Sep 242012

Lycopersicon esculentum

Is there anything more satisfying than growing, harvesting and tucking into a home grown tomato? For those of you who reckon there are 100 things MORE satisfying, I reckon you shouldn’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Tomatoes are immensely enjoyable to grow and eat, and are a dead-set must have in every Yummy Yard. So, get reddy to plant some saucy little tomatoes!

Planting Schedule

Warm: All year (in frost free zones)
Temperate: August – November
Cool: September – November

Position, Position, Position!

If you’re looking for a top spot for these big, red beauties, the more sun the better. In really hot spots (G’day to all my mates in sunny Queensland) I would recommend making a wee “tomato tent” from shadecloth offcuts. This stops tomatoes getting sunburnt. A bit like “slip, slop, slap” for fruit!

Everywhere else in Australia, full sun is the go! Try for about seven hours of sun a day, for loads of fruit and healthy foliage.

When you whack in your babies, plant them deep into the soil, right up to the lowest proper leaves, as these guys will root from the stalk. This will make the plant tough, buff and ready to grow!

Talking Dirty

Unlike some other Yummy Yard favourites, (I’m looking at you sweet corn and pumpkin), tomatoes can be grown in a good-sized pot as well as a garden bed. In fact, there are some tasty little hybrids bred especially for pots and even hanging baskets!

Tomatoes love compost, and a bit of pelletised chook poo won’t do them any harm either. The best way to ensure top toms is to prepare the bed at least one month before planting time. Whack in some top quality compost, pelletised poo, a nice straw mulch and then count down the days! The tip here is to ensure the soil drains freely and isn’t too heavy (meaning not dense and clayey).

Now, tomatoes can be a wee bit fussy with regards to their soil pH, so I would suggest either buying a kit, or taking some soil down to the local SGA nursery for testing. Ideally, soil pH for tomatoes should be between 6.5 – 6.7, and this prevents all manner of hideous stuff from happening, in particular a dirty little disorder called Blossom End Rot. Prevention, as with most things, is better than a cure here, so my tip is whacking some dolomite lime into the tomato bed well before planting (about two months is perfect). Blossom End Rot is essentially a calcium deficiency, and dolomite lime will provide a nice whack of calcium ovber a long period. Don’t leave this to the last minute, as it can take a while to become available to the plant. Ideally, if your soil has not been limed in the last two years (and honestly, whose has), it is recommended that 1 handful of dolomite lime be applied per tomato plant. I reckon mix this through with your compost, and walk away for a couple of months! Too easy!

In cooler areas, my tip is hold the mulch until late spring / early summer when the sun has had a chance to warm up the soil. Warm soil will help your big red legends grow like crazy! Tomatoes are one of the few plants which can tolerate mulch being applied right up to the stalk.

Feed Me!

Feeding tomatoes is pretty unnecessary at first, especially if you have prepared your soil well. Avoid manufactured fertilisers for these guys, in my opinion it’s a waste of money, environmentally irresponsible and they really don’t need it. If you are dead keen to feed, give ’em more compost! My secret is good soil preparation, coupled with the occasional drink of liquid chook poo… soak some pellets in a big old bucket of water for a few days, giving it a stir occasionally, and you’re away. I do this every two to three weeks during the flowering and fruiting period!

Stake ya’ claim!

Stake your claim with tomatoes! All toms, even the tiny little ones and the pot-bred varieties will benefit from staking. Like me, they have a tendency to want to be horizontal all the time. I love training mine on a bit of lattice or trellis, mainly because I like the look of it. Normal staking involves knocking in a fair size tomato stake or two (ask at your SGA nursery and they’ll tell you what it is), and tying the stem to the stake with some sort of material that has a bit of give in it. I use old stockings, (not that I have any, but my neighbour has loads on her clothes line) and be careful not to tie them too tight… you don’t want to strangle your toms!

What about the Water?

Never ever let the soil dry out with tomatoes, especially during the flowering and fruiting stages! This causes all manner of bad things to happen, mainly hideous diseases, fruit and flower drop, and plants really susceptible to attack by pests and the rest! That said, don’t over water… wet boggy soils are just as bad as dry soils! Use the trusty soil moisture indicator (your pointer finger) to assess the situation! Oh, and as for the other Yummy Yardies… no Greywater on or near your tomato plants!

Are We There Yet?

