How to Grow Tomatoes
Did you know that people grow tomatoes more than any other vegetable? (Well technically it’s a fruit, but most people think of it as a vegetable!) And with over 10,000 varieties to choose from – you’re bound to have your own favourites.
There’s the tiny cherry varieties – like the sweet little Tommy Toe right through to the huge beefsteak varieties like Black Krim with charcoal coloured flesh. Some varieties have real ‘bite’ and others are deliciously sweet. The tasty Black Russian is very juicy and packed with flavour. The high yielding Green Zebra has interesting green striped skin, and adds strong flavour and decorative appeal to any salad dish. The Tigerella has gorgeous striped red fruit and contrasts well in a salad with the Beams Yellow Pear.
Once you have tasted the delicious flavour of home grown vine ripened tomatoes it is difficult to return to buying the supermarket varieties. However growing healthy juicy tomatoes with lots of flavour is not always easy. . . There are all sorts of things which can go wrong and destroy the plants and fruit before you get to taste the first one.
Professional growers don’t leave it to chance - they get expert help, year after year so they have the very latest information. Australian expert Lucia Grimmer has been helping professional growers for years – and now she shares her knowledge with home growers.
The following information is derived from her book “How to Grow Juicy Tasty Tomatoes” which she developed with co-author and publisher Annette Welsford. The book provides step-by-step advice and tips on how to grow tomatoes which you can use to help you substantially increase your crop’s health and yield. Not only that – your tomatoes will have more flavour and be a lot sweeter than you’ve tasted from a store bought variety.
Here’s some tips from “How to Grow Juicy Tasty Tomatoes” to help you get started.
Tomato Plant Varieties
Red striped heirloom Tigerella
Yellow Pear tomato
Heirlooms are the gorgeous tasty varieties that have been cultivated for hundreds of years – all over the world. They are more tasty than hybrids, but the payoff is higher susceptibility to disease and a shorter shelf life. Many new hybrid varieties are bred to be resistant to some common diseases and have a longer shelf life. The payoff is a reduction in flavour, thick skins, and unreliable (and sometimes sterile) seeds. There are three basic tomato plant types
- The ‘determinate’ which is a bush that grows to about 1 metre high and sets a concentrated crop which can be picked over a few weeks.
- The ‘indeterminate’ which keeps growing and can reach a height of up to 5 metres when fully mature. The fruit fro these can be picked over a period of 12 to 20 weeks. Many cherry tomato varieties are indeterminate.
- The semi-determinate varieties grow to about 1.5-2 metres high and set fruit over a 2 – 6 week period. These are the best type for home gardens.
The varieties you choose should be a good fit for your climate because big, healthy plants produce better-tasting tomatoes. Tomatoes are described according to size, shape and the use of the fruit, the stage of the season that the fruit appears and the growth habit of the plant. (See pages 11-15 and our database of 1300 varieties.)
How to Plant Tomatoes
Start seeds in a pot indoors
Jiffy pots make transplanting easy
Transplant carefully and back fill
Grow from seed – in a seed tray, peat pot, rockwool cube or make your own from newspaper. It’s very important that you use the right growing medium and spray mist regularly. Temperature is also crucial. Minimum temperature is 15-29C (60-84F). (See page 26 for tips on sowing seeds and maximising germination.) Transplant seedlings – soil temperature must be above 15C (60F) with no risk of frost. It’s also important that they are properly spaced for root and canopy development. Correct spacing depends on the variety. (See page 27 for advice on when to plant out, how to plant out and correct spacing.)
Where to Plant Tomatoes
Tomatoes need a loamy well drained soil
Check soil pH
Grow tomatoes in sunny position
You need a sunny area, sheltered from strong winds, with good quality loamy soil. The quality of the soil is crucial to growing healthy plants. A well-drained sandy loam soil without clods is ideal. Check your soil type first and adjust if necessary using our techniques to turn poor soil into rich loam. We also suggest adding organic matter and thoroughly digging it in a couple of weeks before planting, to ensure your your plants get the best start. The pH should be around 6.0 – 6.5. Finally, ensure soil is mulched to keep moisture in and keep the roots cool in hot months. (See pages 16 – 24 for in-depth detail on how to prepare the soil and correct problems with soils that are clay, sandy, rocky or compacted. This section also provides advice on drainage, compost, mulching and preparing commercial plots.)
