Tomatoes are relatively easy to grow but have a few, shall we say, idiosyncrasies that require understanding to improve cropping. They're one of Summer gardening's true delights and no self respecting vegetable patch would be seen without at least one tomato plant. (Too judgemental?)
Determinate v's Indeterminate types.
There are benefits to both:
Determinate tomatoes are bush types that ripen all at the same time once the top bud has set fruit. They're great when you want a crop to ripen all at once to make sauce or preserve in some way. Romas are prolific fruit bearers for this and make a meaty sauce.
Indeterminate tomatoes ripen as they go until the plant is exhausted or the cold weather takes them out. (I had fruit until June this year). They're great for when you just want to nick out to the garden a grab a few tomatoes for salads etc. Think Grosse Lisse.
However... I find that occasionally tomatoes seem deceitful and the opposite appears true. I use it as a rule of thumb. You can trust that tomatoes have a wicked sense of humour and love to evoke puzzled frustration. Good luck.
Regular leaf v's potato leaf
Regular leaf tomatoes are the serrated edge ones most commonly grown. Potato leaf types have large, potato style leaves. Potato leaves offer more shade to the fruit as they ripen. Can be good for preventing sunburn. Can be bad for preventing sunlight to ripen them. Meh. Most potato leaf tomatoes are off the charts delicious. From my experience they seem to crop a bit lighter with a more intense flavour. But I love regular leaf too. They're also packed with flavour. DON'T MAKE ME CHOOSE!!!
Planting, Feeding & Watering
Before you plant, make sure the soil temperature is warm enough. Spring arrives at a different time each year and depends where you are. It rarely coincides with our western inspired 'first of September Spring'. October/November/December (and early January) is usually the ideal time to plant. T-shirt weather ya know!?
Try and plant your tomatoes in soil that hasn't grown any solanums* in the last couple of years. If you need to put them in the same spot then only do so if you found no problems the previous year and feed that soil heavily. Ideally, you'll rotate your garden so that the soil has a three year break from the family (not your's, the solanums). I won't go into crop rotation now, but if you can change locations, then do so. A good tip is to plant your beans where last years tommies were to add some nitrogen back to the soil.
Tomatoes love well drained, rich soil. Dig well rotted manure into the soil before you plant. Horse, cow, sheep, chook. You don't need all of these but a combination of a couple, say cow and chook, will be rewarding in the long term. The manure must be well aged. Make sure you break up any clumps to create a friable soil.
Spacing your plants can depend on the variety but generally try and plant them at least 60cm apart. Stake at time of planting (see below).
Plant them deep. By planting your seedlings deeply you'll encourage them to produce more roots along the stem underground. This assists to anchor them. Also more roots allow them to access more nutrients. More food, more tomatoes. I bury the stem up to the first (bottom) leaves.
Deeply water in your plants at time of planting. They'll benefit from a deep water every 4-ish weeks with a fish emulsion like Charlie Carp.
Try and be consistent when watering your tomatoes. If you don't water enough, they'll get blossom end rot but if you water too much the plants themselves can rot. Pretty demanding if you ask me. They like to remain damp but not wet. Don't worry, I'm still learning too.
Water the soil, not the actual tomato plant, whenever possible. A lot of potential diseases can be mitigated by preventing humidity among the foliage. Watering the ground instead of the plant diminishes any spread of potential problems also.
Water in a circle around the 'drip line' - a few inches from the stem. You want the roots to spread throughout the soil and this is a great way to encourage that. (Water at the base of the actual plant too).
You may need to water twice a day, especially during the heat. You'll be rewarded later.
To be completely honest, I kinda suck at staking tomatoes. I've had successful years but at times they end up an overgrown mess that I have to treasure hunt through. It's not ideal and leads to wastage due to rotting where they touch the ground and pests having better access to the fruit. So this Spring/ Summer I will...
Put stakes in place before planting the seedlings. Tomatoes (the whole Solanum* family actually) don't like being disturbed, especially their roots. They're not ticklish as such, more sensitive about their feet. Show compassion.
Stake all tomato plants. The determinate tomatoes mentioned above are usually considered bush types and indeterminates are climbers but just stake all your tomatoes. They need the support especially when they're bearing a huge burden. Let's face it, we all do. Again, compassion.
Tie them to the stake loosely with a soft cloth. Pantyhose is ideal or over long socks that the dog has been trying to pull off the kids feet. Use something with a little stretch and give them a space to move and grow. The stems will thicken over time so not too tight. Keep tying them up as they get higher up the stakes - this could be every week once they start to take off. Never wire.
Pruning your tomatoes.
Basically, to prune your tomatoes you pinch out the shoots that grow between the main stem and the leaves of the plants. They're known as laterals (sometimes suckers). I've written several drafts to explain in some kind of detail how to prune your tomato plants and have decided to pass the buck. There's a plethora of YouTube videos on the topic that can show you how it's done. I genuinely think you'll learn more on the topic by watching rather than trying to decipher my waffle.
Pruning is not necessary but certainly assists in producing a bumper crop. The primary reasons to prune are; airflow to reduce potential disease risk, bigger fruit, reducing the load bearing on the plant and makes tying the plants to stakes easier. It tidies them up a bit too. They can become somewhat unruly.
So... I bid farewell to thee as you disappear down the rabbit hole known as YouTube. Safe travels. Please get in touch with any further questions. It's a great way to learn what else I should include on this topic. Or you could just call me out for avoiding writing about pruning. Take care gorgeous humans.
* Solanum family includes : spuds, eggplant, capsicum, tomatoes, chillis.