Roots 'n' Shoots: Tomato: How To Grow - Fruit of the Month

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Thursday, 29 December 2011

Tomato: How To Grow - Fruit of the Month

Tomato stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:
2/5       - Weekly check up
Water:
5/5       - A lot (daily to twice daily especially, during fruit set)
Sun:
5/5       - Full sun, no shade (fruit ripening)
Training:
5/5       – Full stake training to fruit properly
Fertilise/Feeding:
3/5       – Monthly (growing) to Fornightly (fruiting)
Time to Harvest:
2-5/5    – Moderate (2-3 months after fruiting, given training)
Frost Hardiness:
1/4       – Very Tender (can’t take light frost)


Uses
Culinary, Pollinator attractor
Most Problematic Nemesis:
Whitefly
Container Plant:
Preferable


Tomato species
Lycopersicon
Quick intro

Tomatoes are the most well-known and widely used culinary fruit (a botanical fruit, used as a culinary vegetable). They are fairly easy to grow, maintain and carry a good amount of fruit. The largest problem with the tomato is its thirsty habit and those diabolical whiteflies love it.


History

Tomato has it origin in South America and is considered to be domesticated, from once poisonous varieties, in Mexico. It was spread into Europe by Spanish traders during the 1600. It became popular in America towards the late 1800, introduced through Europe. No other fruit, except perhaps for the Cucurbits, contains such a variety of cultivars with every shape, taste and colour imaginable. This has been established through selective breeding by farmers, gardeners and researcher alike – we constantly have new varieties popping up, not only beneficial for us to sample, but increases the overall genetic diversity of the tomato genus (yes! GMOs especially, increase biodiversity).


Science Stuff

The tomato belongs to the Solanaceae Family, which includes potato, eggplant, peppers and nightshade! The standard tomato, Lycopersicon esculentum, is thought to have evolved from the cherry tomato, Lycopersicon esculentum var. cerasiforme, through selective breeding for size and taste.

Tomatoes contain Tomatine, which is a non-toxic alkaloid, exceptional for the Solanaceae Family. Tomatine content reduces as the tomato ripens and becomes sweeter, as alkaloids are usually bitter-tasting.

Green Tomato with Tomatine


Growing Tomatoes

Tomatoes can be easily raised from seeds or seedlings can be purchased. Sow tomato seeds outdoors as soon as the last frost is gone (usually August for SA), if the seeds fail to germinate it is an indication that the soil isn’t warm enough yet. Thus, trick you seeds into germinating by sowing into pots indoors and letting them become established on a warm, sunny windowsill. The seedling can be planted out as soon as the first set of ‘true leaves’ appear. For all my plants I make a 1-2cm hole in the ground, place the seed in and sprinkle with fine soil to fill the hole – this prevents seedling from being washed out and increases seed germination for my plants.

Tomato Seedling

Tomatoes are indeterminate (grow until the onset of frost or last fruit set) or determinate (grow to a fixed height). I would recommend training both varieties.

The number of tomatoes you grow depends (1) on the garden space and (2) how much you eat, but as a guide I plant two tomatoes of a variety (such as, two standard sized and one/two cherries). These are planted one in a pot so that you have maximum control over their growth, feeding and watering. Before sowing in a pot, dig a 20cm hole, add some kitchen waste and sprinkle a little granulated fertiliser. This allows the seedling to grow and access the nutrients without burning, check out Composting. After sowing add a stake near the sowing spot for plant support. Plant one seed every month for succession harvesting of tomatoes, given training!

Tomatoes like a lot of sun, mine grow in the full African sun, where they receive 6-8 hours of full sunlight. The warmth and sunlight is also important for fruit set and ripening.