Well, here’s a rough guide… the big fellas take between 10 -14 weeks to mature, while the little cherry tomatoes (and friends) take about 11-13 weeks. The best time to pick tomatoes is… well… undecided! I tend to pick mine when they are slightly ripe, that is, they have changed colour, but are still quite firm, and a little green. This works especially well in warmer climes (hi Brisbane!!) as, if they are left on the plant too long, they tend to over ripen and split, due to the heat!

In cooler climates you have a bit more freedom, and can leave them on the vine a bit longer. Again, watch that they don’t get too soft, or you’ll run the risk of them being fairly unpleasant to eat. Also, if you are leaving them on the vine to ripen, watch out for stealthy tomato-stealers! Rats, possums, roos, rabbits, birds and all manner of critters love ripening tomatoes, so it’s best if you get to them before they do!

Now, my nanna, an ace tomato grower, used to pick her toms when they were fairly green, and whack them on the kitchen window sill to ripen. I got a lot of gardening tips from my grandma, but this ain’t one of the better ones. In my experience, tomatoes placed on a window sill can, if it’s a really hot spot, warm up too much and blister, which makes for a very tasteless (and very unattractive) tomato harvest. Check out the hot tips below for better ways to ripen tomatoes… still love you heaps, Nanna!

Pests and the Rest

Unfortunately, tomatoes can be host to a plethora of garden nasties, but there are a couple of preventative measures you can take to “stop the rot” so to speak! Diverse Yummy Yards, full of tasty treats and pretty plants, will attract a range of good bugs to your patch. These guys will make short work of loads of pest outbreaks. The other hot tips are a consistent watering regime, and crop rotation. Don’t plant this year’s toms in a patch where tomatoes, chillies, eggplants or potatoes have been in the last two years… this lessens the possibility of disease. Also, companion planting and tomatoes go hand in hand.

Now, if all this fails and you do have an issue, never fear, Sustainable Gardening Australia is here! Below is a list of common issues, their causes and a couple of solutions for taming tomatoes!

Flowers fall off before the fruit forms – Could be caused by loads of things, including too much or not enough water, not enough light, over fertilising (I tried to warn you), possums or thrips. Check flowers for thrips

Leaves wilting
Did you water your plants? This generally happens when humans are overcome by laziness, or holidayitis! Especially common during summer school holidays.

Yellowish patches on fruit and burnt bits on leaves – “We’re melting, we’re melting”! If your toms could talk this is what they would say! It’s too hot… read the “Position, Position Position” section above for some tips!

Mottled yellow patches on leaves and fruit – Sorry Mum, but this happens to my tomatoes a fair bit! It’s called tobacco mosaic virus, and it’s spread by smokers not washing their dirty little hands before touching their tomatoes! Make sure your crop is maintained, hygienic and rotated seasonally. And for goodness sake you puffers – wash your hands!!!

White powdery patches on upper surfaces of leaves – Ahh, our old mate powdery mildew. Often caused by water hanging around on the leaves of plants. Try to water the soil, rather than the foliage. Remove affected leaves and put them in the bin, not the compost.

Holes in your leavesPretty sure it’s caterpillars

Really ugly wet looking patches on the tomato – It’s probably Blossom End Rot.

Hot Tips

Now, thanks to my Nan, we have some great ways to speed up the ripening of toms… and it’s so simple! Grab 10 or so green tomatoes, and pop them in a paper bag with a banana (not too ripe… that would spoil it). Ripening bananas release ethylene, which seriously speeds up the ripening of tomatoes! How easy is that?

Finally, the best way of storing your home grown tomatoes is on your kitchen bench, away from direct sunlight. Don’t ever, ever put them in the fridge, as it destroys their structure and flavour… something I didn’t know until last week, but it makes a pile of sense!

Eat me!

Tomatoes are the love apple, so it’s best to K.I.S.S. them and enjoy the homegrown taste of fresh juicy tomatoes “vine ripened.”


Make the salad from the Basil Yummy Yards fact sheet.

Do a bruschetta. Chop tomato, onion and red onion or shallot. Tear up some basil leaves. Season with salt and pepper and stir through your best quality olive oil. Toast some bread and smear a cut garlic clove on it. Pile the bruschetta mix on top. Ahh, the taste of summer.

