When is the best time to grow tomatoes?
Contrary to popular belief, if you’re following the Australian tradition and planting your tomatoes around Melbourne Cup Day, you could be missing out on a month or more of home-grown goodness.
Jac Semmler is a tomato expert from The Diggers Club, with a mission to 'encourage and inspire gardeners to create beautiful and productive gardens for a sustainable future.’
Specialising in heirloom seeds and plants, when it comes to tomatoes, Semmler says the ideal time to get your tomatoes in the ground is actually late September or October, in order to give them the longest-possible growing season.
“Ideally, you want to get them in before Cup Day,” says Semmler. “I think [previously], Cup Day has just been a handy reminder for gardeners, a bit of a rule of thumb, to get a hurry along.”
“With big beefsteak tomatoes, it’s critical to get them in early,” she says. While she adds that smaller varieties such as cherry tomatoes can still be planted in November, “There’s just a higher risk the fruit might not get to the point of ripening.”
Why grow my own tomatoes?
There are many reasons to start growing your own backyard veggie garden, with tomatoes being a great place to start fresh. From budget savings to meditative practise and learning new skills, Semmler says the best part is the flavour that comes from home-grown.
“So many supermarket tomatoes are hybrids bred for particular attributes like uniformity, transportability and shelf life. Flavour is not one of those attributes,” she says. “I don’t want a tomato that tastes like water.”
She says that while tomatoes can be a bit fickle to grow for beginners, they are a quintessential summer experience the whole family can get involved in. “They do have beautiful rewards when you’re using them in salads, or the kids can literally go into the garden and pick them off – the cherry tomatoes don’t make it as far as the kitchen very often!”
Soil preparation for growing tomatoes
Tomatoes are heavy feeders, says Semmler, so make sure you really prepare your soil by adding lots of potassium, rock dust, potash and blood and bone.
Compost, manure and a liquid fertiliser also help to ensure your soil remains rich and well-drained.
Should you grow tomatoes from seeds or seedlings?
Growing from seedlings (seeds that have already sprouted) is a good option for beginners growing their first tomatoes on the vine. Semmler says the key is to choose “good-quality, healthy-looking plants."
If you’re a little more advanced with your green thumb, Semmler says that the world’s your oyster if growing straight from the seed, as you get access to more varieties and can even grow your tomatoes from kitchen scraps.
To do this, Semmler advises that you need to start in late August or early September, in order to plant them out in late September or October and have a nice long season.