Tomatoes are hands down the favourite vegetable to grow in Aussie vegetable gardens. Don't think that just because you don't like to eat them raw, doesn't mean you shouldn't grow these beauties. Tomato sauce, pasta sauce, BBQ sauce, chutney, passata and sun dried tomatoes are just some of the delicious ways to eat this tasty "fruit".
Prepare your soil for tomatoes by checking your pH. You should aim for a pH of around 6 for tomatoes. Some sources will tell you tomatoes like even more acidic soil, which they can, but this can impact the companion plants you are growing around the tomatoes, who prefer more neutral soil.
Improve the soil with a mixture of compost, manure, rock minerals and coconut coir. At the base of each hole where your tomatoes will be planted, throw in any banana skins you have saved during the winter months. If you're brave enough, throw in a fish head or fish guts as well.
Place your tomato support structure in now. You don't want to disturb the roots of the tomato plant by adding it later. I recommend a single tall stake for each plant.
I recommend preparing your soil one week prior to planting to allow the nutrients in the banana peels and fish heads to break down. Mulch the top of the soil during this time. Remember to water during this time to prevent the soil from drying out, and the micro-organisms living in it, from dying.
Place your tomato plant or seed in each hole. If you are planting a seedling, bury half your tomato plant in the ground. The fur on the stems are actually potential roots. By burying half the plant in the ground, it will grow more roots to support and feed your plant. If you are planting seeds, place 2 seeds in each hole, approximately 1cm under the soil. Consider planting the seed halfway down the hole, and not filling the hole. Instead, slowly mound up the stem as the plant grows. Remember to never bury more than half the plant at one time.
Mulch straight away. If you plant with seeds, do not cover the area above your seed with mulch, or it may prevent the seed from sprouting. However, cover the soil around the seed, and once sprouted, mulch again. Mulch should be a minimum of 3cm thick. You can also mulch with compost or coconut coir.
Water in your new tomato with a seaweed solution and magnesium water (details below).
Tomatoes require a lot of water. Inconsistent and insufficient watering can lead to diseases and fungus like blossom rot. This is because the plant is not able to take the nutrients up out of the soil without sufficient water. Water every day, however remember you need the water to soak through the mulch and reach the roots. Using an olla or a plastic bottle with holes in the side planted in the soil, helps to ensure the water gets to where it needs. These should be installed at the time of planting to avoid damaging roots.
Alternate between a seaweed concentrate and a fish emulsion fortnightly. These provide the plants with essential nutrients including nitrogen and phosphorus which help leaf and root development respectively. They also support the health of the micro-organisms living in the soil. Without these, the soil is not healthy and your plants will not thrive.
In addition, one watering can of magnesium water each fortnight will provide your tomatoes with the essential magnesium requirements and prevent deficiencies. To make this, add half a cup of Epsom salts to 10L of water. Magnesium is important for humans as well as your tomatoes. Many of us find ourselves magnesium deficient due to commercial agriculture depleting the soil. Growing your own food helps you ensure it has all the essential nutrients.
The banana peels will decompose over the season and provide the plant with potassium. This nutrient is essential for fruit development, and is abundant in banana peels. Continue to save your banana peels and soak them in water for a few days until the water is murky. Pour the water and the peels onto the soil around your tomatoes and this will continue to feed them all summer long.
The fish heads will break down quickly and feed your tomato plant with phosphorus, nitrogen, calcium and other essential trace minerals. Phosphorus is essential for root development. While nitrogen is essential for leaf growth. Tomatoes also require calcium and so will benefit greatly from the fish heads. There is no need to replenish the fish heads over the season.
Tomatoes thrive when planted with basil and marigolds. These help ward off pests that prey on tomatoes. They are also delicious to eat in salads with your tomatoes (yes, you can eat the marigolds!).
Author: Diana Barnes Growing Vegetables Down Under
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