Healthy home grown tomatoes

31 August 2009
Tomatoes are the most popular plant in the vegetable garden. Everyone likes to grow them. They can be a difficult crop, because they suffer from a number of diseases and the wildlife love them, but if you can get it right, it's worth it. I wrote this post a year ago on growing tomatoes from seed but I want to add a few hints that might make it easier for you.

Select your seeds and plant the seed in a propagation tray full of seed raising mix. This is not potting mix, it's a special sandy open soil that will give your tomato seeds the best chance of germinating. You can make your own seed raising mix, or buy a bag. I'll do a post on potting mix and seed raising mix soon. Plant one see per cell, at the depth recommended on the packet, and label them with the type of tomato and the date. Then water them in with a plastic bottle sprayer. If you use the hose you risk moving the seeds around.

Place the tray in a sheltered area that gets sunlight for most of the day. If the area is too protected and the seedlings get too little sunlight, they'll grow tall and leggy and develop into weak plants that you'll have trouble growing.

Depending on your climate, about seven days later, the seed will germinate and start to grow. It will get to the stage where you have two smooth leaves on each side of the stem. Then, true leaves will form that will be crinkly, like tomatoes leaves. Never let your seedlings dry out, but don't over water them and make sure they have good drainage. If the tray is kept wet it may encourage fungal disease. One watering a day should be enough but if you're in a hot climate, you should check them in the afternoon as well and give them a little drink if the soil is dry.

When the tomatoes look like this, it's time to pot them on. You'll need small pots, those long tubes are ideal. Carefully transplant the seedling to it's own pot and bury the stem a little deeper than you normally would for other plants. Tomatoes can grow more roots from the stem and if you allow them to do this, you get a stronger pant with a bigger yield of tomatoes. The tomatoes below are the same as those above just two weeks later.

The tomato seedlings above are potato leaf potatoes - most potato leaf tomatoes are heirlooms. These are Brandywines.

These are regular leaf tomatoes - cherry tomatoes. These seedlings came up in a pot that I'd put some of our homemade compost in. The seeds germinated in the pot, so I transplanted them into their own pots and soon they'll be planted out in the garden. When the tomatoes are the size of the cherry tomatoes, or when they start glowing flowers, it's time to plant them in the garden.

Make sure your stakes are already in - putting them in later will damage the tomato roots. Plant the seedling deep into the soil, an inch or two lower than you normally would. Clip off the lower leaves to allow you to do this. Tomatoes like a rich soil but not much fertilising once they're in the ground. Giving them too much nitrogen will give you huge green lush bushes but you'll get few tomatoes. Put a tablespoon of sulphate of potash (it's organic) in the planting hole and water the plants in with a seaweed tea. Then stand back!

Tomatoes require a bit of housekeeping to keep them growing well. Gently tie the main stem to the stake and continue doing this as the bush grows bigger. Clip off the lower leaves, clip off all diseased leaves. Don't put the diseased leaves in the compost. Keep them well mulched. We use straw or hay as a mulch and we push it close to the stem. Sprinkle a little blood and bone into the mulch to encourage new roots to grow into the mulch. The tomato will send out new roots wherever the mulch is touching the stem.

Water the plants, depending on your climate, maybe two or three times a week. Top up with a tonic of seaweed or worm tea every two or three weeks.

You can pick tomatoes green without it affecting their taste. Tomatoes ripen due to the warm air, not sunlight, so harvesting your crop green and ripening in the warm air on the veranda or on the kitchen window sill will give you excellent tomatoes. We also harvest our tomatoes green because in our main growing season there are a lot of bugs and birds just waiting for a nice ripe tomato to feast on.

You won't get great crops in your first season or two, but if you stick with it, you'll perfect your technique for your climate. It's different for all of us, just learn as you go and don't give up. Overall, tomatoes will give you a lot of satisfaction when you harvest a good crop. They can be used in so many ways - both ripe and green - and having a slice of home grown tomato on a piece of your own freshly made bread is a treat only few of us will know. Good luck with your crops and happy gardening.


  1. Dear Rhonda,
    last season we had (for the first time) seeds of tomatoes. We didn't know how to tread them, planted the seeds (way to many!) and let the sun and rain do the rest.
    Now we have an enormes amount of sweet little cherrytomatoes and also from teh normal ones.
    My husband and I just read your storie and we now know what to do when we wake up tomorrow: take all the green tomatoes to let them "grow up" in the kitchen.
    Thank you very much for your tomato-lesson. Hope to come back again real soon ;o)

    Greetz from Holland, Mama Monique

  2. This year was the first time I started tomato from seed. I use to go to the greenhouse and buy the plants already well established. I am being rewarded for my hard work with a bumper crop of tomatoes this year and we just had our first one yesterday. How delicious!

    The only thing we have to worry about now is frost!

    Have a great day and thanks for the tips..I will definitely be using them next year.

