Remember when ‘Heinz 1370’, ‘Floradade’ and ‘Rodade’ were about the only tomatoes you could grow from seed?
When heirloom tomatoes came into fashion, adding flavour, variety and colour, they made growing tomatoes a lot more fun. Now there is a new generation of tomatoes that are as tasty as the heirlooms but easier to grow successfully. They are more disease resistant and very productive, and the variety is huge. In the category of cherry tomatoes alone there is a rainbow mix, tiny currant tomatoes, tumblers for hanging baskets, neat container varieties and even minis for window boxes.
Space saving tomatoes
Because of the pressure on space, the biggest development has been the introduction of compact tomatoes, with higher yields, for container gardening or small space gardening.
- ‘Tidy Rose’ is a compact indeterminate (vining) tomato that grows more like a bush tomato but needs some support. It has a long fruiting season, like most indeterminate varieties. The ribbed fruit has a rich heirloom flavour, making it suitable for salads and sauces.
- ‘Little Sicily’ is also a compact, tidy grower that stays at a manageable height of 60cm, with healthy green leaves that always look good. It flourishes in a mid-sized container and produces lots of mediumsized tomatoes at the peak of summer.
- ‘Bite Size’ is a super-sweet cherry tomato that can produce up to 6kg of fruit from each plant. It is a neat, uprightgrowing plant with a garden height of 200cm and spread of 50cm. It does best grown in the ground, in full sun.
Most compact varieties are available as patio vegetables or as seed ordered online from https://gropak.co.za, while seed packet varieties of traditional garden and heirloom tomatoes are available from Kirchhoffs, RAW, Garden Master, MayFord, Starke Ayres and Livingseeds.
Growing tomatoes in Baskets and on balconies
When space runs out altogether, there are tomatoes that can be grown in hanging baskets and window boxes on balconies. It is a good idea to gradually acclimatise them to outdoor conditions, with morning sun and afternoon shade being best. Water daily and feed monthly.
- Tomato ‘Window Box Red’ is a micro-dwarf tomato with a height and spread of 45cm, producing small, sweet red fruit that is slightly bigger than the cherry tomato. The stems become heavy with fruit and should be supported. Trim and fertilise after fruiting for a second flush of fruit.
- ‘Tumbler’ and ‘Tumbling Tom’ (red or yellow) are all cascading tomatoes that produce high yields of baby cherry tomatoes. ‘Tumbler’ is quicker to harvest, within 49 days from transplanting, while the ‘Tumbling Tom’ varieties, which have a more trailing growth, take up to 75 days.
New and novel
‘Banana Legs’ is an heirloom variety that produces clusters of 10cm-long yellow fruit that resembles a banana. It is a crunchy tomato with a mild flavour and only a few seeds. Good for slicing into salads. It is a neat-growing determinate plant with thin lacy leaves.
‘Mini Siam’ is an indoor pot tomato that grows 25cm high and wide, with bright red, tasty round fruit. It is suitable for growing in small pots on a sunny windowsill or countertop, or outdoors as a tabletop patio variety. Do not overwater but let the soil dry out moderately before watering. Support fruit weight by inserting sticks close to the central stem at the time of flowering.
‘Rainbow Cherry Mix’ is a seed mix of red, yellow, orange, pink, white, green, brown and bi-colour cherry tomatoes. The fruit is juicy and very sweet. Plants are indeterminate, reaching up to 1.2m, and need support on a trellis. Fruit is produced within 70 – 90 days.
Another big break through is disease resistance to soilborne fungal diseases like verticillium wilt and fusarium wilt, as well as tobacco mosaic virus, which stunts plants, all of which affect the yield and can kill the plant. Tomatoes varieties that seem most resistant are the cherry or small-fruited tomatoes like ‘Candyland Red’, ‘Artemis’, ‘Helix’, ‘Yellow Pear’ and ‘Zinger’, as well as salad and slicing tomatoes ‘Sunrise Sauce’, ‘Little Napoli’ and ‘Roma’.
- ‘Sunrise Sauce’ is the only non-heirloom orange Roma paste/sauce tomato. It is a compact, determinate variety for small-space gardens or large containers. The yields are large, and the fruit is easy to peel. Like traditional Roma tomatoes the flavour is sweet, and the texture is meaty.
- ‘Artemis’ is a very healthy red cherry tomato that is highly resistant to leaf and root fungal disease. It is a vining tomato that produces trusses of firm, extremely flavourful cherry tomatoes. Plants are best grown in the ground with support. Fruit starts to ripen within 65 days from transplanting.
Getting the basics right with tomatoes
Tomatoes grow easily but are not always easy to grow successfully unless their basic requirements are met.
- Full sun or plenty of morning sun.
- Soil that drains well. Dig lots of compost into the soil and make raised or mounded beds. This improves drainage and aeration.
- Fertile soil that has been enriched by the addition of bonemeal for calcium and organic fertilisers like Vita Fruit & Flower 3:1:5 (18) or Vigorosa 8:1:5 (25), which contain the basic nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium with micro-elements and humic acid (Vigorosa).
- Ample space between plants for good air circulation, which discourages whitefly.
- Regular watering at root level, to keep the leaves as dry as possible. Flood watering is best. Make a ‘dam’ around the plant. A deep mulch with straw or leaves keeps the soil moist. Increase watering when the plants start to flower.
Good to know
- Tomatoes can be grown in the same place year after year unless they have been troubled by soil-borne fungal disease.
- To prevent having a glut of tomatoes, have an eight-week gap between the first planting and the second. It is only necessary to fertilise tomatoes when they start to flower.
- Tomatoes don’t like erratic watering, especially when dry spells are followed by overwatering, which can cause fruit to crack.
- The organic Ludwig’s Insect Spray and Margaret Roberts Organic Fungicide are compatible and can be used together in a spray to prevent whitefly, aphids and other sucking insects as well as fungal disease. Spray weekly. The combination can be used on almost all vegetables.
- Never put diseased tomatoes onto the compost heap. Chop them up and throw them away