Top tomato tips

XS15_garden_Tomato.jpgChoose a type, either dwarf or vine, that suits your needs and tastes. Growing more than one variety (if you’ve got the room) helps spread cropping times. It also increases the odds that at least one will suit whatever weather our summer brings this year.

Prepare deep, well-drained loamy soil with lots of organic matter. If your soil is not up to much, add barrow loads of compost or buy some soil in (the expense and effort is well worth it).

Plant when soil temperatures have began to warm (which is often about 6–8 weeks later than the traditional Labour Weekend planting time). If you plant in a cooler soil your tomatoes will sulk, produce less and be less resistant to disease.

Prune to encourage more fruit rather than lots of foliage. Remove side shoots (laterals) which grow in the angle between leaf and stem, every week or two (so the plant wastes less energy). This also improves air flow around the plant, reducing potential for disease. If you leave your laterals, they soon grow into side branches, using resources and reducing air flow.

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Use your fingers when pruning rather than a knife or secateurs, and always prune on warm, sunny days, preferably mid-morning when the plant is dry, to give diseases less chance to infect the wound.

Side-dress with fertiliser when your first little green tomatoes begin to form. Tomatoes are a hungry crop and when the fruit sets they really need a boost.

At least once a week give your plants a good water (at least 2cm of rain or irrigation). Drip irrigation or low-level watering is best for tomatoes as less water is wasted and the foliage is kept dry, lessening the chance of disease.

Mulch plants with straw, grass clippings (best when several days old), seagrass or composted leaves. This conserves soil moisture and provides ideal conditions for the roots. Mulch also reduces the number of disease spores splashing on to leaves from the soil.