While many devoted gardeners have struggled against an unsettled spring in the hope of picking those first tomatoes for the Christmas table, the smart gardener is about to plant their Christmas tomatoes for an almost guaranteed autumn harvest.
These late-season tomatoes are excellent for bottling so will contribute to a healthy diet over winter. Seed will germinate quickly in the warm soil. Given a rich loam, full sun, good drainage, and ample moisture growth will rocket.
Tomatoes love garden lime and/or dolomite, blood and bone, superphosphate, sulphate of potash, aged manures and compost. Many gardeners elect to feed them with a commercial tomato food.When planting into the garden, dig in the fertilizer(s) before planting and apply a side-dressing again when the first fruit sets.
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 provides masses of tomatoes for bottling, freezing or supply on the commercial market.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.
Provide tall stakes, cord or trellis as plants can easily attain 2-3m (61/2-10ft) or more if allowed to climb naturally.
Here is a clever hint from N.H. Johnson of 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 container through the top of the 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. The results speak for themselves!
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