The warmer weather offers a bounty of goodness in the garden. Summer lends its vitality to the things we’ve got growing in the vegie patch, and the result is as colourful as it is delicious.
I’ve recently moved into a new place, and am now working to make it feel more like home by getting my garden going. The act of planting a few things actually feels like I’m putting roots down here; it’s like a bonding exercise with the house.
But out of all of my supper crops, tomatoes would have to be my favourite. And the best bit? They’re really not that hard.
Tomatoes, a Beginners Guide:
Who can go past a home-grown tomato? Seriously, they just taste better than those we can get at the supermarket. I started mine indoors from seed in spring, using three different heirloom varieties, and then planted the seedlings out into the garden when I moved here. It’s a little late for that now, so head down to your local nursery and pick up existing seedlings to get started.
Pick a nice and sunny location, and make sure that you’ve worked through a nice organic fertiliser into the soil—I like chicken manure, but don’t be too heavy-handed or you’ll risk burning the plants with too much nitrogen. Believe me, I’ve done it and it’s heart-breaking.
The general rule is one 25-litre bag of manure per square metre, but I actually use about half that to begin with. It’s easier to add more later than to undo the damage of being overzealous in the beginning. Besides, it doesn’t smell great so you want to be careful on that front if you share your house or apartment with others.
If you’re using containers, choose a deep planter and fill it with a ready-made soil or potting mix enriched with plenty of organic matter. There are those especially for edible gardens, so keep an eye out for those.
Lastly, as much as tomatoes love the sun, they need some protection from the heat—especially in the early days. Cover the ground with a few inches of mulch such as pea straw or sugarcane, to keep the top soil from getting too hot and drying out, as well as to control weeds. Don’t use wood chips or similar, as they can steal nitrogen away from the soil.
Protect your tomatoes from excessive sun for the first 3-5 days by giving them some shade while they adjust. Water well each day, then once they’re established you can ease off to every 2-3 days.
You’ll need to stake your tomatoes to support their growth upwards. Place the stakes into the soil now while the plants are young, to avoid damaging a more developed root system later on. Use string, zip ties, or whatever you want really, but whatever you do, make sure you only tie the stem loosely. Remember that it will get thicker as the plant grows upwards, so you want to make sure you leave enough room not to strangle it.
Plant now for a crop in February/March.