Carrying on from the post on sowing seeds yesterday, I'd like to add the following vital information. While the seed is still covered with soil, it does not need anything other than moisture and warmth to make it grow. However, when the seed germinates and sends up green shoots, it will need bright light as well. When it gets a little bigger, the plant will need food; the energy in the seed will be exhausted. Then you should start your fertilising schedule. When you plant the seedlings out, there should be abundant food in the soil in the form of compost, manures and castings, or whatever it is you've decided to use on your plants. That should be in the soil. While the seedling is still in the tray, you'll need to feed it - there is very little nutrient in seed raising mix, sand or vermiculite.
The ultimate prize - homemade tomato relish.
We only ever use organic fertilisers here - either bought from the nursery or homemade. Generally when our seedlings are still in their trays, we fertilise them with weak fish emulsion, weak liquid blood and bone OR weak comfrey or worm tea (homemade). Not all of them, choose one. Comfrey or worm tea is an excellent choice for both leafy green vegies and for fruiting ones, like cucumbers and capsicums/peppers. Fish emulsion and liquid blood and bone will put on healthy growth on your green leafy vegetables. I never go by the container recommendations on the fertiliser, I make up a 50% solution and apply it twice as often. For instance, if your fertiliser instructions recommend making up a 10 litre/quart watering can with two caps of fertiliser concentrate and apply it fortnightly, I would make up a watering can with one cap full of concentrate and apply it weekly.
A tray of tomato seedlings, newly emerged. At this stage they need no fertiliser but strong light. Enough light so a shadow is cast.
So, now on to tomatoes. Forget what I said above about fertilisers, tomatoes are different. I picked up this way of growing tomatoes from Peter Cundall, surely Australia's master vegetable gardener. I plant the seeds as normal and wait for germination. When the plant has grown to be about two inches above the top of the soil, I transplant it to a slightly bigger pot, fertilising with comfrey and a pinch of sulphate of potash (it's organic). Each time I transplant, I also water the plants with seaweed tea - this helps significantly with translpant shock. I wait again and when it grows another inch or two, I transplant it again to a larger pot - each time I remove the bottom leaves and bury the plant deep, and water with seaweed tea You can do this with very few plants, it would kill most of them. But tomatoes have the ability to produce more roots along their main stem and the more roots you have on a tomatoes, if you grow a healthy plant, the more fruit it will produce. Tomatoes also like being slightly root bound.
When they're a little bigger, transplant to a larger pot.
You keep your tomatoes seedlings going like this until they're strong and healthy and when they flower, you plant them in the garden - again, deep in the soil into which a pinch of sulphate of potash has been added. You might even bury half the stem and have the top half of the tomatoes about the soil. Put the stakes in before you plant the seedlings so you don't damage the roots by doing it later. If the plant is big enough, tie it to the stake straight away. Remove any axis shoots because if you allow them to grow, they'll make a very bushy plant and you'll get fewer tomatoes.
When you transplant again to a larger pot, pinch or cut off the lower leaves.
Once you've planted the tomatoes out and tied them to their stakes, mulch heavily with straw or hay, packing it in around the stem and up about three inches. Again, most plants would hate this but tomatoes thrive with this treatment. Water the mulch well without watering the tomatoes leaves. Always water tomatoes from below, never over the top of the plant. Splashing mud onto leaves with the hose will encourage disease. If you mulch well, the tomatoes will send more roots out into the mulch. Do not over fertilise tomatoes with nitrogen, it will make the bush grow like mad but you'll get almost no tomatoes. Make sure you keep staking and keep the branches off the ground. When the tomatoes are big enough, pick them still green, and ripen them in the house, out of the sun. They will develop their full flavour that way and be out of harm's way.
All the while, they'll need strong light while being protected from the harsh weather.
Tomatoes suffer from a disease called blossom end rot which is caused by inconsistent watering, resulting in a lack of calcium in the plants. You'll see a big circle that runs around the blossom end of the fruit. To avoid this, set up a watering schedule so your plants get consistent watering and don't suffer periods of dry.
When they're at this size and start flowering, plant them in the garden.
So, my friends, that's one of many ways of growing tomatoes. I'm sure you won't be disappointed if you try it. Just think of all those delicious tomato sandwiches and jars of tomato relish standing like jewels in your cupboard. Mmmmm. If you're growing heirlooms this year, don't forget to keep your very best tomato to save seeds from. Yes, I know it's a huge sacrifice to save THE best, but you want to pass on THE best seeds.
In my opinion the best tomato for flavour - the pink Brandywine.
If I were a betting woman, which I'm not, I'd bet that almost all our gardeners here would be growing tomatoes at some times during the season. Who will be growing tomatoes and what varieties are you growing?