Reproduced below is my fourth entry in the Yates spring veggie growing challenge.
It wouldn’t be a summer garden without one of my favourite summer vegetables, the tomato. If you haven’t already done so, it’s still not too late to start sowing tomatoes from seed. It takes about eight weeks until they’re ready to be transplanted into the garden, so you’d probably be looking at doing so after the first week of November. Don’t panic if this sounds late, because it isn’t. Don’t forget that the general rule of thumb is to plant heat-loving veggies such as tomatoes, chillies, capsicums, eggplants and zucchini no earlier than Labour Weekend, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t plant these (and other) summer veggies for some time after that, even into early December. In fact, I like to stagger my plantings to ensure that everything doesn’t mature at once and we have a continuous supply of veggies over the summer. I also try to avoid planting everything out over Labour weekend as temperatures can still be quite temperamental, especially at night. There is often a huge difference between day and night time temperatures and fluctuation can stress sensitive heat-loving plants. As a consequence, they either die or their growth is stunted, so they end up producing poorly.
Some of you may decide not to start tomatoes from seed, preferring to purchase seedlings or plants from the garden centre from now onwards. It’s up to you. When I first started gardening, I always used to buy seedlings and plants. Nowadays, I normally raise my tomatoes from seed, but this year, I ended up purchasing some seedlings from Kings Plant Barn. They were just 99 cents per punnet, which I thought was very good value. So, in addition to the seedlings which have just come off my heat pad and the slightly larger ones which are in the greenhouse which I started back in August, I also have the following varieties in 10 cm pots – Roma, Beefsteak, Moneymaker, Potentate (a truss-style tomato, which is an old favourite) and Grosse Lisse. In addition, I also have around a dozen much larger Sweet 100 cherry tomato plants, 8 of which were so tall that they had to be repotted into larger circular pots last weekend by the wwoofers who have been staying with us. I’m happy that I purchased plants as well as raising some from seed for two reasons. Firstly, the plants from the garden centre will give me a head start on the season, as they’re much larger than my own seedlings. Secondly, the seedlings which I raised from seed will ensure that I have an interesting range of tomatoes in the garden this year, as the varieties found in garden centres tend to be very run of the mill. There’s nothing wrong with tried and true varieties, but it’s always nice to grow something a bit different every season and sometimes the best (or indeed only) way to do that is to sow from seed.
As you may recall from an earlier post, I tried to get a head start on my own seedlings by sowing some tomato seeds in April and May. Unfortunately, these plants didn’t survive the winter as it can get quite cold in the greenhouse, which isn’t heated artificially unlike commercial greenhouses. The one exception to this is my Black Krim tomato seedlings from Yates seeds, which are incredibly healthy and are in 10cm pots. My closest gardening friend Minette Tonoli, who I consider an expert in all things related to plants, has an explanation. According to Minette, Black Krim is a much more robust variety, given its origins in Crimea, where even the summers can be quite cool by comparison with other parts of the world. In any event, I’m pleased that these seedlings are performing well as this variety is particularly delicious. We had a Black Krim tomato plant in our garden last year, which came from a packet of mixed tomato seeds “Heirloom Favourites”, also from Yates. Since the other varieties that I sowed in April and May didn’t survive, I sowed quite a few different varieties on my heat pad in August. From the Yates seed collection, I sowed Mortgage Lifter, Moneymaker and Beefsteak. I sowed a cherry tomato called Rapunzel from Egmont Seeds, which performed very well in the garden last year. I also sowed the lovely truss tomato Principe Borghese from Franchi seeds, which also did very well last summer. Minette gave me quite a few different varieties which she saved from her garden last summer, so I sowed those seeds as well. Minette’s seeds included “Banana Legs”, “Berkeley tie die pink tomato”, “Blueberries”, “Green Grape”, “Orange Bourgoin”and “Indigo Fireball”. It will be interesting to see how these more exotic varieties perform alongside my more tried and true tomatoes.
Last summer, we grew tomatoes very successfully in hanging baskets. I therefore sowed “Tumbling Tom Red” and “Tumbling Tom Yellow”, both from Egmont seeds. I managed to purchase these very varieties as plants from Bunnings last year, which were marked down to just $1 each. I was very impressed with how productive the plants were. During winter, the Warehouse had 41 cm hanging baskets on clearance for just $7 each, so I bought eight baskets, to add to our existing five baskets. I hope that these seedlings survive so I can plant them in all of the baskets.