Throw some breadcrumbs, freshly picked herbs, olive oil and garlic into a frying pan. Allow to heat through for a minute. Add halved tomatoes, cut side down. Move each tomato in a circular manner to ensure it is coated with the breadcrumbs mix. Allow to cook for about 5 minutes. Gently turn the tomatoes over and cook through for a few more minutes. Serve with toast for breakfast or alongside chicken or steak for dinner.

Make the Ratatouille from the Capsicums and Chilies fact sheet.

Chop them and toss through the cous cous Recipe from the Cucumbers page.

Mock Chicken

Try this ‘Mock Chicken’ recipe. It will take you back to the days when tomatoes tasted like tomatoes!

2 home grown tomatoes chopped
1 onion chopped
1 egg beaten
Salt and pepper
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
Handful fresh homegrown herbs

Finely dice onion and tomato

Fry onion till soft, then add tomato and cook until starting to fall apart.
Beat the egg and add. Cook till egg firms. Turn off the heat.
Add chopped herbs and cheese and salt and pepper to taste
Eat straight away on toast for breakfast or chill before filling a roll with the mixture for lunch. Also great served with crackers.

Tomato pics: Mary Trigger (SGA)

  28 Responses to “Tomatoes”

  1. I had flourishing tomato plants growing in wicking beds in Brisbane. In past week, all the new growth is wilting/curling. No other yellowing of leaves. Old growth is unaffected so far. It has been super hot here in past week but I have a shade cloth over top & they were loving their environment until a week ago. I googled for solutions. Sounded most like bacterium wilt but I sacrificed one plant to check. Cut it off at base and put it in water but no white substance emerged. Oh and a young marigold plant in same bed has now got wilt on one leaf. I could have too many plants in the bed and perhaps not enough air flow. Or my wicking bed could be too wet for them at bottom reservoir (that’s 30-35cm down though). Please help me! They were growing so well!!

    • There are several possible causes of tomato wilt – fungal,viral, borers, too much water, too little water, a lot of heat. You mention both heat and water. Since the roots of tomatoes can grow deeper than 30 cm, too much water might be a problem.

  2. My tomatoes have loads of fruit but the leaves are all turning yellow. Are they suffering from the heat? I keep them well watered in the mornings. Thanks for any advice.

  3. The lower leaves on my plants are turning yellow and end up falling off. The top leaves are all still healthy. I’m near Geelong, Vic. Have lots of tomatoes but not green. As Pauline would say – ‘Please expain’ (if you can). Thanks.

    • Yellow older leaves on tomatoes and most other plants can indicate a number of other things. If the plants are otherwise healthy it could be due to a lack of or inconsistent watering as the plant sheds older leaves to survive. Nutrient deficiency could also cause this. Viral, fungal or bacterial attacks could also be involved. If all of your plants are affected replant next season in soil that has not grown tomatoes, potatoes, capsicum or eggplant and do not plant the old site for at least three years. Crop rotation is very important to reduce problems with these diseases.

  4. Can you tell me why our tomatoes are tasting floury? They look great and we have plenty of them but they taste floury. We live in Coffs Hrbour area.

    • There are several possibilities – they may have been left on the vine too long, the soil may be a little deficient in potassium, they may be a variety that is prone to flouriness/mealiness or the watering regime my have been wrong (too much, too little or inconsistent)

  5. This was so helpful and straight forward thank you!

  6. Good site.

  7. My tomato bushes are coming on nicely on the Gold Coast. I have planted them in very large pots. There seems to be plenty of flowers and developing fruit. Unfortunately there are some fruit that have a small hole in them. it looks like a pest has entered there. I have picked them off and thrown them away but what is causing them and how can I prevent more?

    • Once a pest has punctured or entered a tomato the fruit will ripen quickly, fall off and/or rot. Short of trying to find the attacking pest you could ensure that you have plenty of host plants for beneficial insects. Spraying with a Neem oil based or Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) spray will also safely control them. Working towards a balance in your garden with plenty of host plants (daisies, umbelliferus type flowers, etc) will always help.

  8. Hi,

    I have just started gardening and i am already noticing that i am encountering some problems with my capsicums flower buds. Some of the young flower buds just turn yellow and shortly after they drop, Could it be a nutrient deficiency?


    • Poor fruit set and flower dropping in capsicums can be attributed to a number of things. Night time temperatures of 15C or below is probably the main cause. Capsicums, more than tomatoes, need consistent warmer temperatures day and night. Poor pollination due to a lack of pollinating insects including bees is another factor. Other reasons could be low water or too much nitrogen causing excessive growth at the expense of flowers. The first two reasons are the more likely causes.

