A strong, healthy root system that allows your tomato plants to absorb enough water and nutrients is essential for producing a good crop and allowing your plants to produce their own pest-deterrents. Tomatoes in their natural state, grow along the ground and will form auxiliary roots along their stems, but our method of growing tomatoes tied to stakes prevents this.
However, you can give them a helping hand to produce extra roots before planting out by lying potted seedlings on their side when they are 10-15 cm tall. Leave them like this for a week or so, depending on the growth rate, and remember to stand them upright for watering. As you can see in the photo, the main stem with make a 90-degree turn, and root buds will form on the horizontal part of the stem. Plant them out with the growth tip vertical and the horizontal stem just below the soil surface. Or, you can remove the seed leaves and plant them up to just below the next set of leaves, then hill soil around them slightly as they grow.
Jenny has previously not had a lot of luck growing tomatoes and wants to know whether she should prune the side shoots that form on tomato stems.
When growing staked tomatoes, it is common practice to prune the small shoots that form in leaf axils because tomato plants do not have strong apical dominance. That means the leading shoot does not contain a lot of the hormone that prevents side shoots from growing. If left to their own devices, tomato plants produce multiple stems that flop onto the ground, producing additional roots from where stems touch soil. In removing the side shoots (by snapping them sideways when small, or cutting with a sharp knife when larger), growth is concentrated in the lead shoot. A second leader can be allowed to form from just below the first bunch of flowers and, once the plant reaches the top of the stake, you can pinch out the tip of the leaders.
This type of cultivation originated in cooler climates to allow more sun to get to the fruit by removing excess foliage, and make weeding easier. Where summers are hot, plants are better left unpruned once the main leaders are established because fruit can become sun scalded, especially where air pollution is low.
Where summers are very hot, tomato plants can do better under light shadecloth (which reduces transpiration) because it is actually warm air that allows tomatoes to ripen, rather than hot sun. As you know, tomatoes that have started to colour can be ripened indoors, although these will be lower in the anti-oxidant lycopene than vine ripened tomatoes.
Removing side shoots will also increase the size of fruit by limiting the amount of fruit that forms. However, other factors are more important in fruit quality. They are: providing a soil pH of around 6.5–7 because tomatoes will develop blossom end rot if they don’t have access to adequate calcium; providing sufficient well-balanced fertiliser such as mature compost, worm castings or poultry based fertiliser; regular deep watering rather than a daily sprinkle; and mulch to reduce fluctuations in soil moisture.
Just another hint: Plastic plant ties can cut into plant stems. When staking tomatoes, use a piece of knit fabric cut across the stretch, instead. Being more flexible, this type of tie won’t damage soft plant tissue.
Sometimes home grown vegetables crop so well the family gets tired of eating them. If you find yourself with more tomatoes than you and your friends can use, freeze them for use during winter months. Vine-ripened tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene. This antioxidant helps keep the reproductive system healthy, and is said to be particularly beneficial to the prostate gland.
We use a simple method that has no added flavourings so that the thawed tomatoes can be used in soups, casseroles, or pasta sauces, as the occasion demands. Many flavours, such as onions, garlic and other herbs taste better when they haven’t been frozen.
We chop fully ripe tomatoes without peeling them as the skins float to the top of the pan during cooking, and can be skimmed off. Nor do we bother to remove the seeds but, if you don’t want seeds, you can either scoop them out with a teaspoon before cooking or put the cooked mixture through a sieve. Removing seeds before cooking also removes a lot of moisture from the tomato pulp and the seedless mixture requires constant stirring to prevent it sticking to the pan.
Place the chopped tomatoes in a heavy saucepan and gently heat to boiling, while stirring the mixture. Reduce heat, and allow tomatoes to simmer gently, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not leave the mixture unattended as ripe tomatoes contain natural sugars and the mixture can stick if the heat is too high or the mixture is not moved around in the pan. After 20 minutes, turn off heat and cover the saucepan. Allow tomato pulp to cool, then ladle two, four or six cupfuls into separate freezer containers for later use.