50 tomato tips from readers
Tap into the collective wisdom with advice from expert tomato growers all over New Zealand.
Growing wisdom from experienced gardeners from all over the country.
1I always put a handful of milk powder in the hole when planting and a wee bit of BAKING SODA on top when planted. Jenny Prebble, HAVELOCK NORTH
2Once your plants are established,
REMOVE SOME LEAVES
(up to half) to let in light to ripen the tomatoes and to ensure your plant puts all its energy into the developing fruit.
Steve Robinson, NELSON 3I once planted four cherry tomato seedlings because my son loves them. Between his careless picking and my chaotic gardening, they clambered all over and have self-seeded every season since. All I do is add COMPOST AND MULCH to that bed. Serena Young, AUCKLAND 4Save your old PANTYHOSE, cut it up and use it to tie up tomato plants. The fabric is soft and won’t damage stems. Sandra Morgan, NAPIER 5I am in my 80s and I SPEAK LOVINGLY with my tomatoes every day. My gloriously scented tomato plants grow by the kitchen door.
Mary Patterson, AUCKLAND 6WATER DAILY so the fruit has a good water supply. I also remove laterals so the plant grows up, not out. Aaron Burnside, CHRISTCHURCH 7Put a small handful of SHEEP PELLETS into a bucket or watering can and use that to feed your tomatoes. Use about once a week. Just don’t leave the watering can in the sun with water still in it as it gets rather pungent with just a few hours of summer sun. Merrin McLennan, AUCKLAND 8I save all my BANANA SKINS and put them into a bucket of water, covered, to make a banana tea. After two weeks, water the tomatoes once a week from the time they start flowering. Do not dilute. Keep adding skins to the bucket and topping up with water. Jeanette Francis, AUCKLAND
9My best tip is to buy a PATIO
TUMBLER TOMATO. Plant with the fruit already forming! They come in a large pot, fruit for several months, are tasty, and grow very well on a sunny deck.
Plus they ripen early enough that we get to eat some! Previously my tomatoes were left to the weather, neighbours and the birds to enjoy while we were on summer holidays.
Ros May, BROWNS BAY
10My best tip for growing healthy juicy tomatoes is by combining 1 teaspoon of EPSOM SALTS and 4 cups of warm water. Put in a spray bottle and spray the fruit and leaves. Do this twice in the growing season. Annie Burke, WHANGAREI 11If you buy a BIG POT, you can have one large tomato growing in the back (such as ‘Moneymaker’), and two tumbling tomatoes in the front. We did this and it was quite beautiful on the back patio, and it was constantly producing fruit that we could harvest right outside the door. Louisa Sivyer, CAMBRIDGE 12Some years ago, I was unfortunately visited by the psyllium beetle and they decimated my tomato crop. After doing some research, I now scatter NEEM GRANULES into the hole in which the tomatoes are now planted. I have never seen a psyllid since, nor any of the other problem insects and bugs. I do the same with my potatoes. Adrienne Matthews, CHRISTCHURCH 13Tomatoes can grow roots along their stems so PLANT THEM DEEPLY, right up to their first set of leaves. This way, they grow a big strong root system to support a robust plant and crop. Gail Dyer, AUCKLAND
14My best tomatoes were when we lived near a poultry farm. In winter, I would dig a trench and add fowl manure, cover and leave until it was time to plant the seedlings I’d raised. Once the first truss of tomatoes had set I would feed with my not-for-the-faint-hearted brew which had been left to stew in a 44-gallon drum (cow manure in a sack with some seaweed, a leaf or two of comfrey and on occasions fish bones if I had them). I would water it down until it looked like weak tea before using. The brew kept the bugs (and neighbours) away. For those who like to make their own
FERTILISER, here is my grandmother’s recipe: two handfuls of blood and bone, one handful of superphosphate, and half a handful of potash. One tablespoon to each plant once a month, and water it in well.
