Growing tomatoes is simple, fun and rewarding. With just a little bit of care, you can grow ripe tomatoes with flavours miles apart from what's available in the supermarket. Follow this guide on how to grow tomatoes to get the most out of your seedlings.
Tomatoes come in all shapes and sizes. In fact, there are an estimated 10,000 tomato varieties around the world, each with unique flavours and colours. When purchasing seeds or young plants you may come across the terms ‘hybrid’ and ‘heirloom’. Heirloom tomatoes are varieties which have been grown for several generations without any cross breeding. Hybrids are a recent breed between two genetically different tomatoes. With so many tomato varieties to choose from, it can be difficult to know which ones will be best suited to your taste buds and your garden. To get you started with growing tomatoes, we’ve compiled a short list of some of our favourite tomato varieties.
Tommy Toe: Not only are Tommy Toes regarded as one of the most flavoursome heirloom tomatoes, the plant is also resistant to many diseases and is largely unaffected by heat or humidity. Growing to around 1.4 to 1.8 meters tall and producing plenty of juicy cherry tomatoes, Tommy Toes are a sure winner for any garden.
Tigerella: High-yields, good disease resistance, and flavoursome fruit - the Tigerella is another favourite of ours amongst heirloom tomatoes. This variety is ready to harvest 12 to 15 weeks after sowing and is recognisable by its red and yellow, tiger-like stripes. Together with its rich, complex flavour and its decorative skin, the Tigerella is the perfect tomato for salads.
Aunt Ruby’s German Green Tomato: With its striking green flesh and strong flavour, this large beefsteak tomato variety works great in salsa and sauces. Like many other heirloom tomatoes, Aunt Ruby’s German Green Tomato is ripe after 12 weeks and remains green - you’ll know it’s ripe when the skin begins to go soft and it starts to go slightly yellow.
San Marzano: Thanks to its sweet flavour and limited acidity, the San Marzano is considered by many chefs around the world as the best variety of cherry tomatoes for sauces. These Italian heirloom tomatoes produce plenty of fruit and are great to grow in small spaces, like balconies.
Now that you’ve decided on the variety, let’s take a closer look at how to grow tomatoes. Each variety will require slightly different conditions and care, so make sure you also have a look at the back of your packet of seeds.
Although you can sow tomato seeds directly into the soil outdoors, it’s advised you sow them inside first in order to increase the success of your plants. Evenly distribute your seeds amongst either small pots or a propagator filled with soil, then place them on a sunny windowsill. Keep the seedlings at a constant temperature of around 18°C, and make sure the soil remains moist, but not too wet!
Depending on where in Australia you’re based, will play an important factor in when to plant tomatoes. To make things easier, we’ve made a simple chart for you to use in order to determine when to sow your seeds, and when to transplant them outside.
Before planting your tomatoes outside, make sure you’ve chosen the perfect spot for them. To start, tomato plants love the sun. So, make sure you plant them somewhere where they’ll receive a good amount of light, but at the same time also protected from strong winds. If the sun in your area is known to be particularly intense, then it might be a good idea to cover the plants in order to protect them from getting a sunburn!
Next, make sure you leave enough space for your plant to grow. Despite the large variety in tomatoes, there are generally only two growth habits: indeterminate or determinate. Indeterminate tomato plants will grow tall and continuously produce fruit until the first frost. These plants will require stakes for support. Determinate tomato plants on the other hand, are much bushier and compact in their growth and so will require much less support. Determinate plants will produce fruit for a few weeks and then gradually stop.
Once your tomato plants begin to grow, you’ll want to provide stakes in order to allow them to develop a straight, healthy stem. Stick a bamboo cane, or anything similar, into the soil, close enough to the plant in order to tie the stem to the cane, but far enough so as not to damage the roots. Don’t tie the plants too tight to the stake, otherwise, it could cut into the stem and damage the plant.
Just like us humans, tomatoes also need feeding. Fertiliser not only promotes healthy plant growth but also helps develop flavoursome fruit. Apply a granular long term fertiliser to the soil a week after planting your tomatoes outside. Then, every 10 - 14 days add some liquid fertiliser whilst watering to get the best results.
Speaking of watering your plants - make sure you do so regularly so as to keep the soil moist. It’s important to never let the soil dry out completely with tomatoes. That being said, make sure not to over water the plants either! Irregular watering can lead to tomatoes splitting, or even worse - pests and disease.
Tall growing, indeterminate tomatoes will require extra pruning attention. There are several benefits to pruning your tomato plants, including maximising the plants production of fruit as well as improving air circulation and therefore minimising the risk of pests and diseases developing. Begin by removing shoots which grow where developed branches meet the stem, these are known as suckers. However, make sure you only remove suckers that grow on the bottom half of the plant. Use either your fingers or pruners to snip off these young shoots. You may also wish to remove any lower branches that have started to go yellow.
Generally speaking, tomatoes will be ready to harvest 10 - 14 weeks after you’ve sowed the seeds. If at the end of the growing season your plant still has unripe tomatoes hanging on the vines, simply remove the fruit and place them in a warm place indoors until they are ready. Gently rinse the tomatoes with water to remove any sand or dirt and let them dry before preparing them.
Now that you know all about how to grow tomatoes, you’ll probably want to do something with the ripe fruit. There are countless delicious ways to prepare and preserve harvested tomatoes. If you’d like to preserve your tomatoes then you might want to take a look at Lee Holmes’s tomato sauce recipe or this delicious sun-dried tomato recipe. Or perhaps you’ve got plenty of unripe tomatoes hanging on your plants at the end of the growing season, then why not try Cornersmith’s pickled green tomatoes recipe.
With so many tomato varieties there are equally as many recipes! Here are some other delicious recipes you might want to try with your freshly harvested tomatoes:
Roast Tomato and Goat’s Curd Tart
Garden Fresh Tomato Soup
Baked Feta and Tomatoes
Lee Holmes: Watercress, Leek and Coconut Soup
Growing Fruit & Vegetables with Kids
Grow, Share, Eat: GARLIC
Lee Holmes: Crustless Vegetable Quiche