Growing Tomatoes in Containers
Choose the right varieties for pots
Self Watering Pot
Cherry tomatoes grow well in a hanging basket
If you prefer to grow in pots, use a well drained, deep pot (at least 30cm deep) filled with quality potting mix. You will need to add the right fertilizer mix at the right growth stage of the plant and keep up a strict watering regime. Plants in pots need more frequent fertilizing and watering, compared to those in garden beds. Not all varieties do well in pots, so be sure to pick ones that do. (See page 25 for everything you need to know about growing in containers.)
Pruning and Staking Tomatoes
Tie main stem to stake loosely
Prune suckers to improve plant strength
Square cages are one of 11 staking methods
Suckers that arise from below the first flower cluster affect the strength of the main stem, so remove them by pinching them out, to improve plant health, vigour and fruit size. (See pages 34-35 for tips on the correct way to prune tomatoes.) Staking supports the vine and helps spread the canopy for even growth, good airflow and keeping the fruit off the soil. (See pages 28-35 for a comparison of 11 staking methods.)
Tomato plants need consistent watering
Cross section showing depth of roots
Automated watering system for pots
Tomatoes require an even supply of water throughout the season as irregular watering will cause your tomatoes to develop problems. Not enough water can cause fruit cracking and blossom end rot, too much water or overhead watering can lead to a greater level of bacterial and fungal disease. (See pages 36-39 for step by step instructions on determining how much water your tomato patch will need, how to set up an effective watering system and how to water tomatoes in pots.)
Granular fertilizers take a while to break down
Blossom End Rot is often caused by a mineral deficiency Photo: Courtesy Sarah Browning, University of Nebraska
Applying the correct fertilizer combinations at each growth stage is crucial to maximising yield and producing tasty tomatoes. Many people assume that because the soil contains organic matter that this is enough. It isn’t! Compost or granular fertilizers take time to break down, so your plants could be starving and will need supplementing – particularly when beginning to flower. There are 3 major nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) that the plants need, and they need them in different ratios during their life cycle. For example, too much nitrogen from fruit set onwards will result in fruit cells that are thin and soft, prone to disease and lacking in flavour. Your plants may also need other types of trace elements, including calcium, zinc, magnesium and boron, depending on your soil health . (See pages 41 -46 for in-depth advice and help with providing the right nutrition to your tomato plants, including how to recognise and correct nutrition excesses or deficiencies.)
Fusarium wilt Photo: Courtesy Randy Gardner, North Carolina State University
Botrytis Photo: Courtesy T Zitter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Verticillium wilt Photo: Courtesy Queen’s Printer for Ontario
Tomatoes can be seriously affected by pests and diseases, particularly in warm wet climates. It doesn’t take long to lose a crop from pest or disease issues, so you need to regularly check your plants for symptoms and control quickly. Common diseases include Wilts, Leaf Spots, Blight, Mildew, Canker, Black Rot, Root Rot, Fruit Rot, Viruses and Nematodes. (See pages 47-52 for photos and descriptions of these diseases and recommended controls.)
Root Knot Nematode Photo: Courtesy AVRDC
Thrip damage Photo: Courtesy Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University
Spider mite damage Photo: Courtesy University of Kentucky
Pests are the bane of tomato growers – particularly in hot humid areas. It’s important to keep the tomato patch free of weeds and debris and to control pests quickly. Common pest include aphids, thrips, cutworm, bollworm, whitefly, sting bugs, spider mite, fruit fly, slugs, snails, nematodes and birds. (See pages 53-56 for photos of common pests and recommended controls.)
Catfacing Photo: Courtesy Carrie Lapaire Harmon, University of Florida
Fruit cracking Photo: Courtesy University of Massachusetts
Sometimes the plant or fruit exhibit issues which are not caused by disease or pests, but still affect the quality of the fruit. Common issues include catfacing, blossom end rot, sun scald, blossom drop, fruit drop, leaf roll and fruit crack. (See pages 57-58 for common physiological problems and recommended controls.)
