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What is a tomato?
The Latin name for tomato is Solanum lycopersicum. Although the ripe fruit itself (the tomato) isn’t harmful to men, the plant isn’t edible because of the toxins. The tomato plant has a toxin called tomatine which can stop all kinds of diseases but is harmful to men too. The tomato is part of the Solanaceae family together with potatoes and aubergines.
Spanish conquistadores brought the tomato plant to Europe from the Inca’s and Maya’s. They started growing tomatoes in western Europe.
Where to grow tomatoes?
The tomato is grown in our region as a climbing plant. In nature, the plant is a creeping perennial ( in dry and hot area’s).
The fact that it’s creeping on the soil, makes it much easier to take cuttings off the plant because these cuttings get their roots with no problem at all. Just a bit of moist in the soil or a glass of water to put them in will do the trick.
A nutrient-rich and airy soil is a necessity if you want to start growing tomatoes for a good harvest.
During the growing period, it’s advised to amend the soil with an organic fertilizer every two months. Potash is good to enhance the flavor of the tomato but can get you in trouble with blossom-end-rot if you’re not careful (more of that later in this article).
The more light the plant can get, the sweeter the fruits (vegetables) will be. The lights give the plant the possibility to produce more sugars. So it seems a bit inconsistent to cut off the leaves above the tomatoes as this can lower the sugar production of the plant, still, it’s necessary to give the tomatoes themselves a bit of light to ripen faster.
Taking care of your tomatoes
The tomato plant really loves its nutrients so if possible try to get some good compost or composted manure in the beds before planting your tomato plants.
Many growers also use a supplement of magnesium and potassium to get a bigger harvest. Stil, it’s necessary to make sure you’re not overfeeding the plants as this may end in disaster (like blossom-end-rot). So always make sure (by testing the soil) that the soil needs amendments before you start supplementing.
If there is lots of humus and compost mixed in the soil, it’s normally best to just use a normal organic fertilizer instead of a specific amendment. You can even add some compost after two months if you make sure the compost is reasonably dry and covered with for instance straw.
You always need to make sure the tomatoes aren’t standing in a moist environment. This requires a bit of planning (especially if there’s rain coming). Most of the gardeners that have the possibility to grow in a greenhouse will do so to avoid rainfall on the plants.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a greenhouse, it’s still possible to cover the plants with aerated translucent bags that will protect your plants against the rain. These bags are purchasable in most garden centers.
Any which way you use, make sure the plants get aerated from time to time to avoid too much humidity around the plant which can cause fungal diseases.
Keep in mind that a tomato plant needs a lot of water, the plant loves regular watering as long as the roots aren’t getting too wet. In hot summer days, it’s even necessary to water in the morning and in the evening to keep them from developing blossom-end-rot.
What about suckers?
Another important aspect when growing tomatoes is the pinching of the side shoots. The side shoots grow from the point where the leaves join the main stem. It’s best to start removing the side shoots when the first flowers have appeared.
From that point on it’s just a daily habit of checking for suckers and if necessary removing any side shoots. It’s good to remove the side shoots when they are still small, that way, you leave a smaller wound and a smaller place where infections can get in.
Removing the side-shoots has a reason. First of all, the side-shoots take a way necessary nutrition for the fruits. Second of all, the side-shoots will develop other side-shoots which will turn the plant into a wild bush where it’s difficult to work in and gives more spaces to hide for the whitefly, the leafminer, and other unwanted insects.
In some cases, it’s possible to let certain suckers grow because, for instance, my yellow cherry tomatoes have suckers that immediately set flowers. So, you can get more tomatoes on the plant by keeping certain suckers. Just don’t overdo it because too much foliage will call for disaster.
Be sure to use crop rotation if possible because the soil can become devoid of necessary nutrients. This will weaken the plants the next year and will get you in trouble with lots of fungal diseases and pests.
I know it isn’t always possible to move the greenhouse, in that case, it’s best to remove the soil and put in new soil or flush the soil with at least 80 liters of water per square meter to get rid of the salts building up in the soil. Do this every year just a couple of weeks before you start growing tomatoes.
Disinfecting the soil can be necessary when there’s a fungus developing which can damage the plants.
Transplanting tomatoes is as easy as one, two, three. Just put the plant with the roots in the soil, don’t remove any soil hanging on the roots.
If the plant is too big or quite leggy, it’s possible to put the plant deeper in the soil, just remove any leaves that get in the way and are too low when planting and the stem will start growing new roots and be even better protected against drought.
I personally harvest tomatoes when they are ripe.
It’s possible to harvest tomatoes before they are ripe (check out the store bought tomatoes, those are ripe when you buy them) but there will be a loss of flavor.
Harvesting early can be a good practice in the fall when the plants grow weaker and potential diseases start to occur.
You can harvest the green tomatoes and let them ripen inside. That way it’s possible to remove the plants before they become infested with diseases which may come back the next year.
If a plant has a disease, don’t just through it in the compost bin. You can put it in the compost bin or pile if you’re sure that the compost will reach a certain temperature for a certain period (I’ll explain this later) I personally burn tomato plants in a closed oven to avoid airborne or compost infections.
The tomato plant can have a lot of diseases, especially fungal infections which I won’t explain in detail yet. If I have the right pictures, I’ll post the different diseases.
If you have problems in the meanwhile, don’t hesitate to contact me with pictures and I’ll help you through.
The whitefly can be a very irritating insect which can damage your plants and contaminate them with fungal diseases.
The honeydew they secrete can grow mold and the saliva they inject into the plants can contain diseases which are far more harmful to the plants than the mechanical action of sucking out the sap.
Phytophthora nicotiana, also called black shank, is a fungal infection which produces gray spots on the stem and the fruits, the tomato quickly turns black and drops off the plant. Be sure to intervene in time because this fungus can quickly expand towards different other vegetables (for instance onions)
Blossom-end-rot isn’t really a disease but as it’s a common problem I do take it up amongst the diseases. As it’s no disease it’s not contagious. It has to do with the amount of calcium, potassium, and magnesium in the soil and water.
If the plants lose too much moisture because of, for instance hot, dry and sunny days, it draws the moisture from the fruits (the tomatoes). If these fruits don’t have a decent amount of calcium to protect the cells, the fruits will start rotting at the end (where the flower was in the beginning).
It’s necessary to check the PH-level (tomatoes like the PH of the soil to be between 6 and 7) before planting your tomatoes. It’s also necessary not to over-fertilize with potassium and magnesium as these products can restrict the absorption of calcium.
Make sure the plants get water in time and the soil contains enough humus and compost. That way you shouldn’t have too much trouble growing your tomatoes.
Potato disease while growing tomatoes
Phytophthora infestans or the potato disease is one of the fungal infections which can kill your plant.
Here in Belgium, we’re allowed to use anti-fungal products in biological gardening which contain copper. That’s the only way to stop this fungus. I know that there were legal issues in the past in the Netherlands with the use of these copper-containing products and I don’t know if those issues are already resolved. Anyhow, it’s necessary to react quickly with this infection because you’ll lose all of your tomatoes and potatoes if not treated.
So this is it for this article on growing tomatoes, I hope you’ve found it interesting. If so, please share on social media, with friends, and other gardeners.
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Thanks for reading and see you in the next post.