Who doesn’t love to grow plump, juicy tomatoes, that can be plucked fresh from your backyard or even balcony, ready to add straight into a refreshing summer salad?
Almost no one! And that’s why, at this time of year, I am flooded with questions about how to grow tomatoes well. So I’ve re-established my beloved Tomato Success Series as we head into summer, to help you achieve the best tomato harvest you’ve seen yet. Keen? I thought so…
PREPARING THE SOIL FOR TOMATOES
I find that a spade depth of friable soil in the garden or a deep pot or container works best.
Tomatoes love sandy loamy soil above all others. If you are stuck with clay soil like me, it will require some extra work to prepare. Well-rotted compost or sheep pellets are a must, plus Bokashi to create the perfect mix for tomatoes.
Tomatoes turn their noses up at dry soil or water-logged soil, as they much prefer a balance in between, with moisture-retentive soil. Tomatoes like a neutral pH of close to 7, so not too acidic or alkaline. If your pH is too low, you can add a couple of handfuls of lime and this should do the trick to raise the pH, but be sure to water it in.
What nutrients need to be in the soil for growing tomatoes?
Soil with high amounts of potassium will produce a juicier tomato with higher acidity, plus this essential nutrient maintains balance and water in your plant. A lack of potassium can cause uneven ripening.
High levels of potassium have been proven to give much higher yields, so it is really a no-brainer – if you do nothing else, remember to add your potassium!
One nutrient to watch for is nitrogen – tomatoes require lower levels of nitrogen in your soil, as too much can cause rot.
BEFORE YOU PLANT TOMATOES
If you have grown your tomatoes from seed, wait until they have four good strong leaves before transplanting them into the garden.
If you have bought yours as a seedling, please inspect it carefully to ensure there are no yellow leaves and also check under leaves to make sure there are no egg sacks of nasty insects hiding. Don’t be the reason pests or disease are introduced into your own garden!
If you have leaves that look a bit suspect, nip these off with your fingers and dispose of them. The idea is to have a happy healthy tomato plant go into the ground at the start.
HOW & WHERE TO PLANT TOMATOES
Tomatoes can tolerate being planted deep, and my recommendation is to plant in the soil right down to the first two leaves. This will give it a fine start in life, and give it more stability in the long run.
Top tip: Put your stakes next to your plant as soon as it is planted to avoid going through the roots later on and damaging them. The stake will then be ready to give your plant stability as soon as it is tall enough.
I tend to make a bamboo frame, either in a tepee shape or, at the back of a bed, I put the stakes into the soil and then tie stakes across in a grid. This is a particularly great shape as, later on in the growing season, you can train some of the laterals along these horizontal stakes.
If you are growing normal tomatoes, not dwarf or bush, then they like to be a minimum of 40cm apart. This will give them good space to grow and enable airflow when the humidity comes.
For sweet tomatoes, plant them in an area where they will get at least 6-8 hours of sunshine a day.
As soon as they are tall enough, your tomato plants should be tied up with a soft tie or an old pair of tights – anything soft and stretchy so as not to rub on the tomato and damage the stem. Tie at every possible opportunity to protect your plant in its rapid growth and prevent it from getting top heavy and falling over onto the soil.
Next month, the Tomato Success Series continues with feeding and tending to your tomato plants. Stay tuned!