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    Timing, training, watering and pest control are crucial for growing a good crop of tomatoes....

    Lots of us dream of growing the perfect tomato.  I'm not talking about those tiny feral ones that spring out of the compost and thrive despite zero attention.  We want those big, fat, juicy, rich, flavoursome home grown tomatoes.  So we plant and nurture them and the crop looks promising, then a pest comes along and destroys the fruit and flattens the plants completely.  I hope there is something here to help you achieve a bumper harvest.


    Timing is critical

    Tomatoes like the warm conditions with daytime temperatures in the range of 21-29c.  Spring is the best time to plant but hold off in the cold districts till the soil has warmed and the risk of frost has passed.

    To make the most of your local season so plants 1-2 months before the optimal growing period.  Start seed in punnets, then grow the seedlings in pots.  That way they'll be well established before they go in the ground.

    At planting, bury some of the lower stem by digging a deeper hole or laying the stem in a shallow trench.  Extra roots will form along the stem, giving the plant greater access to moisture and nutrients.


    Good soil is a given

    Tomatoes must have excellent drainage and the soil should be rich is compost.  I always add a fertiliser based on poultry manure, which is rich in nutrients.  I also apply rock minerals to boost trace elements.  Position plants where they will receive plenty of sunshine with protection form strong winds.  If you get a freak hot period, cover plants with shadecloth to minimise heat stress and protect fruit form the sun scald.


    Pay attention to watering

    Keep the soil evenly moist as temperatures rise, if not the fruit may suffer from splitting or blossom-end rot (brown sucken lesion at the base).  Bury 25cm long piece of agricultural or PVC pipe vertically on either side of each plant leaving about 3-5cm above ground.  Then fill the pipes every time you water to help get moisture directly to the root zone.


    Training is important

    Most tomato vines grow 2-4m long and need support.  A single tomato stake wont cut it, better still set up a trellis system.  Vines produce lots of side shoots, creating a crowed mess of growth, so its best to restrict the number of leaders to two or three.  Spend some time each week pinching or pruning out excess side shoots and tying the main leaders loosely to the trellis.  Remove any diseased material at the same time to keep the vines clean.


    Watch out for pest

    Of the different pest that can affect tomatoes, fruit fly is the most damaging.  If you are in a fruit fly area, they can destroy your entire crop.  The most reliable way to protect fruit is with pest exclusions bags made from finely woven fabrics or waxed paper  Slip them over trusses or fruit as soon as they form or use exclusion nets to cover entire plants.  Just lift the nets every few days and give the flowers a little flick to disperse the pollen and ensure pollination.


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