When we got back in January from all the December laziness, I was determined to get stuck into the garden and start sun tanning. I mean planting. Partly so we could have something to actually eat this year, but mostly to work off all that Christmas turkey.
It’s amazing how in just a couple of weeks the weeds and grasses can move in and take over. My weeding trowel was already rolling it’s eyes. Here’s a before and after for you:
In the mass exodus of all things intrusive, I came across a secret stash of struggling little tomato plants.
They were desperately trying to peak out over the top of the weeds and get the much loved sun they so desperately craved. So once we got rid of all the free-loaders, they really flourished.
We added in a new batch of smaller seedlings to stagger the supply of tomatoes through out the season. So here are some tips if you also would like to grow some lovely juicy toms.
Tip 1: Tomatoes LUUUURRRVVE sun!!! They’re Mediterranean of course. So short of supplying them with a beach towel and a spot on the Amalfi coast, make sure that wherever you plant them out in your garden they are in a very warm spot.
Tip 2: Start staking them early so that they have the support to grow up tall and straight. The more sunlight that reaches the entire plant, the less chance there is for fungal infections and disease to start spreading.
Tip 3: Save yourself many pennies by doing a bit of DIY, and make your own stakes rather than buying the pre-cut dowel rods you can get in the garden centre.
Find a patch of bamboo, ask the owner if you can “trim” their dead sticks out for them, just because you’re so helpful that way…
Then trim off all the leaves and excess branches, so you have lovely, clean, long poles. Don’t worry if some of the sticks are still green, they will dry out in time.
Cut the long sticks in half or into thirds, depending on the length you need. I like to cut them into varying lengths, that way you have different sizes to match plants in different growth stages.
Voila! Instant, free, rustic-looking, eco-friendly tomato stakes.
Tip 4: To optimize the plants energy for growing the fattest, juiciest tomatoes it’s a good idea to start nipping off the excess shoots that start sprouting out from the base of the main stem.
Look for the scraggliest, weakest looking stem. Usually with a sad yellow tinge and very poorly leaves. Nip these off as close to the main stem as possible, leaving behind the healthy, stronger stems. You can usually do this easily using your thumb nail when the seedlings are very small. Then progress on to using garden scissors as the stems get thicker.
Hopefully your hands don’t look like a weird bald sphynx cat like mine do…
Not only will this help concentrate the plants energy into growing the strongest parts of the plant, it will also inhibit any moisture from the ground rotting those first few stems and leaves, that often don’t see enough light and end up turning moldy, which then spreads through out the plant encouraging blight and other fungi.
Once the plants become bigger, and the stems a bit tougher, use garden scissors to neatly and cleanly trim off any smaller branches. Once the plant starts to bare fruit, the spent calyx’s where the tomato was once attached can be nipped off too.
Tip 5: Water well! Sure, this is obvious with most veggies. But any fruit requires ample sun and water to grow optimal produce. Ideally water first thing in the morning, before it gets too hot. It’s best not to water in the evenings, as this tends to encourage slugs and snails to have an all-you-can-eat buffet as the sun sets. Plus if the plant remains moist after dark, this could encourage unwanted moldy spores to take hold.
Tip 6: I’m trying to be as chemical free as possible, so the inevitable worm wriggling around isn’t the end of the world. If they’ve gnawed a big whole in your ripest, fattest tomato, don’t stress. Pick the tomato immediately, but instead of chucking it in the bin, squash it, and leave it somewhere else in the garden to dry out. Then replant the seeds once the fruit and worm carcass has dried out. I’m so barbaric! But it sends a message to the other worms, I promise… “This tomato patch aint big enough for the both of us!”
Tip 7: When the tomatoes start to grow, the best time to pick the little beauties is just as they start to turn a light orangy red colour. Ideally leaving them on the vine to completely ripen is best. But as an organic farmer, there’s a higher risk that the birds and caterpillars will get to them first. Leave them in a sunny spot in the kitchen or next to a banana (that omits some fancy gas that helps ripen things faster), and within a couple of days they will have ripened and sweetened nicely!
I do scrub under my nails. Promise!