Tomato Tragic's 3 Golden Rules27 August 2020 Graham Ross & Linda Ross
It’s time to get tomatoes in and growing. We made a special tomato tunnel from dried bamboo stems and fencing wire.
Overall cost - $25. And it’s lasted 18 months too! Ours goes from one bed to another with a pathway through the middle. Perfect for picking tomatoes, beans and cucumbers.
Graham is ready to plant out this year's tomato crop on the new tomato-tunnel, which you can see in the background. Photo - Luisa Brimble
I want to inspire you to grow tomatoes, but I’d be fibbing if I told you it was going to be easy. And it doesn’t necessarily have to do with the skill of the gardener: weather and climatic variations can cause either huge successes or dismal failures. But it’s definitely worth the effort! Here are the tomato-tragic’s three golden rules.
1. Pay Attention to Position & Prior Preparation
Planting position must be sunny, wind-protected and frost-free. Soil must be well-drained and fertile with aged manure and organic matter dug in a few weeks before planting.
A handful or two of lime added to the planting bed will help prevent blossom end rot.
Stagger plantings over September, October, November and January to extend the harvesting season.
Allow a day to build the growing frame. Set stakes at least 50cm into the soil and anchor to star pickets in high wind areas. Insert a 75cm length of ag-line pipe, on an angle, at each planting spot. This will allow for effective watering of the root system.
The tomato-tunnel ready for planting. Photo - Luisa Brimble
2. A Structure for Raising, and Ripening
Tomatoes are vines that typically reach between one and three metres in height and width. They need to be supported with a trellis. Our favourite three styles are:
1. Teepee: tie 6 x 3m stakes at the top to make a wigwam. Plant up with tomatoes, beans and cucumbers, which all grow harmoniously together. Use the central shaded area in the middle for summer lettuce.
2. Boxed up: make 1m x 1m squares of bamboo with four corner posts and four horizontal rails to help support the fruit-laden branches of bush tomatoes.
3. Flat out: make 2.5m high tepee tunnel, like ours, with tomato stakes. Plant with climbing beans on one side and climbing tomatoes on the other. Plant tomatoes at 1.5m centres and train them horizontally for maximum sun exposure. Plant the inside of the tunnel with salad greens.
It's cheap and easy. Graham ties the fencing mesh to the dried bamboo arched over the pathway between two garden beds. Photo - Luisa Brimble
Keep the soil moist. Water with seaweed solution fortnightly. Add pelletised manures through the growing stage. Remove any leaves that come in contact with the soil and mulch around each plant to a depth of 15cm.
3. Prevent Pests and Deter Diseases
Hang yellow sticky traps to lure thrips and aphids away from the fruit, as these insects can spread disease.
Mulch the tomato bed to stop splash and the spread of diseases.
Control fruit flies with eco-friendly lures available from your local nursery.
Consider covering maturing fruit with paper bags to protect from tomato grubs.
Tomato fruit can suffer sunburn so offer shade protection on heatwave days.
Remove lower leaves as soon as leaf spot or other diseases appear, so as to reduce the spread.
Smokers may spread tomato mosaic virus when they handle tomatoes.
Serious tomato growers will plant a crop of mustard greens (Brassica juncea) in the tomato bed during the winter season as a fumigant to prevent fungal problems in the soil.