  9. HELP, I live in the mid west of Western Australia and the tomatoes are looking great except they have a “furry” mushy texture, how can I fix this?

    • It’s difficult to say what is causing this as we can’t taste the tomatoes, but maybe they need to be picked earlier.

  10. I’m in Brisbane and just planted some Roma and cherry tomatoe seedlings. I have heard that to encourage flower/fruit growth to pluck off the shoots that grow between the main stem and the leaf stem. Is the so?

    • Saving 2,3 or 4 shoots on a tomato and removing small lateral shoots will definitely encourage fruiting for indeterminate or climbing tomatoes. With determinate or bush varieties like Roma it would probably reduce yield.

  11. Yummy thanks for the recipe…..

  12. Hello,

    Qld here. My first tomatoes are beginning to fruit. I was very disappointed to find the bottoms on two are blackish. I have looked online -as I am not an experienced gardener – and it looks like images of blossom end-rot. I am so disappointed. What can I do to ensure that the rest of my tomatoes donot aso go to the pack.
    Please help.


    • You are right, it is blossom end rot. This is not a disease but a condition caused by fluctuations in soil moisture, an excess of nitrogen in the soil, cold soils or soils that are saline. These factors cause a calcium imbalance. Maintain consistent (even) soil moisture levels and planting tomatoes after a high nitrogen using crop such as cabbages, lettuce or other greens. Mulching in hotter, dryer weather will also help keep moisture levels even. Discard affected fruit. A soil pH of 6.5 is ideal for tomatoes. I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t add lime, the question would be whether it would work quickly enough. Don’t despair, concentrate on even moisture levels.

  13. From last year’s experience, I would have to disagree about no shadecloth in mid north South Australia. I grew Roma’s that kept getting burnt until I erected some shadecloth. After that, it was growing as greenly as ever.

  14. I had amazing result planted tomato seed 2nd generation of organic tomatoes i got in Vic, I am in Nambour Qld. My forst crop awesome but this year I planted early, in late Feb, and planted out in Mar about 10th, have been eating amazing tomatoes since early May !!

  15. have a problem when transplanting seedlings, overnight the stalks fracture at the base of the seedling just above the soil surface and die off, WHY?

    • There are two highly likely possibilities. Damping Off and Cut Worms. Damping off is a fungal problem and affected plants will lie flat on the ground from about ground level. It is soil-borne and is exacerbated by wet soil. Affected plants will look alright one day and be lying flat the next morning. The other more likely cause of the problem is Cutworms. These pests live just below the soil surface and come out at night to chew plants off at ground level. Affected plants will look like they have been neatly cut off at the ground. Carefully scratching around seedlings will likely unearth the culprit, a small steely grey caterpillar. A good way to clear the soil of these pests is to let chooks ‘work’ the soil before planting. This may not be possible so you could spray the seedlings with Natures Way – Caterpillar Killer. This is a bacterium that kills chewing pests, like caterpillars, but is harmless to most other things.

    • There are two highly likely possibilities. Damping Off and Cut Worms. Damping off is a fugal problem and affected plants will lie flat on the ground from about ground level. It is soil-borne and is exacerbated by wet soil. Affected plants will look alright one day and be lying flat the next morning. The other more likely cause of the problem is Cutworms. These pests live just below the soil surface and come out at night to chew plants off at ground level. Affected plants will look like they have been neatly cut off at the ground. Carefully scratching around seedlings will likely unearth the culprit, a small steely grey caterpillar. A good way to clear the soil of these pests is to let chooks ‘work’ the soil before planting. This may not be possible so you could spray the seedlings with Natures Way – Caterpillar Killer. This is a bacterium that kills chewing pests, like caterpillars, but is harmless to most other things.

  16. Great article on tomatoes. Just have a question re early flowers as a member of our community garden group said to break off flowers now in order for the plant to grow stronger. I’ve never heard of this before and wondered if it is true?
    Regards, Dirt Girl

    • People have different ideas about this – possibly depending on their local climate and the tomato variety they are growing. However, we suggest that it is better to leave the flowers and don’t remove them unless there is some chance of late frosts affecting them. Tomatoes have plenty of energy to put into green vegetative growth, and with the variable summers we’re getting, it’s best to have the fruit ripening as early as possible.

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