Growing tomatoes in a climate where summer temperatures barely get above 20 degrees Celsius can make for heartbreaking gardening. But it seems so ingrained in all vegetable gardeners that it's not really a summer vege patch without them, that people like me keep attempting to grow them with often pitiful results.
This spring will be my fourth attempt to grow tomatoes and have a supply throughout the summer months and into autumn. The first time, all the seedlings I bought died from damping off, a fungal disease that leaves seedlings lying flat as though they're taking a nap. The second time, I scorched all my seedlings in a plastic greenhouse. The third time, I got most of my seedling tomatoes, both cherry and Grosse Lisse, to fruiting through careful sowing, hardening off and cloching, but blight swept through and claimed half my cherry crop, and all my Grosse Lisse. I was devastated.
But you learn from these things. This year I'm sticking to cherry tomatoes. My dreams of making buckets of tomato sauce aren't going to happen unless I a) Get a glasshouse, which isn't practical on my section; b) change the angle of the planet; or 3) Genetically engineer a tomato that can grow in cooler climes.
I have four varieties to sow; Gardeners Delight from Kings seeds, Sweet 100s and two varieties from friends who have given me seeds - a "yellow cherry" and a semi-famous variety (among my friends anyway) that was still putting out a tonne of sweet cherries at Sandy Bay in Northland from a vine that was growing unnurtured in a field near the beach. It grows practically wild in my friend's Whangarei garden, but how well it does here, where conditions are the exact opposite, we'll find out.
I sow tomatoes inside - they need temperatures between 20 and 25 degrees to germinate. I sow them into a punnet in my windowsill propagator, then transplant them into a bigger pot once they outgrow the punnet. I keep them inside on the windowsill keeping the soil moist and turning them around so they don't grow like the Leaning Tower of Pisa seeking out the sun. It's traditional to plant them out in New Zealand on Labour Weekend, but last year, as I found out the hard way by losing several plants, it was far too cold for them. I remember coming home from work one evening in early November to find my Sandy Bay friend sitting in my living room with a hat and scarf on. My tomatoes out in the garden were shivering as well. This year, I will wait till at least mid-November before putting my tomatoes outside. Let's hope that's long enough.
Tomatoes need a sunny, sheltered spot with good drainage and a slightly acid soil. To prepare the soil, I'll be digging it over, adding gypsum to help break up the clay and add calcium, add compost, and perhaps even some leaf mould to further add structure to the soil. But there's another formulation I'm trialling this year - a fertiliser that will go in the soil under each plant.
It's made of compost, crushed egg shells, coffee grounds, wood ash and hair. Yes, hair. All these things have nutrients the tomatoes will lap up, or rather suck up, from the soil. Egg shells have calcium, coffee grounds have nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (make friends with your local café - I get a bag every two weeks that I put in my lasagne beds from the café in my building), wood ash has potassium that helps fruiting plants fruit, and hair, it has keratin. It stops the tomatoes getting split ends. No, really, it's a protein that tomatoes need. I haven't tried this combo before, but I'm willing to give it a go.
After three years of tomato flop crops, I'm optimistic that with four varieties to try, a well-prepared bed for them to go in, I should be off to a good start. Still, I wonder if I am doing something wrong, something I'm missing. My neighbour had cherry tomatoes aplenty with minimal effort, so I'm wondering if tomatoes and I aren't destined to grow harmoniously.
Help me grow tomatoes this year! Share your tips and tricks! Save me from tomato heartbreak!
Follow me on Twitter, or join Woman vs Wild on Facebook for more photos and garden inspiration
Post a comment