounter some pests.  A good place to start your defence is to do a bit of companion planting and plant some marigolds close to the tomatoes.  Aphids and whitefly’s find marigolds irresistible and these plants do such a good job attracting the pests they stay away from the tomatoes – as well as adding a splash of colour to the veggie patch.

Birds also find the fruit a great snack so it’s a good idea to net your plants when the fruit start to ripen, just make sure your netting is taught so bird don’t get tangled up and injure themselves.

Harvesting your tomatoes couldn’t be easier and a simple twist of the fruit will relieve it from the plant.  The more you pick the more the plant will produce and a handy tip is to pick the fruit a day or two before being completely ripe and allow them to ripen on the window sill inside.  This stops any birds or other animals from enjoying the fruit as well as ensuring the plant doesn’t go to seed, which prolongs its life span.

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