Gardening takes time, dedication and effort, but with a little good will and love of plants, gardening will not be too tedious. On the contrary, when the work you have put in delivers its first results, you will be satisfied on so many levels. Tending to plants and spending time in fresh air is certainly good for you, and the fruits you pick from your own garden will be organically grown, safe, fresh and always within your reach for preparing healthy meals.
This series kicks off with an episode on tomatoes, a favorite summer vegetable of many. Although we talked about growing tomatoes on balconies, growing them in a garden is a totally different ballgame. The gardening space is larger, there is more work to be done on seedlings, irrigation, fertilization, removing side shoots and especially on preventing pest and disease problems.
Tomato is a heat-loving crop and hot temperatures and long sunny days will do it good. In the temperate-continental or Mediterranean climate type that we have in our country, the best time for planting tomatoes is late April and early May. We should not be planting to soon, as late spring frosts might catch us by surprise and cause significant damage to fruiting vegetables that do not well in low temperatures. Such a plant is weak from the get-go and will take more time to recover from stress and start bearing fruit.
We must take into consideration tomato plant spacing, so that the plants do not compete with each other for water, nutrients and light. Depending on the variety and type of cultivation, the row-to-row distance may vary and go up to 60 cm.
A good seedling is the one that already developed its first set of true leaves, the pot has become too confined for it, nutrient reserves are depleted and the root tends to spread. A seedling is then ready to be transplanted. Plant your tomato seedling deep and slightly over the cotyledons. We suggest you use pellet fertilizer when planting. Tomato loves fertile and loose soil rich in nutrients. It will need a lot of water and food, especially in the flowering and fruiting phase, when tomatoes have a relatively high phosphorus and potassium requirement.
One of tomato’s best neighbours is basil, so we recommend planting it right next to it, so as to enhance the flavor of tomato and bring a bigger yield.
If you thought it would be enough to transplant tomato seedlings into the soil, water them regularly and wait for the fruits to be ripe for harvest, you would be way off! Tomato needs a little more attention than that. Feeding, hoeing crops and mulching, warding off diseases and pests, tying up tomatoes and pinching out side shoots… This is the way to go if you want to savour delicious and healthy tomatoes from your garden all summer long.
You need to support your tomato vines, otherwise they would droop or start forming on the ground and thus quickly succumb to a fungal disease, especially downy mildew. The fruits would rot and would not be edible.
In order to avoid this scenario, a few days after transplanting, when the plant takes root and gets 30-40 cm tall, you should prop it up with a support that is sufficiently tall and sturdy. When choosing a support for a tomato plant, keep in mind that its stem is very firm and strong, and the fruits are heavy and large, so the support must be firm and stable. Poles or stakes made of wood or some other material, about 1.5 m high, are types of support that usually do the trick.
It is recommended to tie up the plant at every 20 cm of its height, so that it can withstand the weight of the fruit. Make sure to use tomato ties that will not cause damage to the stem itself.
What are side shoots and why do we remove them?
Side shoots are the new growths formed in the “armpit” where the leaf joins the main stem. The morphology of the tomato dictates such measures of care, otherwise it would grow like a small shrub, with many shoots and fruits that are very small and undeveloped.
We remove side shoots so as to ensure proper growth and development and make it possible for tomato to ripen and yield large and healthy fruits.
It is best to remove side shoots when they first appear, while they are still small and have not sapped much of the nutrients and vitality of the central vine. Keep in mind that they keep sporuting very quickly. If they are not pinched out, they turn a tomato stem into a bush with many small branches that grow fruits of their own. But these fruits are very small and often inedible, because the plant cannot provide proper nutrition to cater for so many shoots.
You can pinch out side shoots by hand or remove them by using scissors, but make sure to keep the tools clean so that a disease or a virus does not get transmitted from one plant to another.
In organic production, prevention is the key to success. Therefore, you should protect and strengthen your young plants by applying a foliar fertilizer, or enhancers based on beneficial microorganisms that will prevent the appearance of fungal diseases. It would be best to apply this treatment after removing the cotyledons and lower leaves.
By removing lower leaves of tomatoes, we reduce the possibility of them developing a disease, because when in contact with moist soil, they become most susceptible to blight.
In cooperation with the Delegation of the European Union to Montenegro, La Organica shot a series of short instructional videos on how to grow an organic vegetable garden, and the episode on growing tomato can be found here: