Thursday, 30 August 2012




Everyone (I hope) knows what tomatoes are and most people really enjoy them.  They can be one of the most satisfying things to grow.  Home grown always taste the best.  When you look at the tomatoes in a grocery store it is hard to believe there are some 7,500 different varieties grown.
The picture above shows red tomatoes but in reality there are different colours of tomatoes.  
Some are very dark colour and some are yellow.

When looking to grow tomatoes, you have to decide what size tomatoes you want to grow.  If you want big ones for slicing you need a variety that promises large fruit.  Very large ones are good for  slicing but smaller ones are sometimes better for general use and small ones may be better for you if you are going to can/preserve them.  For eating out of hand or in salads many people prefer to grow cherry tomatoes.

One important thing you have to consider is what size plants you want to grow, and that often means you have to figure out how much room you want to put aside to grow them.  And I don't mean just how much space they take up but also how tall they will get.

For tomato plants that don't grow really tall, you have to look for "determinate" varieties.  This means they will grow to a genetically pre-determined height and then stop growing taller.  Then there are determinate varieties that will grow very tall.  Would you believe as much as 25 to 30 feet?  I kid you not!  In commercial greenhouses they often have strings going from floor up to the ceiling, over a pulley and back down to the floor.  A friend of ours grew them this way and as the plants produced fruit and it ripened, they would pick the fruit and when the fruit area on the plant got too high from the ground they added to the string (one end attaches to the ground or plant and the other end is tied off aside to be lengthened as required).  The plant would sag down, leaves trimmed off the lower area and the stem coiled around the bag of shavings he grew the plants in.  Each time the plant grew it was lowered so the "working area" of the plant was at comfortable height to deal with.   It was a hydroponic operation - not what everyone likes, but it is mass production.

Determinate Tomatoes
These varieties are  popular and are often allowed to "grow wild".  By that I mean they are not pruned and will send sucker shoots out at the joint where a leaf grows out  of the main stem.  You will get more tomatoes but generally they will be smaller than indeterminate types.  You can prune them and I believe they produce slightly larger tomatoes and a bit earlier this was.  Tomatoes that are not pruned will have a lot of side shoots that develop into vines like the main stem and each side shoot will produce tomatoes.  They are hard to stake up so are often just let grow and kind of fall over.  They often get to be a tangled mess of vines and tomatoes where some get hidden from view and can start to rot.  Many determinate tomatoes are used in pots on patios.

Indeterminate Tomatoes
These are the ones that can grow and grow and grow.  As long as there is light and heat they seem to be happy to keep producing.  Oh yes, and they must be pollinated - either by insects like bees or you have  to get out with your little soft brush and "tickle" the blossoms.  To keep these plants from growing into an unmanageable tangle you should nip off the suckers.  Those little shoots that keep coming out at the junction of leaf and main stem.  If you start some plants early in the season you can let some suckers grow until they are 3 or 4 inches long then nip or cut them off and put them in well moistened soil and they will send out roots and develop into nice plants.

Indoors or outdoors?
Most garden tomatoes are grown outdoors, but growing them in a greenhouse has many advantages and a few disadvantages.  
ADVANTAGES-  You can start them earlier, they are protected from hail, you can work on them in any kind of weather comfortably, and they are protected from predators.  On the coast we are plagued with blight that comes with the rain.
DISADVANTAGES- You are probably limited for space, therefore the number of plants.  Cost of a greenhouse can be a problem too.  (See my blog on greenhouse building)  I sit here pondering what I can list as another disadvantage.  Some people think the ones grown outside taste better but I have not found that to be the case. Ahhh yes!  You have to be careful what varieties you choose as some are more susceptible to various diseases etc. and don't do as well inside.

I have been growing tomatoes in a greenhouse for many years and one of the varieties we like for large fruit is "Super Fantastic" which has quite large fruit.   Another one that has slightly smaller fruit and does well in the greenhouse is "Vendor".  It has a sort of heart shape, being slightly pointed on the bottom (blossom) end.  

