Thursday, September 22, 2016

Tomato workshop notes

Denis M has grown thousands of tomatoes from seed every year for many years to sell and raise funds for a school in Africa.  In a recent Food Garden Group workshop he showed his methods and tools.  Over two sessions participants discussed growing tomatoes from seed to crop in great detail.  Denis gave us two handouts that are shown below.

Many thanks Denis, for giving us your time, for sharing your extensive knowledge, and giving me permission to put your notes on this blog.  We really appreciated this opportunity to learn from you.

Handout 1:
Tomato Growing Cultural Notes 

There are few gardeners who do not count it one of their greatest aims to grow a regular supply of freshly picked ripe tomatoes for the table throughout the summer months.

When to plant
The major cause of less than preferred results is planting out too early for the growing district. Planting should not be carried out until all danger of frosts has passed. In addition to concern for frosts and cold weather it is also noticeable that early planted tomatoes suffer most from wilt and other fungoid diseases. I like to plant during the first week of November at the earliest for outside growing conditions.

Where to plant
Tomato plants prefer the maximum amount of sunlight possible and shelter from wind and frost. Continuous growth and fruit set can only be achieved in high temperatures. Literature states 21degrees C, but we live in Hobart.
Plants require good air movement in and between plants. I would not plant closer than 600mm between plants. Plants must be grown in well drained humus rich soil or potting mix and supplied with plenty of water.

Place the stakes in the garden beds before planting out. Then plant up close to the stake and make a loose tie with soft material. This will support the young plant during windy conditions.

Hardening off
Before planting out, harden off the plants by placing them outside during the day for at least a week.

My late Father was a very successful tomato grower. I asked him one day about planting out and fertilising and this is what he told me:

Planting out
Dig a hole at least 200mm deep. Put a good handful of blood and bone in the hole and mix it into the soil. Place some soil back so that the new roots do not come in contact with the B&B. Place the new plant in the hole and make sure that the soil level is well up the stem.

Mix 3 parts blood and bone with 1 part sulphate of ammonia and 1 part potash.
Fertilising procedure: when the second bunch of flowers come out, feed the plant. A light rake around the plant, apply the fertiliser with a handful to each plant, light rake again and water in. After 24 hours, water again. After 3 or 4 weeks, fertilise again with the same procedure.

Bush type tomatoes do not need pruning. Place straw or similar around the plant to keep the fruit off the ground.
Other taller growing varieties that require staking can benefit from pruning. I prune the side laterals so that the plant has only one main stem. This will promote a strong sturdy plant capable of high yields of good size fruit.

Tips for success
  • Choose varieties that suit your garden and climate conditions. 
  • Water plants regularly and ensure the water penetrates deeply into the soil and around the roots 
  • Water in the morning rather than late in the day 
  • When 6 or 7 trusses have set fruit, remove the growing tip to hasten ripening 
  • Remove weed competition from around the plant during the summer 
  • Keep an eye out for pests and diseases. I use tomato dust every week as recommended by manufacturers. Good time to start is about mid-December 
  • Pick the fruits when they are fully ripe to capture the best flavour 

Handout 2:
Saving Tomato Seeds 

To save seeds, simply remove the seed-bearing soft pulp from the center of fully ripe tomatoes (over ripe is ideal) and place the pulp in a drinking glass or small jar.

Make a name tag from an old Venetian blind or similar material and place in the jar.

Allow to ferment.

Stir once daily with the name tag.

After 1 to 2 days, the solids float to the top of the seeds and most seeds will have settled on the bottom. Then, slowly run water into the glass to float off of the pulp.  Rinse several times until the seeds look clean. The few seeds that float off are light and would not have been good seeds.

Then pour the seeds into a strainer, wash them thoroughly in cold water and dry them on a sheet of paper.

Be sure to record the variety name during this process.
The fermentation does more that just separate the seeds from the pulp; it also removes sprouting inhibitor chemicals naturally present. This accomplished, the seeds germinate much faster.

There are two keys to obtaining high-germination seeds:
  • Conduct the fermentation speedily at a temperature over 20 degrees C 
  • Let the tomatoes get dead ripe before removing the pulp. Cold slow going fermentation lasting more that a week often results in dead seeds. Unripe seeds will sprout weakly and won't store very long before dying. 
After a few days when the seeds and paper are dry, remove the seeds from the paper with a kitchen knife and place the seeds in a named packet. I use small clip lock plastic packets.


Here are some of the photos taken during the workshop:

Denis sows his tomato seeds in punnets that he puts in his custom-built heating tray (see photo 3)
After 4 weeks Denis 'pricks out' seedlings and puts them in their own pots. Notice the handy tray he uses.
Trays on top of his custom-built heating tray. Punnets are under the glass on moist sand.
And here is the end result, under shelter, but out in the open, ready for the fundraising effort
Thanks once more, Denis, for sharing your skills!

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