This year dad gave me ten tomato plants for my expanded vegie garden. He grows his plants from seed; a beautiful, rich heirloom variety of colours and shapes and tastes and names. So I have black krims (my absolute favourite for their colour, texture and taste), green zebras, pereforma abruzzese (new for us, and it’s a big sturdy giant of a plant), mamma mia, big beryl, kellogg’s breakfast, green grapes.
So with more plants in the ground, I needed to lift my game. I needed to learn and understand how to grow tomatoes. Well, learn, at least — some of this I just do, even if I don’t comprehend the reasons behind the actions. In a previous garden share, it was suggested that I get dad to give us a tutorial. So here it is of sorts: Dad showed me on his tomatoes what he does; I came home and practised on mine; and this is what I came up with. Now tending my tomatoes is not stressful or strange, but purposeful and even meditative. It’s almost like editing: whittling away at the weak and superfluous, making space for the strong and wonderful to shine.
Snip out laterals. The easiest thing. Imagine your tomato plant is a series of Ys. Stems, branches — Ys. A lateral is a soft little shoot that pops up between the arms of those Ys. Pick it out with your thumb and forefinger if it is fledgling, or a pair of scissors if longer (I find a pair of small but slim scissors is good for tomato work, better than secateurs). They are superfluous, so out!
I've already removed one lateral here, and it's popping out more! Determined little thing.
Shape your tomato tree. Continuing the motif, dad grows his tomatoes like one big Y: a main trunk which branches out to two main stems, off which your leaves and fruit will grow. Think of it almost as a standard, so trim away lower soft off-shoots and bottom branches. I’ve seen dad take it to extremes — the bushes almost look skeletal. I’m not that ruthless. So I have a lot more side branches than dad, even though I have established an approximate Y shape.
This trimming helps focus the plant on its fruit, and also helps with ventilation, which helps with pollination. Tomatoes apparently do not pollinate by bees; the flowers pollinate themselves, dropping their pollen in the breeze. So if you have an airy plant, the flower stems can do a little shake in the breeze and sprinkle their pollen about.
I also figure if air can circulate around the plant, there’ll be less chance of disease, and more light to ripen the fruit.
Trim the fruit branches. This was a bit trickier to photograph for you. If you have leaf growth come out after the flowers (on the same stem), then trim it off. Here you can just see a stem, its flowers, and then some more leaves hanging off below. Cut those leaves off, otherwise the plant will put its goodness into growing the leaves, not your fruit.
Some of my plants also grew large leaves (reminding me of monsterios) so I trimmed them off, on the same basis.
Hmmm, must darn gardening top...
Tying up the plant will help it grow strong and upright, and protect branches from breaking off, either in strong winds or under the sheer weight of your bounteous tomato crop. Tomatoes can be heavy; some of my abruzzeses are massive!
I believe in lots of twine, and tying branches back to the stakes even if they look really sturdy; just in case; better safe than sorry. And heck, it’s only twine; less than $10 a spool from the hardware shop.
Repeat often. All these steps — laterals, leafy bits, trimming, tying up — need to be done through out your plant’s growth. It helps keeps the plant supported and putting all its energy into big luscious fruit — which is what it’s all about.
However, I will admit two things:
- I didn’t start doing this until very late December, until Dad’s lessons. So there was a lot of leaf growth to wade thru at first, a lot of ‘re-structuring’ to do, and some branches were growing almost horizontal! But no harm was done; the stems were still soft and flexible enough for me to secure against stakes and pull back to an upright position. It was just a lot more work than doing a little bit regularly as the plants grew
- unfortunately, this went out the window once I netted my tomato bed a week or two ago, against the blackbirds. The net turned out to be too small and therefore stretched so tight that it’s a pain to lift and re-peg. So while I wait for the hardware store to get a supply of larger nets, I’ve not done any trimming. Which bugs me now I know how important it is! And I miss the work: it’s a good way of regularly checking your plants and fruit.
Wash your hands. Dad said the sap from the plants can sting your eyes, so take care while working and wash your hands thoroughly once you’ve finished. Actually, scrub your hands: I have thought my hands clean and when I dried them on a towel, the towel became very dirty. So obviously tomato sap is very strong stuff!
I haven’t covered watering, or feeding, and only briefly touched on netting your fruit. Let me just say, netting is essential if you have birds in the neighbourhood. There is nothing more upsetting than coming home and finding an almost-ripe tomato you had your eye on pecked to pieces (you could probably hear me cursing from there).
But watering and feeding are straightforward. I wanted to record here all the nitty gritty things dad showed me this summer. I have lots of big fruit on, so obviously this is working — we just need some consistent sunshine now to ripen it all! Then hopefully I shall be drowning in tomatoes; I think we would all agree a glut of tomatoes is no bad thing.
Why we do it.