Ann Kidd, MOTUEKA 15Water tomatoes only in the morning, and only water the soil, DON’T WET THE FOLIAGE. That way, there is less likelihood of fungus diseases on plant. Maree Lawlor, ASHBURTON 16I always put a teaspoon of MILK POWDER in each hole at planting time. This stops the tomatoes from developing a hard core. Sharon Sorenson, TAURANGA 17My number one trick with tomatoes is to GERMINATE THE SEEDS EARLY in the season, and then, when transplanted, add some blood and bone to the vegetable soil mix. Katie Monteith, WELLINGTON 18We love big beef tomatoes. Last year, they grew as big as our hands. We plant in a spot with EGG SHELLS, FISH FRAMES and compost enriched with biochar.
Victoria Johnston, KAUKAPAKAPA 19Tomatoes will SELF-SEED anywhere, and often these ones will grow better than the ones you have intentionally planted. We had one growing out of our kitchen drain last year!
Denise McIlroy, KAIAPOI 20I put a DISPRIN and raw whole egg in the bottom of the pot when I planted my cherry tomato. It was still fruiting in August! Keri-lyn Aldrich, TE KAUWHATA
21Save all the FISH GUTS, HEADS AND SKELETONS, PRAWN SHELLS and so on in a bag in the freezer during the year, then when you go to plant your tomatoes, dump them in the hole and cover with soil, then plant on top! Jan Lewis, AUCKLAND 22PLANT DEEP each time you pot on the seedling, and again at each stage until you finally transplant it into the garden. And if not deep, at least lie it horizontal – the stems make adventitious roots, meaning you’ll have more root structure for stronger, better anchored plants, and better water and nutrient uptake. Minette Tonoli, AUCKLAND 23STAKE YOUR PLANTS properly and keep tying and retying the plants as they grow. Karen Anne Barrett, PIOPIO 24I always seem to get a better harvest from the HERITAGE RANGE. I also remove seeds from one half of a tomato and dry them on a paper towel to sow the next season. Glenys Strawbridge, FEILDING
25Feed tomatoes a COMPOST TEA made from fermented sheep pellets, seaweed and water. Bernadette Staal, WELLINGTON 26A NO-DIG GARDEN does amazingly well for tomatoes. They’ll grow up almost anything, even if you get twine and run several lines of it between some stakes, they’ll grow wide as well as tall. Bridget Hughes, PALMERSTON NORTH
27In Christchurch and north Canterbury, WAIT UNTIL SHOW WEEKEND
(mid-November) to plant tomatoes. There is always at least one frost between Labour Weekend and Show Weekend. Sow tomato seeds indoors late September but don’t plant until Show Weekend.
Sara Wells, RANGIORA
28I have not had a great success with a good size crop until last year. The thing I did differently was I laid a thick layer of fresh GRASS
CLIPPINGS around the plants keeping the lower stem clear of the grass, which I think kept the soil warm and also acted as a mulch. I also underplanted with marigolds of all colours and apart from looking very pretty they also encouraged bees to the tomatoes.
Diane Hart, KATIKATI
29Plant tomatoes in a sheltered spot in FULL SUN. My best tomatoes last summer were against a high block wall where they had virtually all-day sun, and extra warmth and shelter from the wall. I grew five varieties and they all produced well mid-season and some kept on coming right through into May although at a much reduced cropping rate by then.
Jane Laking, LEVIN
30 I cut the tops off 2L MILK CONTAINERS
to put over the seedlings till they get strong enough. Maureen Bakulich, MATAKOHE 31 I mulch around the base of tomatoes with COMFREY LEAVES. It acts as a weed suppressant, prevents evaporation and also feeds the plants! Julie Parker, RAGLAN 32Before planting tomato plants prepare a mixture of WASHING POWDER AND EPSOM SALTS, half and half, and sprinkle in the hole before planting – it prevents black rot. Robert Jensen, AUCKLAND 33My top tip is to get PLANTS FROM MUM and gratefully accept any of her excess when mine don’t grow as well. Ailsa Hayes, OAMARU 34Grow PHACELIA to bring the bees into your tunnelhouse. Kelly Hibbert, DUNEDIN
35My tip is to START SEEDS
EARLY INSIDE but don’t plant out until the risk of frost is gone, with plenty of compost, fresh seaweed on top and mulch well with straw. And give plants a regular liquid feed with worm wee.
