Time to plant out your toma­toes

Whanganui Midweek - - NEWS -

Mid Oc­to­ber and Labour week­end are the tra­di­tional time for plant­ing out sum­mer flow­ers and veg­eta­bles and a great time to get into all as­pects of the gar­den.

This week we are fo­cus­ing on toma­toes as they are one of the top veg­eta­bles grown in our gar­dens. Ev­ery year in Oc­to­ber many thou­sands of tomato plants are planted in the hope that a great crop will be har­vested.

Ripe tomato fruits come in red, yel­low, orange, pink or white and round, flat plum or pear shaped. Some may even de­velop un­usual pro­tu­ber­ances. Size varies from a 2-3cm di­am­e­ter in the small cherry toma­toes to ap­prox­i­mately 10cm in say beef­steak. All can be eaten raw or cooked.

Toma­toes grow best in a full sun po­si­tion but shel­tered from the wind. They grow best at 21-24˚C and do not thrive at tem­per­a­tures be­low 10˚C or above 27˚C and do not tol­er­ate frost.

Toma­toes tol­er­ate a wide range of fer­tile and well-drained soils tend­ing acid within a pH range of 5.5 to 7.0. Some lime may need to be ap­plied to very acid soils when grow­ing toma­toes. The plants per­form best if they are ro­tated with other veg­etable crops to pre­vent a build-up of soil borne pests and dis­eases. They should not be grown in the same patch of ground year af­ter year. This can be a prob­lem in small gar­dens and green­houses. If pests and dis­eases are not a ma­jor prob­lem and the soil is boosted with reg­u­lar ap­pli­ca­tions of com­post and fer­tiliser then ro­ta­tion may not be nec­es­sary. Toma­toes are also grown very suc­cess­fully in con­tain­ers and this is an­other pop­u­lar op­tion.

Pre­pare the soil by work­ing in ‘Tui Tomato Mix’ or other such prod­ucts. Mix in the soil at least 30cm deep since toma­toes de­velop a deep root sys­tem in this range and are gross feed­ers. Work in tomato fer­tiliser be­fore plant­ing; toma­toes need high lev­els of phos­phate, but low lev­els of ni­tro­gen. Dress­ings of feeds such as; ‘Tui Tomato Fer­tiliser’ dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son are most ben­e­fi­cial. The use of slow re­leas­ing ‘manutec tomato tablets’ I have found the most ef­fec­tive for the on­go­ing feed­ing of toma­toes, cap­sicums and cu­cum­bers in pots and con­tain­ers.

Tomato seeds planted now will pro­duce a crop in Fe­bru­ary/March whereas tomato plants planted out now can pro­duce ripe fruit from late De­cem­ber de­pend­ing upon weather con­di­tions. For a suc­ces­sional crop you may like to sow some seeds now.They’re best sown in a seed rais­ing mix in clean seed trays. Fill trays to about 20mm be­low the top then firm and level care­fully. Soak the tray and mix un­til it is thor­oughly wet be­fore the seed is sown and stand for a while to al­low ex­cess wa­ter to drain off.

Sow seeds evenly across the tray and cover with a 3-5mm layer of seed rais­ing mix.

The best tem­per­a­ture for ger­mi­nat­ing tomato seeds is 21 to 24˚C. Ger­mi­na­tion will oc­cur at much lower tem­per­a­tures, but it is slower. Cover seed trays with a piece of glass and paper dur­ing ger­mi­na­tion and turn the glass over daily to re­move any con­den­sa­tion. A well-pre­pared tray should re­quire no fur­ther wa­ter­ing un­til af­ter seedlings have emerged. High hu­mid­ity at the time of their emer­gence helps the seedlings to shed their seed coats. Seedlings should be pricked out when the seed leaves (cotyle­dons) are fully ex­panded — this can be 6-12 days af­ter sow­ing. Loosen them by slid­ing a small la­bel/ ice­block stick/ nar­row tea­spoon or sim­i­lar un­der the roots, lift the plants by one of their seed leaves — not the stem, to avoid dam­age.

Only vig­or­ous healthy seedlings should be pricked out, into a good qual­ity pot­ting mix such as ‘Tui Tomato Mix’. Dis­card the rest. Trans­plant into 5-6cm pots at the two or three leaf stage and give the seedlings am­ple ven­ti­la­tion, space and light. They can stand short pe­ri­ods of low tem­per­a­ture so long as day tem­per­a­tures don’t fall be­low 7˚C, soil tem­per­a­ture is about 10˚C and the risk of frost is over through out most of Whanganui, ex­cept pos­si­bly in up­per Aramoho. If nec­es­sary cover with cloches or plas­tic over a frame or stake sup­ports in the early stages to pro­vide shel­ter.

All tomato types should be wa­tered and mulched thor­oughly once the soil is warm. Plants in con­tain­ers need more fre­quent wa­ter­ing and sup­ple­men­tary tomato fer­tiliser to com­ple­ment the loss of leached out nu­tri­ents. Over wa­ter­ing or over­feed­ing re­duces flavour. Avoid wa­ter­ing the fo­liage as this may lead to fun­gus in­fec­tion, ap­ply wa­ter di­rectly to the soil over the root area or use a wa­ter­ing can, soaker hose or mi­cro ir­ri­ga­tion drip­pers.

In mid to late sum­mer some like to re­move the grow­ing tip (ter­mi­nal shoot) to three leaves above a fruit truss to dis­cour­age fur­ther height and en­cour­age the re­main­ing fruit to ripen. Lat­er­als should be re­moved about once a week, be­gin­ning about three weeks af­ter plant­ing. Do this when the plants are dry to avoid in­fec­tion. Re­mov­ing some fo­liage im­proves air cir­cu­la­tion, re­duces the risk of dis­ease and al­lows more sun­light to ripen. Some pests and dis­eases of toma­toes are damp­ing off of seedlings, mites, white­flies, tomato cater­pil­lars, bronze wilt, ne­ma­todes, fruit flies, tomato psyl­lid and tomato blight. Toma­toes un­der cover are sus­cep­ti­ble to white­flies, mo­saic virus, grey mould (Botry­tis), tomato leaf mould, mag­ne­sium de­fi­ciency, boron de­fi­ciency, stem rots, foot and root rots and blos­som end rot. Many prob­lems are rare and can be con­trolled read­ily if ob­served.

The two most com­mon prob­lems in Whanganui are blight and tomato (also po­tato) psyl­lid. Blight is a fun­gal prob­lem and can be pre­vented and con­trolled with the use of Gro Safe Free Flo Cop­per or Yates Tomato Dust. The tomato/ po­tato psyl­lid is read­ily con­trolled by the use of Yates Mavrik or Yates Suc­cess. Both these sprays are bee friendly.

Come and see us at the gar­den cen­tre with a photo or sam­ple of your plants if you en­counter any of these prob­lems, and we can ad­vise on the best means of con­trol.

Have a good week!

■ Gareth Carter is gen­eral man­ager of Spring­vale Gar­den Cen­tre.

Toma­toes come in all colours.

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