While many devoted Southern Hemipshere Gardeners struggle against unsettled Spring weather conditions in the hope of picking those first Tomatoes for the Christmas table, the smart Gardener often waits to plant their Christmas Tomatoes for an almost guaranteed Autumn harvest.
These late-season tomatoes are excellent for bottling as well as eating fresh so will contribute to a healthy diet over Winter. Tomato seed germinates quickly in warm soil. So seed could be sown anytime from mid Spring onward right up into the Christmas holidays and beyond. Given rich loamy soil, full sun, good drainage, and ample moisture growth will rocket. Most Tomato varieties will start bearing fruit in as little as 10 weeks from seed. If seedlings are available from a local garden centre or plant nursery that time will be probably cut in half.
Choosing the 'right' variety makes a big difference. As with many plant species, the near wild varieties are almost always the most hardy and successful. With Tomatoes the closest to the wild varieties are anything resembling the Cherry Tomato with fruit trusses that hang a bit like Grapes or the pear-shaped Roma. Many of the 'Heirloom' Tomatoes, especially the yellow fruited varieties are also closely akinded to their wild heritage. The dwarf determinant Patio Tomatoes are also often successful. Everything else are hybrid crosses that may prove less successful. This includes most of those impressively large Beefsteak types that much prefer much longer, more settled and sustainedly hotter Summer weather than occurs in New Zealand. But are a real option in warmer regions of Australia, South Africa and South America.
When planting remember that Tomatoes love garden lime and/or dolomite, blood and bone, superphosphate, sulphate of potash, aged manures and compost. In short, these are gross feeders. Many Gardeners elect to feed them with a commercial Tomato food in a (slow release) granulated form. But even then frequent small applications of dolomite or garden lime are essential if the garden soil is at all acidic. When planting into the garden, dig in the fertilizer(s) before planting and apply a side-dressing again when the first fruit sets. The same applies when planting into containers. Just use somewhat less fertilizer in the potting soil to avoid potential fertilizer overload.
Tomatoes respond remarkably well to light but regular applications of superphosphate mixed with compost and spread as mulch around the plants once fruiting commences. Wherever the growing site or climate is cool or the season is short, try planting through slits cut in a sheet of weed mat or black plastic laid down and pegged over the prepared soil.
The mat will act as plastic mulch, holding in moisture while keeping the ground extra warm. This will hasten fruit ripening especially in colder climates and keep the harvests coming in longer. If plants are allowed to sprawl and spread out naturally, more fruit is often produced. The black plastic mat will keep it off the damp soil and reduce the number lost through rotting. This method takes more space but can provide masses of Tomatoes for bottling, freezing or supply on the commercial market. The secret here is to cover over the bed with clear plastic or polycarbonate sheeting near the time of later harvests as weather cools and dampens. This will help to keep the plants dry and greatly controls bright and rot.
To save space in a small garden area, glasshouse, or when planting in damp or partly shaded sites the Tomato plants can be securely staked with laterals (side-shoots) removed. These laterals can be struck to create more plants for an even later harvest. Alternatively, allow one runner to grow up no more than 6ft/2m then once fruit trusses have been harvested off that stem, pinch it out at least half way back. Then allow a strong side shoot from near the base to take its place.
Provide tall stakes, cord or trellis for indeterminant varieties of Tomatoes as plants can easily attain 2-3m (61/2-10ft) or more if allowed to climb naturally. Most impressively large fruited Tomatoes are known as 'indeterminant' varieties. So are the Cherry Tomato and its close hybrid variant Money Maker. These are varieties that continue growing until checked from above by lack of space or pruning. They grow best in the ground but still produce a continuous supply of fruit when well-grown in a container, especially the Cherry Tomato. 'Determinant' varieties include hybrids like the dwarf Patio Tomato that conveniently stays quite bushy and short . This makes them easily grown in a larger container. Roma, the very hardy Tomato that is famous for its use to make Tomato paste and puree is also conveniently determinant so easily grown in a container or tub.
Containers are often the preferred option for late-season Tomatoes. That is because a fickle climate often throws a rude splash of wintry weather in the face of cold-senstive Tomato plants just as their fruit is beginning to mature. A single afternoon hail storm combined with acoompanying icy rain can do the damage. Add to that a few nights where temperatures drop below 12 C degrees or worse and soon the plants show signs of blight and/or blossom end rot or worse and there goes all that caring and effort. If the plants are growing in containers, these can potentially be shifted to drier and warmer protection and save the crop.
Most Gardeners will already be aware that commercial Tomatoes in New Zealand are almost all grown in glasshouses. This pretty much eliminates those pesky problems that come from a fickle Southern Hemisphere climate. So if there were any possibility of growing your Tomatoes in a small glasshouse, polyhouse or even within a singluar cloche, the results will be well worth the extra effort, especially as the cooler weather of Autumn returns.
Here is a clever hint from N.H. Johnson of South Auckland. When garden space or sunny spots are limited, try growing tomatoes hydroponically. Plant a single tomato plant in a large pot 20-30cm (8-12 inch) or more across filled with pumice or sharp sand.
Place this pot inside a slightly larger container which will hold water. Fill this container with a dilute solution of complete liquid plant food and water. This solution feeds the Tomato. Each day pour some of the plant food solution from the larger container through the top of the Tomato pot to insure the Tomato is evenly fed and surface roots don't dry out.
A secret when growing hydroponically is to choose a very warm, sheltered and sunny spot or inside the glasshouse so that the water solution never gets cold enough to chill the Tomato plants’ roots. As vines grow tie them to stakes or trellis. Mr. Johnson produced such an over abundance of Tomatoes from just three plants that they daily fed his Family plus several neighboring households throughout the Summer and Autumn months.
MORE PICTURES click here...