Growing Tomatoes Organically
With the proliferation of dangerous chemicals affecting our health and the environment, more and more gardeners are turning to old fashioned organic growing methods. Growing tomatoes organically relies on careful preparation of the soil, practicing good hygiene, using the right organic fertilizers, following companion planting guidelines and using nature based solutions to control pests and diseases. Some people also believe that planting by the phases of the moon provides better results too. (See pages 61-68 for expert advice and tips for organic gardening.)
Growing Tomatoes in Greenhouses
If you live in a colder climate, growing your tomatoes in a greenhouse is a great way to guard against weather damage and get a super early start to the growing season. It’s important to locate the greenhouse in the right spot, prepare the floor, ensure you have good ventilation and keep the temperature stable. Diseases are common in greenhouses, so hygiene is crucial. (See pages 70-71 for full details on how to choose and maintain a greenhouse.)
|Following your advice my plants are 4 times bigger than before I have read and reread the book over and over and l now have a better understanding of the life of the tomato from start to finish.Thankyou for all the time and effort you have put into this information and kept in mind to make it easy to understand. l conducted a trial by putting what you have said in your book into practice in my hot house. One plant I did your way, the other my way as I’ve always done it. l have also done the same trial with ones in the ground and their doing even better. l cant believe the growth rate of the plant – the stem is much thicker, leaves have more colour and it’s stronger looking all over. Most books that l have brought on tomatoes are ok but do not give you the understanding of the life cycle of tomatoes that is easy to understand as your information does. l cant even think of anything that l can say that would improve what you both have done 10/10 from me. You two ladies have restored my faith in the human race because your book and the price that you are asking for the book just goes to show that there are still some people out there that give more than value for your money. l am more than happy to back up my email and tell anyone that wishes to contact me that, that is what l have said. Brett Scott, South Australia|| |
How to Grow Juicy Tomatoes at Your Place
Get expert advice now – get your own copy of How to Grow Juicy Tasty Tomatoes. Our How to Grow Juicy Tasty Tomatoes Book Set has proven to be a valuable and cherished resource. Now into it’s 2nd reprint, the 80 page “tomato bible” is illustrated with over 260 colour photographs, and contains everything a home gardener needs to know about growing healthy, tasty tomatoes. The book was co-authored by Lucia Grimmer – a world renowned expert in plant disease and plant nutrition and a full time advisor to professional growers. Now she shares her secrets with home gardeners! This is the Table of Contents
- History of the Tomato
- Fruit or Vegetable?
- Health Effects
- Quickstart Guide
- Site Preparation (including soil, wind, drainage, mulching and pots)
- Cultivation (including sowing seeds, transplanting, staking and pruning)
- Watering your Plants
- Pests and Diseases
- Picking & Storage
- Collecting Seed
- Growing Organically
What’s in the Tomato Book Set?
The How to Grow Juicy Tasty Tomatoes Handbook
|This book, which has sold over 10,550 copies in 88 countries, contains a comprehensive 80 page full colour scientific guide on growing tomatoes in every type of climate.It includes: |
Plus 6 Great Bonuses!
|Bonus 1: Database of Tomato VarietiesEvery pack will contain our comprehensive CD, containing cultivation notes and details on seed purchasing for over 1300 varieties.|
|Bonus 2: Common Tomato Problems Ready Reckoner The incredibly detailed Ready Reckoner features photos of common diseases, pests and deformities, making it easy for you to identify any problems which may occur.|
|Bonus 3: Tomato Growth Stage Cultivation Guide A very useful chart which shows you what to do at each growth stage, from pre-plant through to flowering and harvest.|
|Bonus 4: Conversion Guide A useful guide shows you how to convert just about anything to anything!|
|Bonus 5: Growing DiaryUse it to record everything you do – fertilising, watering, pruning, position, varieties etc and what happens.So that next year you can look back and see what you planted where, what problems you incurred (if any), what corrective action you took and what the results were.|
|Bonus 6: Our Family Tomato Cookbook A wonderful collection of culinary ideas from all over the world. They have nearly all been donated by customers, friends and family and some of them have been handed down for generations.Your recipient will delight in these wonderful tomato recipes. |
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We hope you are soon enjoying the best tomatoes you’ve ever tasted!
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