Plant your Tomatoes this Labour Weekend! October 18 2015

I say Toe-may-toe, you say Toh-mah-toe

Tomatoes are an amazing “superfood”, full of vitamins and minerals, as well as lycopene (a carotenoid) which has incredible heart-disease and cancer-preventing benefits.  They can be eaten in so many ways; raw, cooked, fried, boiled, mashed, whole, sliced. In fact, tomatoes can be eaten in so many ways I could write a book about the usefulness and benefits of the simple tomato.

Tomatoes are an absolute top pick for home gardeners, due to their versatility in cooking, but even more so as the cost saving benefits of growing tomatoes are huge.  If a plant is grown properly, it can produce a whopping 10kg of tomatoes!  In fact I met a young man recently in Auckland who had grown 2000 tomatoes last year! Incredible!

Choosing which type of tomato plant to grow can be mind-boggling, as it turns out there is a huge range of tomatoes, with a variety of sizes, flavours, shapes and names; from ‘Purple Passion’ to ‘Porter’ to ‘Cream Sausage’ to ‘Hillbilly Flame’.  Personally, I would like to meet some of the nutbars that have branded these breeds with such odd names!  Awesome stuff.

To break it done simply for you, if you after a big mother of a tomato, I have discovered the heirloom ‘ox-heart’ tomato is a winner, as well as the ‘Big Beef’, the ‘Roma’ and the ‘Grosse Lisse’.  Not only does it have double the lycopene as other tomatoes, it also is tasty, big, and has few seeds.  Perfect. Also, cherry tomatoes are easy and cute when tossed in salads. Nice.

Tomatoes are red treats which need 3 months of frost free weather to thrive, and are ideally planted in the warmer spring months of September or October.  November is a bit late. Labour Weekend is the ideal time for planting particularly in the Auckland area.

To plant, find a spot in your garden which has good drainage, and plenty of sun.  If you lack space, like myself, you can plant your tomatoes in pots or planters, as they grow quite happily in a 12 inch pot. The ‘Tiny Tim’ is a good option.  They will need good drainage, and enough space for their roots to spread.  This can be ideal for urban gardeners with limited space, or those who may be not be staying in one place for long.  Also, a wind free zone is necessary, or create one by boarding up a wind barrier.  Before you plant, ensure your soil is up to scratch, full of organic rich soil, and a mix of compost.  Smaller dwarf plants will produce great fruit if kept in containers or planter bags, as long as they have good drainage and water.  Soil must never be allowed to dry out.

In your garden, plant seedlings around 35-50cm apart.  Dig a small hole for your plant, and carefully place your watered plant into the hole, without disturbing the roots.  Pat the soil firmly around it.  When your tomatoes are planted, add some basil herbs, and a border of marigolds to keep out the moth and pests.

As the plant grows, it may need a stake or trellis to hold it up high, so the tomato does not touch the soil.  The PH levels in the soil will rot and damage the fruit.  Also, as the plant is producing fruit, water the plant less, so the taste stays strong in the actual tomato.  Organic fertiliser should be applied in the first fruit stage, and repeated every month as the plants continue to grow.

When your tomato plant has finished harvesting its delicious fruit, do not assume that’s it.  Keep feeding them, as they will carry on producing fruit, throughout the following season.

Enjoy the upcoming long weekend in the garden!

Holly Jean Brooker

(as posted on The Breeze)