Tomatoes are often a staple for any gardener. They are easy to grow whether grown in the greenhouse, garden or in containers, and when grown properly, will reward the gardener with kilograms of tasty fruit. They are a great plant to grow with children and it is fun to experiment with different varieties.
By now most tomato plants have been planted, though it is not too late to get one as we still have lots of long, warm days of summer ahead of us. Depending on the type of tomato you choose, they can be either kept in their container and placed on your deck or patio, or planted in a rich, well-drained soil. There are two main types of tomatoes: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes are bush tomatoes that grow to 3-4ft in height. The fruit on these plants all ripen at the same time, usually over a two week period. Indeterminate varieties will grow and continue to produce fruit until killed by frost. These are often vine varieties and they will require staking.
Tomatoes require lots of light. Place them in an area that will receive at least 6-8 hours of sunlight every day. They should have moderate, even temperatures. If the temperatures get too hot (above 35 Celsius) or too low (below 10 C) the pollen in the flower is no longer viable, resulting in the flower falling off. They also need consistent moisture especially when the fruit is forming. Inconsistent moisture could result in cracked fruit, which occurs when the tomato receives too much water after a dry spell. This over watering causes the fruit to grow so quickly that the skin cannot keep up, resulting in cracked skin. Tomato plants should be checked for moisture daily, especially when grown in a container. The best time to water tomato plants is in the morning. Be sure to water the soil, and not the foliage, as wet foliage can cause disease. Soil should be moist but not soggy.
Tomatoes are heavy feeders so feeding them is important. Use a fertilizer that is high in Phosphorous (which is the middle number of the three numbers listed on fertilizer containers) as it is the phosphorous that encourages flowers, and fruit. There are fertilizers specific for tomatoes which have added Calcium to help prevent blossom end rot.
If your tomato plants are not producing fruit it could be an easy fix. Sometimes the fruit does not set because of poor pollination, in which case, the plant can be gently shaken, preferably in the morning, or each flower is touched with a q-tip or small paint brush, to spread the pollen from one flower to the other.
Allow the fruit to ripen on the vine until it is ready to pick as this is when it is at its tastiest. It should be firm, and have reached its full colour. Don’t store tomatoes in the fridge, as the cooler temperatures will make the tomato lose its flavour. Instead, store tomatoes on the counter in room temperature.