In my family, Labour Weekend is when we always plant out our vegetables so that they’ll be ready to eat over summer. Growing your own fruit and vegetables is pretty easy and MUCH cheaper than buying them! This year I’m growing courgettes, capsicum, peas, carrots, spring onions, leeks, onions, three varieties of tomato, and a whole bunch of different herbs and micro greens that I grow year-round.
I think that the easiest (and most rewarding) of these is the tomato – with so many different varieties, it’s easy to find one that you can grow in whatever kind of garden space you have. If you have enough space that you can have a full size vegetable garden, then lucky you! I only have a teeny raised garden bed, so I plant a lot of my vegetables in pots – this is perfect for anyone living in an apartment without a garden or someone who is living in a flat and doesn’t want to make a permanent garden.
Step one: Purchase your tomato plants. You should get plants that are suitable for your gardening conditions – some are perfect for growing in pots, while others need a bit more room. I get all of my vegetable seedlings from Kings Plant Barn – the staff there are super helpful and can assist you with finding the best kind of plants.
Step two: Prepare your soil. If you’re planting in pots, you can get special container mix from your local garden centre. This year I have used a little blood & bone fertiliser (purchased from Kings Plant Barn), mixed through the soil as per the instructions on the pack.
Step three: Plant your tomatoes. Make sure you plant them according to the instructions on the label – some need more room to grow than others.
Step four: Water your tomatoes once you’ve planted them out. Be thorough, but don’t overwater them.
Step five: Make sure that you water on a regular basis. If you’ve planted in containers, be aware that the water will drain out of the holes in the bottom of your pot! You can either put a saucer underneath or not (my indoor plants have saucers but my outdoor ones don’t). Make sure that your tomatoes don’t dry out!
So, that’s the planting part out of the way. How do you look after them now? As someone who previously had a reputation for killing any plant she tried to grow, there a few pieces of advice I’ve picked up along the way that I think are important:
* Make sure you water your plants regularly, but don’t over-water them.
* As the plant grows remove all lateral growths as soon as they appear – these appear between each leaf and the main stem. When the plant has six or seven good trusses of fruit, pinch out the growing tip. This is called “stopping” and encourages the plant to put energy into developing fruit.
* Stake your plants as needed – you can use lengths of bamboo or buy stakes from your local garden store. I picked up a couple of tomato cages from The Warehouse for $10 a couple of weeks ago. Dwarf varieties do not need pruning or staking.
*If you have planted your tomatoes indoors, you will need to pollinate the flowers (because obviously you’re not gonna have bees zipping around your apartment!). Get a paint brush or a cotton bud and gently brush the flowers to collect the pollen, and then paint the pollen collected onto the next flower. I’ve never done this, but a couple of people in the NZ Vege Gardeners group on facebook assure me that it’s the way to go!
* As well as water, tomato plants also need food. Once the small fruit appear, begin using a fortnightly feed of Tomato Food (which you can pick up from your local garden centre). This is a fertiliser that is high in potassium to encourage fruit set. Water thoroughly after feeding.
* It is a good idea to pick your tomatoes before they are fully coloured and still quite firm. This helps the fruit keep longer and relieves the plant of its load, allowing it to keep producing more fruit.
Happy gardening, nzgirls! Have a safe long weekend!