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​McGregor's Guide to Growing the Best Tomatoes

How to get the most gorgeous tomatoes this season!

Article written by Emma Urquhart

Let's face it - the home grown tomato can't be beaten! They have so many uses in our kitchen from fresh, to cooked, to sauces and chutneys. If allowed to ripen on the vine, they have an intense flavour that has us reaching for more. Luckily, with a little attention tomatoes are easy to grow, even for the most novice gardener. Also starting your own from seed is a bit of fun.

To help get you started, our McGregor's web page has good selection of varieties to suit your needs and climate, all equipped with sowing instructions. Alternatively if you're short on space you can always buy in seedlings to transplant when you're ready.

Sure you can just plonk them in the ground, water occasionally and harvest when ripe. However, you may experience a high failure rate, ugly poor-tasting fruit, bacteria or diseases. To avoid this, a small amount of care is required to produce those big juicy tomatoes that make any dish amazing. It's good to remember that what you put in is what you get out of your tomato plants. Makes sense, right?

So to begin with, select a site in your garden. Whether it's in pots, raised beds or straight in the ground, they need at least 6-8 hrs of sunlight a day (preferably all day sun if possible) and will most likely need to be staked. If you are short on space and are growing in pots, 15-20L suits most varieties and it's always better to have a pot that is slightly too big than too small. That way you can companion plant around the base! (Basil, chives, garlic, nasturtiums, mints, marigolds are good choices)

When you've chosen your site, soil preparation is important to make sure your tomatoes develop with all the right nutrients. Lots of organic matter added to your soils is the key tip. If your soil is too sandy or loose, moisture and nutrients won't be retained in the soil for your plant to feed off of. If your soil is too heavy you get poor drainage and few air pockets which results in boggy, hard soil.

Organic matter fixes all these problems! For these purposes, “organic matter” can be compost, manures, worm castings, lawn clippings, dry leaves etc.. the more broken down it is, the more accessible the nutrients are to your tomatoes and the more moisture it will help the soil retain. I like to mix a couple of bags of compost to my tomato bed before planting, then lay about 5cm on top to act as a mulch which helps with water retention and weed control.

Finally comes the fun part - planting! For direct sowing follow the instructions on the back of our seed packs. However, if you're like me and start off in seedling trays first (only transplanting once the frosts have stopped); grab your gloves, trowel and some of our fertilizer.

Begin with digging your holes 50cm apart, a little bigger than the pottle and a few cm deeper as tomatoes like to be planted deep. You can actually bury them up to their first leaves because new roots will form up the buried stem allowing your plant an increased nutrient uptake. Finally, apply some of our liquid fertilizer. This eases the stress caused by transplanting and gives them a general nutrient boost. If you're not adding our liquid fertilizer, make sure you give them a good watering, and watch them grow!

Tomatoes do require a little TLC as most varieties need to be staked. I forgot to do this to some of my tomatoes last year, HUGE mess, big rambling bushes harbouring pests and disease, and the fruit took forever to ripen. Most of which had fungal spots or bite marks. To get those nice tall tomatoes you see in your gardening books you will need to regularly pinch out the laterals (or 'robbers' as I've grown up calling them). These look like little tomato plants growing from the base of the leaves. Doing this directs all the plants energy into more fruit rather than more stems. But be careful not to pinch out the top one as that's the growing stem.

Later in the season when the first branch of tomatoes have formed, take the lower leaves off up to the first branch, this encourages the fruit to ripen and is a big yes for garden hygiene as it creates airflow around the base of the plants which is unfavourable for bacteria and bugs. In warmer climates you may have a problem regardless of how good your garden hygiene is, so the use of our pesticides or fungicides may be required.

It's a good idea to keep up the application of our fruit fertilizer during the growing period because it's high in potassium which gets leeched out quickly via watering and improves the overall performance of your tomato plants.

As you harvest the tomatoes, keep trimming off the leaves further up to the next fruiting branch. And as the tomatoes grow taller, more fruiting branches will be produced. I like to pinch out the tops of my tomatoes in about 6-8 weeks before the first frost so that the remaining tomatoes get a chance to ripen.

A few hints with watering – always check your soil before watering, poke your fingers in, if they come out dirty and wet then there is enough moisture there, if your fingers come out dry and the soil brushes off easily then you definitely need to water. Frequency will differ among everyone due to location, climate, soil, evaporation etc. so best to check yourself. If you like them big an juicy, increase your watering as the tomatoes are swelling, for a more intense flavour hold back the water a little but don't let the soil get too dry or soggy.

Here at McGregor's we have some products that make the tomato growing processes easier. Our McGregor's Plantmax fertilizer is an all-round fruit liquid fertilizer which is high in all the elements required for your tomatoes growth. The Pyrethrum Spray is an insecticide to remove a wide range of unwanted visitors, and the Copper Oxychloride is a fungicide that tackles blight, black spot and rot.

31 October 2018