Last season, we also discovered how delicious yellow tomatoes could be. I had purchased a single Yellow Plum potted tomato from Palmers, which I planted ahead of my own seedlings as they were too small to plant out by Labour Weekend. The plant matured in early January and was incredibly productive. We really enjoyed them. This year, I purchased a packet of Yellow Plum tomato seeds from King Seeds, as well as the variety Yellow Pear from Egmont. I’m also growing Jaune Flamme from Kings Seeds. I also decided to give Patio Choice Yellow a try, which is new to the King Seeds collection. I’ll probably grow this variety in some large pots.
While I’m on the subject of seeds, I’d like to make a little note that I always source seeds within NZ (although some of them may of course be imported from other countries). That way, I know that seed suppliers have already taken the appropriate measures with regard to MAP. I can be confident that they won’t damage the environment in any way by introducing pests and diseases to the country. While it does limit the range of what I can grow by comparison with what’s available in other countries, this is very important to me. The process of importing seed properly is difficult and expensive from what I understand, so for me, it’s best left to the experts. There is still so much more available within NZ than I could ever possibly hope to grow and fit into our garden! I’ve noticed that some varieties are no longer being imported into NZ, such as Principe Borghese. Going forwards, I’m going to try and make more of an effort to save tomato seeds like my gardening friend Minette, so I can ensure the continuation of these varieties in my garden and so I have seed to share with gardening friends like Minette. I’ve never saved seeds from tomato plants before, so it gives me a new challenge for the garden this summer.
Finally, I’d like to finish with a few tomato growing tips. Tomatoes need lots of sunshine in order to ripen, so make sure you plant them in your sunniest spot in the garden! Try to avoid planting tomatoes in the same area that potatoes have grown, as they belong to the same plant family and it might encourage diseases and pests. I’ve read that it’s not a good idea to plant tomatoes where they have grown before, but it’s something that I can’t avoid doing and I think is okay in my own garden as we plant lots of winter veggies in the area in between summers. At the time of planting seedlings, get plants off to a strong start by adding a little tomato fertiliser, such as Yates Gro-Plus tomato food. After planting, liquid feed tomatoes weekly with Yates Thrive Tomato Liquid Plant Food. As mentioned in my second post, it’s a good idea to stake tomatoes for support, as the weight of fruit can place a burden on the plant. I like to stake tomatoes at the time of planting, to avoid damaging the roots later on. You might want to place a label next to the plant so you are able to distinguish between the different varieties you have planted in the garden. Something you may want to do to encourage the growth of fruit rather than foliage is to remove the laterals as your plants grow. Laterals are the small shoots which appear between the main stem and side branches off the plant. This way, the plant can put all its energy into the existing fruit which has developed off the side branches. I also like removing the lower leaves on the plant, as they often become a bit diseased and I don’t want it spreading to the rest of the plant. This was advice originally given to me by our neighbour, whose tomatoes always look fantastic. Remember to water your plants regularly and deeply, but try to avoid wetting the foliage (leaves) because it can lead to blight. This brings me to my last point.
Unfortunately, I can’t offer much advice with regard to pests and diseases affecting tomato plants, as we’ve fortunately not had any issues in the past (touch wood for this year!). However, I do know that blight and the tomato potato psyllid (TPP) have been problems faced by other gardeners in the country. It’s probably best to talk to someone at your local garden centre if you do experience any problems. Alternatively, you can do what I do and contact someone via the Yates website, who will happily answer your question! Possible Yates products which might help with pest and disease control for tomatoes include Tomato Dust (which I’ve often eyed curiously at Bunnings) and Success. I do have some Yates Success spray in the garage, which I won in a competition run by the NZ Gardener magazine a few years ago, but have never needed to use it. If you’re trying to grow organically, as we are, you might want to consider the Yates spray Natures Way Fungus Spray, which I’ve used safely on our passionfruit vine and celery seedlings in previous seasons, as mentioned in a previous post.
The photo accompanying this post is of our large Sweet 100 cherry tomato plants in the greenhouse, which were originally purchased as small seedlings in a punnet from Kings Plant Barn. They have grown so much over the past fortnight. I wonder if they will need to be repotted again before Labour Weekend!