Speaking of "blossom end", one of the main problems people have with tomatoes is "Blossom end rot" and one of the causes is lack of calcium and/or inconsistent watering.  Also affected are melons, squash, pepper and eggplant.  There are a number of ways of adding calcium.  Some suggest the addition of lime but I prefer to use "Diatomaceous Earth.  You can purchase in in many garden shops but it is much more economical to buy it in a Swimming Pool Store.  It is used to filter water.  It is non-toxic, made from Diatoms.  (google it!)  Another thing that I find to be very good for tomatoes is Mushroom Manure.  This is the residue left over after mushrooms are grown.  It contains no weeds and is organic in nature.  When planting my tomato plants I dig a hole quite deep and put a couple of trowels of MM in, cover with a bit of soil then put the plant in.  And I like to plant my tomatoes quite deep.  If you start with a plant about 6" or more high, I would nip off the leaves near the bottom, leaving only a few small leaves at the top and bury all the bare stem.  The plant will send out roots all along the stem & you will get a stronger healthier plant.  If you find the plants at the garden shop are quite lanky don't let that scare you.  You can do the same thing - bury the stem.  If the plant is quite tall, say 10 or so inches, you do it a little differently.  Dig a sort of a trench to one side of the hole, put in your MM and lay the plant on it's side with the leaf part sticking up through the ground.  All the stem underground will develop roots and give you a great plant.

How do you support your plants?  Tomato cages work for smaller plants but if you get a really loaded plant (lots of fruit) they just won't cut it.  You will have to support the cage with small poles or strings from above.  If you are growing them in a greenhouse you can use the rafters to tie your strings to.  And if they are indeterminate plants be prepared for the plant to grow to the roof!
I find staking strings (I use binder twine) to the ground next to the plant and tying the other end of the string to a rafter works best for me.  As the plant grows I simply guide the plant around and around the string.

As your tomatoes ripen, watch for that nasty blossom end rot.  It is hard to detect until you turn the tomato to see the underside or blossom end and if you are unlucky you will find a part of the tomato is a bit caved in and turning black, soon to rot.  Cut the tomato off and discard into your compost bin.  If you see some tomatoes cracking as they ripen, I would suggest picking them an sitting them in a cool area to ripen, checking daily to make sure they are not rotting.  That works for normal size tomatoes but if you are growing Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes you may find they are a bit susceptible to cracking as soon as the start to redden.  To avoid this I find picking them when they are not quite ripe and not cracked then laying them out in the cool.  They ripen and still have good flavour.

Tomatoes don't store well and go bad quickly.  WRONG!  This only applies to ripe ones.
If your growing season ends with lots of green tomatoes, sure you can make Green Tomato Relish and if you go to I am sure you can either find the recipe there or Jax will get one for you.  But if you prefer to keep eating great tasting garden tomatoes you can wrap your green ones in newspaper and put them in boxes until they ripen.  We used to do that but found that they did just as well by putting them on a shelf in a cool place on either cardboard or multiple layers of newspaper they would ripen just fine.  The advantage to doing it this was is you don't have to unwrap then re-wrap the tomatoes every few days.  You just go to where they are and pick the ones that have ripened.  Some will probably start to rot due to a blemish you didn't notice but at least they don't damage others beside them. (leave at least 1/4" between them when you lay them out!)  
And if you want tomatoes all winter long, then you get seed for "Long Keepers".  That is the name of the variety and I have had them stay good through the winter into spring.  As a matter of face I once had a couple that didn't want to ripen even when put in a warm area or after I moved them to my heated plant starter box.  I was going to put them in the compost (I am not fond of fried green tomatoes)  but cut one open first and found the seeds inside had started to sprout!.  I picked out the seeds and planted them in starter pots and soon had dozens of new plants.  I had so many I took some to the food bank.  The reaction there was "what are we supposed to do with them?" so I told them to give them to the people so they could grow some food themselves.  

As mentioned above, there are hundreds of varieties.  Some are new and some are heritage types and you have to read about them to decide which is best for you.  Are you going to make sauce?  Then you should consider Roma types.  They have less juice and need less processing to get them to sauce stage.  If you are to preserve them for use in things like spaghetti sauce then the size is not really important but remember it is easier to peel large ones than many small ones.  Gramma Janet stews tomatoes with peppers, onions & garlic.  If you are going to preserve them to use as we do - a bowl of stewed tomatoes for lunch (with cheese & vinegar) then small ones (larger than cherry tomatoes) are good and you can cut them into quarters to fit the jars nicer.


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