Tomato Seedlings about 3 weeks old.

Tomato Seedlings about 3 weeks old.

07-04-2020Caroline Fuller

On moving here last year to play the ‘good life’, I set about watching all sorts of videos about no dig gardens and o/h started to be concerned about where exactly he would be allowed to play on the tractor. We are trying to be pesticide free in this garden and want to work in harmony with each other and with the ground and are learning as we go.

Planning didn’t really come into it much last year but the garden has begun to evolve into a wonderful area. I will plan a little bit better this year though and not plant 40 broccoli and 40 cauliflowers, or rather I might but not all at the same time! I was over enthusiastic with most of my seeds last year but did enjoy being able to make fruit and veg baskets up for friends.

One thing I will plant plenty of is tomatoes. There are many people much more experienced than I on this subject but if like me you are just starting out in your ‘tomato career’, and didn’t buy any plants prior to lockdown, you need to start getting the seeds into pots now, if you haven’t already.

A bush tomato I bought before lockdown.

I sowed my seeds a few weeks ago and they are now a couple of inches high. I will wait until they have three sets of true leaves before I think about planting them out or repotting into bigger pots, by then they will have grown a robust root system filling the seed pots they are in now.

Prior to our ‘lockdown’ I had actually bought a few plants which were at a much later stage and popped them straight into the garden. O/h had built me a fabulous structure in the garden so we can string the tomatoes up this year. Last year I seemed to spend a disproportionate amount of time re-tying tomatoes to canes having completely underestimated how big they would grow. Given as a moving in gift by our landlady, these tomatoes were without labels and so I had no idea how much space to give them.

The cardboard keeps the soil weed free and moist.

To string up tomatoes

We chose the cordon variety, which are the ones that grow on a single stem. Prepare the planting area and a structure 5 or 6 ft high that you can tie a strong garden twine to and will hold at least of few pounds if not more of weight.

Dig a planting hole big enough to put the tomato plant in without disturbing the root ball. At the bottom of the hole, pool the twine (after measuring it will reach the top of your structure) and plop the tomato plant on top of it. Fill in the hole and wind the twine around the plant. Tie the twine to the top of your structure in a manner that will enable you to loosen or tighten it as necessary when it grows. We chose a coated twine that will not rot in the ground.

A cherry tomato plant I bought earlier.

Preparing the planting hole

Tomatoes are hungry feeders and I have investigated a few ways to feed them organically and cheaply. This year I have planted half a banana skin in the bottom of each planting hole, which will act as an organic fertilizer and will give much needed potassium to the growing plant. On top of this is a sprinkle of powdered/crushed small eggshells, which will provide calcium.

Only keep the strongest seedling in a pot.

Tomatoes can suffer with a disorder called blossom end rot and it’s really disheartening to pick a juicy ripe tomato only to find the base of it has a squashy brown end and its ‘off’. A calcium imbalance and infrequent watering can be the cause. Others swear by different methods for instance antacid tablets in the planting hole, but since we have chickens, eggshells are easier for us. I boil the shells to clean them of any other bacteria there may be before drying them in the sun and crushing them.

Tomatoes need attention and growing them last year made me feel like a proper gardener, don’t ignore them because they seem to crave attention.

As they grow watch for the side shoots, these grow between the main stem and the branches and should be rubbed or nipped off so they don’t sap strength from the main plant. Tomatoes are a great plant to grow indoors or on balconies or even a sunny windowsill if you choose the smaller cherry tomatoes.

Nip off these little side shoots.

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