I finally managed to shake off the worst of my cold and get back out into the garden yesterday morning to do some weeding and clearing up. As I headed outside, I briefly contemplated the tomato plants, growing in a blue plastic sandpit near the back door.
This hasn’t been an entirely successful tomato season. It started out reasonably well – I bought some Cherry Roma and Tigerella seedlings (as the Roma seeds I’d planted hadn’t produced much) in early November and planted them out, making sure they had enough water as they established and surrounding them with basil seedlings. I also sowed some marigold seeds, as these lovely bright plants are a great companion to tomatoes.
Five months later – I did manage to gather some fruits from these plants over the season, but not that many (due to bugs) and G didn’t eat that many of them for a couple of reasons (I can’t actually eat tomatoes due to a digestive issue, so we’re growing them for him).
I’m determined to do better next spring/summer, so I’m taking stock of what went wrong… and what I’ll need to research before I plant the next lot.
Lesson 1. Watering
I’d read in several books not to overwater tomatoes, as the fruits will have less flavour. I did my best to stick to this at first, tapering off how much I was watering them until it was every few days. Then that spell of hot weather hit and the plants started to droop miserably; for a couple of weeks, I watered them every morning to make sure they stayed alive.
The result? The Cherry Romas tasted watery. The Tigerellas tasted a bit better, but they weren’t producing enough fruit at a time (I’ll address this in lesson three). Then we moved to our orchard and it rained for days, so the weather did my overwatering for me. So… time to head back to the books and see when I should be watering… and feeding too.
Lesson 2. Birds and bugs
We’d meant to build a netting enclosure around the tomatoes, but had to wait until we had time… and I was concerned about pollination and how this would work if we put a net over everything. But after catching a couple of noisy miner birds stealing tomatoes in January, we quickly erected a netting system around the tomatoes.
However, the damage had apparently been done, this time by the bugs, as we found a few caterpillars on the plants when I removed the netting cage to water. Some had even burrowed into the tomatoes, as G discovered when he went to pick them. And we now have hordes of snails and slugs, thanks to all the rain.
So I’ll have to either find a companion plant that repels caterpillars or acts as a sacrificial plant, do regular bug patrols, or find a different variety of tomato – one that produces its flowers over a shorter period of time, so I know when to net.
Lesson 3. Tomato varieties
There’s another reason for finding a different type of tomato – how you want to use it in cooking. G does use Cherry Romas on pizzas, but he mostly likes using tomatoes to make soup or pasta sauce, throughout the year.
This means the overall goal for us should be growing ones that he can use for this; I’ve heard people say many times that you should only grow what you’re going to eat. I’ll have to head back to the seed catalogues to find the right options – this is no hardship, as I love reading through the unusual names – and develop a shortlist.
There are a few things to consider here – determinate varieties (the bush types) produce their fruits in one go, while indeterminate (climbing) ones crop throughout the season. Having plants that produce fruit in one go could make it easier to pick enough to make a batch of sauce; however, some of the ones I’ve seen recommended for sauces, such as San Marzano, are indeterminate.
Hmm. Maybe the best idea is to choose several varieties, plant a few of each and experiment? Good thing I’m planning on having decent-sized vegetable beds!