Lesley McIntosh, OAMARU 36‘ SCORESBY DWARF’ is a great tomato to grow in Wellington; low and compact so it doesn’t mind too much wind. Jack Moore, PETONE 37Tomatoes are classed as either determinate or indeterminate. Look for a D or an I (or a DET or an IND) on the plant label. DETERMINATE TOMATOES, also called bush tomatoes, produce all their fruit at once so they are
a good choice if you have a short summer. Plus you don’t have to be nearly as assiduous about taking the laterals off!
Joanna Murray, CHRISTCHURCH 38People can be snobby about hybrid tomatoes, but you can’t beat ‘CHERRY 100’ – the most prolific tomato you can grow with super sweet fruit. Maureen England, AUCKLAND 39Tomatoes can cope with light or heavy soils but need GOOD DRAINAGE. Jimmy Sim, WAIKATO 40Dig a DEEP HOLE, at least twice the size of the rootball, because nice, loose soil around the roots will allow them to grow strongly. Frances O’Connor, THAMES 41GIVE THEM SPACE! Plants need at least 50cm between them. Cherry tomatoes need a bit more than that because they sprawl. We get a lot of fungal disease problems in Auckland, but giving plants enough air circulation helps delay or even prevent fungal problems. Rania Crawford, MANUKAU “My granddad used to swear giving tomatoes a splash of seawater made them taste sweeter too.” 42I go for varieties with EARLY in the name. They ripen more quickly and I can always pick my crop before the humidity gets worse. I like ‘Baxter’s Early Bush’, ‘Early Doll’ and ‘Early Girl’. Khye Millard, AUCKLAND 43For sweeter fruit, stop watering a few days before you pick, or even stop after fruit forms! My granddad used to swear giving toms a splash of SEAWATER made them taste sweeter too. Julia Leigh, CHRISTCHURCH 44I rent, so I grow mine in pots in case I have to move. Certain VARIETIES suit container-growing better than others. I stick to cherry tomatoes and determinate tomatoes. Jude Clifton, WELLINGTON 45I always make sure to use a big pot. A single plant needs a 10L pot at least. Sometimes, if I have more plants than pots, I cut holes in one side of a bag of POTTING MIX (for drainage) flip it over and make slits in the other side and then plant straight into that. Sally Kerrigan, HAMILTON 46Stressful growing conditions such as drought stress, heat and cold will make tomato plants more vulnerable to pests and diseases, so the best way to deal with pest and disease problems is to PREVENT them in the first place. I lavish a lot of care on my plants! John Skeen, AUCKLAND 47A physical barrier can prevent a lot of pest problems from occurring. I have had great results growing my tomatoes in special TOMATO TENTS I have made from the woven mesh available from the Biological Husbandry Unit at Lincoln University. I find that it prevents all sorts of pests getting a foothold, including green vege bugs and even the dreaded tomato potato psyllid.
Maureen O’Sullivan, WELLINGTON
48I learnt last summer in the midst of terrible Auckland humidity that you MUST NOT USE A
SPRINKLER to water tomatoes as this encourages mildew on the leaves. Tracey Sunderland, AUCKLAND 49When considering planting this year, DON’T PLANT where you did last year. Jay Reid, WAIAU PA
50I allow a few laterals to grow then cut them off and place in a jar of water till they SPROUT ROOTS. These cuttings seem to flower quicker than the main plant and kids find the growth of the roots fascinating. Bert Robinson, ROTORUA