Training

Training is very important for tomatoes! This means plant support with stakes, lots of them! I let the tomato grow 3 main branches, originating as close to the ground as possible (for extra support). The main branches then split into 2-3 shorter branches close to the full height of the plant. Then, each main branch is allowed to carry 5-7 tomatoes (standard size tomatoes) or 4-6 trusses (cherry tomato, 7-10 fruit per truss). This gives you 15-20 tomatoes per standard and 40-60 per cherry. (Times two, for two plants, are more than enough tomatoes! J).

Here are some illustrations:
These are a rough and simplified guide, just to get you started on training the plant. Training and a little pruning is essential to early ripening for tomatoes after one month of fruit set. Untrained plants grow erratic; produce too many tomatoes that do not ripen and the few that do ripen only do so in 3-4 months after fruit set!! (That is February for SA). Training, along with succession planting and replacing already harvested plants, allows a continuous supply of tomatoes. Other plants can also be trained in this manner, such as eggplants and peppers. (When tying the plants to the stakes, leave 1-2cm of space between the plant stem and the stake – it still secures the plant without damaging it.)



Other Tomato Tips

Tomatoes can be wind pollinated, but insect pollination is best – so make sure to have some bees around for this (plant some basil J). When the flower has been pollinated and is dying, be sure to remove all the petals (yellow coloured leaves) and style (the long appendage attached to the developing fruit). This ensures proper fruit development as I have noticed that sometimes these structures do not detach and then ‘pull’ over the developing fruit, scarring the fruit. Do not tug on the dead flower, if it does not come off easily, leave it for one/two more days – else you rip out the developing fruit J.


Tomato Flower



Make sure that the containers you grow them in always have water in the saucer.

I feed the tomatoes Starke Ayres Nutrifeed (monthly and fortnightly) and the Cultura 2:3:2 granulated fertiliser (sprinkled every month), see Composting.


Tomato Problems

The biggest problem is the regular visit from whiteflies, which left unchecked become a large cloud of white when disturbed. Use my environmentally friendly whitefly recipe for Pest Control.

Another problem, which I mainly have with the Brandywine, is that the fruit cracks whilst ripening. This is due to the heat and does not affect the tomato.

Cracked Tomato



If birds peck at your ripe tomatoes, put a little gnome or human-like figurine in plain sight. This should scare them off! Else try windmills or shiny objects, described in my Pest Control page.


Mr. Garden Gnome on the watch! Atop the tomato stake.


Harvesting & Storing

Tomatoes are ready to harvest once they are full coloured and slightly soft when poked. They can be left on the vine until ready to eat or pick them when ripe and place them on a counter at room temperature (they’ll keep for about 3-5 days). For fridge storage, put them in a bag or sealable container with a few drops of water to prevent them from shrivelling in the dry fridge.


Seed Saving

If you would like to save the seeds of your tomatoes – simply leave one/two small tomatoes to die with the plant, after the plant has died remove the tomato and leave to rot. Wash and collect seeds afterwards. The seeds require the fermentation process to become robust and viable. Dry the seeds on a towel in a dry area for 2 days and store in glass jars/containers with a label, photo and a description of the tomato.


My Tomatoes

I have Starke Ayres tomato seeds:

Money Maker: A red standard. This is a very good producer and is somewhat heat resistant.
Gold Nugget: A yellow cherry. Loves the African sun J - not so heavy on water.

And imported seeds from ebay:

Brandywine: I have a rainbow seed packet. This season produced a ‘golden’ tomato, sweeter and finer taste than the common tomato – I do not like tomatoes, but this one I managed to eat J



Brandywine Tomatoes


Pineapple: The pineapple tomato simply did not cope with the African heat. I am going to try to plant it elsewhere and see whether I can get some pineapple tomatoes out of it J.

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2 comments:

  1. Hi Shroom - I've just discovered your blog and am really glad i did - great info! Thanks for showing the tomato staking - I haven't gotr that right yet - will follow your advice.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Fantastic reading. Loved it. I read snippets of all these here and there and that's why never made any sense. You have brought everything together and thus now I can understand and follow everything. Please come with such pieces of information for other plants.

    ReplyDelete

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