  3. My tomatoes have done very well this year. I went away last weekend and left the roma tomatoes and the rest of the tomatoes to ripen some more while I was gone. When I went out to pick them Sunday afternoon, the deer had eaten all of the ripe romas and several of the ripe big tomatoes. I was not a happy person since I was going to make sauce with them this week. I did end up with enough to make 5 jars of sauce, but was really disappointed that the deer enjoyed the romas. They were very selective and only ate the ripe ones. Next time I will go ahead and pick them and let them ripen in the house.

    I have never been able to get tomatoes to start from seeds. I think it is because I don't have anywhere in my house that gets enough sunlight where I can sit the tomatoes. Don't have a greenhouse either. This year a friend that has a greenhouse started some for me. I might try them again this year.

    Thanks for the tomato lesson. Your garden always looks so good.


  4. Good mornning Rhonda, those are good tips, thanks. BTW did you see the new REAL gardening show that started on SBS last week?

  5. Hi Rhonda

    A great post and one that I will be referring back to I'm sure. I put in a couple of plants about 6 weeks ago and have learnt several ways not to grow tomatoes (sigh)- these little seeds that came with the Burkes Backyad mag will be given the Rhonda treatment and hopefully won't be quite so unruly! Your advice regarding proper staking right from the beginning is well worth following!

  6. Hello Rhonda,thanks for this informative post.
    After a slow start and then horrific cyclonic weather in May, I ended up with a very successful crop of Brandywine tomatoes, the first I have grown.I have made tomato sauce,eaten plenty fresh and have a good supply in the freezer.I am looking forward to the challenge of doing it all again next year.


  7. Great Timing. At this time I'm waiting for my tomatoes to ripen.
    Question...Do you have chance to grow to chops of tomatoes? I only get one crop of tomatoes.
    Tomatoes seem easy for me to grow the one I have trouble with is cucumbers.

    I notice your canning jar is different shape then what we use.

    coffee is on.

  8. There is a comprehensive article in the latest Organic Gardener magazine by Pete Cundall. Pete says the perfect temperature for ripening tomatoes is around 25 c but he says a common blunder is to place green tomatoes to ripen on a sunny windowsill... the high temperature causes them to turn red prematurely... this can happen in a heatwave too. He advocates ripening mature still green fruit in bowls or boxes well away from windows to ripen slowly for maximum flavour and sweetness.

  9. Thankyou for the good advice Rhonda. I learned a few new things and that is always a good thing. I was wondering if you ever use Epsom salts in your garden. If you do where and whenand how much do you advise using? Do you ever use the seaweed sprayed on the leaves or just into the soil? The tomatoes we planted are about done for this year but many volenteers grew up later and they are producing well now. We and the neighbors will have tomatoes for a while yet. :) Jody

  10. Our tomatoes got blight this year (first time ever, but we have had - another - wet summer again). next year I shall grow under cover and look for blight-resistant varieties. I liked your idea of permanent trellis as a framework to tie them up against and will try that next year too - at least, when we're established in our new home as a downsize is planned.

  11. I just love growing tomatoes Rhonda! Last year I dedicated 3 of my garden beds to them, however when we had 3 days in a row of temps over 45C, I lost half the crop even with shade cloth over them. I grow all of mine from seed and only grow heirloom. The varieties and tastes are all so different, and so much fun to grow.

    All the best with your growing season up in Qld. Mine is just begining down here in Melton! I will be planting the seeds next weekend.

    all the best from Gav

  12. Thanks Rhonda, I was planning on planting some tomato seeds this week. Timely post :)

  13. Rhonda, in your last post you mentioned making ginger beer. I had no idea this could be homemade and would love for you to share how this is done. Thank you for everything. Jessica

  14. We pick the green tomatoes and EAT them that way! I make Fried Green Tomatoes, or my MIL makes green tomatoe pie or chutney with them. Yummy! :)

  15. Rhonda-
    Are the jars pictured canned to sit on a shelf or must the go into the frig?? wondering if these are sealed tids.. Just started my canning for the year. Bought tomatoes this weekend, but hoping to have enough of my own to still do some this season. It was a starting out and learning year and for the most part, pretty successful. I started tomatoe seeds, but many were quite leggy, even though they were right by my winter window. Do others have good luck with this, or should I have some sort of grow light over them?? I did have some that are now bearing lovely green tomatoes and my friend benefitted from my cherry tomatoe seeds, since we split the plants and then I managed to kill them at planting.:o) live and learn..all a process. Thanks for the encouragement, no matter what we've done to our plants!!

  16. Lots of helpful advice here, thank you. My tomatoes are pretty good this year.

    Love your new banner!

    Diana x

  17. Ah that is what I need to be doing, go and get seed packets and start planting seeds. I always grow tomatoes (normally just from seedlings though - so this is the year to give it a try) to be honest it's the smell of the tomato plant I just love, it is wonderful when you brush up against it!

  18. Thank you for the simple hints and great photos. I'm hoping for a better crop next season!

  19. This post has been most helpful, as I have just planted a bunch of tomato plants for the first time. Thank you! :)

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