Try your hand at tomatoes

Tomatoes just adore warm weather, and are mostly grown in summer in South Africa. They love a sunny location and well-drained soil. So when you get started, make sure you have plenty of compost when preparing. The beauty of tomatoes is they are relatively easy to grow, but the downside is that they are particularly vulnerable to pests and diseases.

The terrific tomato is used in thousands of dishes and appears on every single restaurant or coffee shop menu, and is generally a key ingredient. Stemming from the ancient Aztec civilisations, it’s now as common as pie.

Many delicious dishes can be traced back to the ancient world, and the Aztec word “tamatl” simply translates to plump fruit. It was introduced to Spain in the early sixteenth century together with maize, potatoes, chilli peppers and sweet potatoes through the voyages of Columbus.

Tomatoes work with just about any savoury meal and combine really well with cheese, eggs, meat, herbs and potato/pasta dishes.

The tomato is perceived to be a vegetable because of its main culinary uses, but it is actually a fruit, belonging to the family Solanacea. It is a close relative of the potato, the capsicum pepper and the aubergine and it is super nutritious.

So on reading all this above, it’s time to get some tomatoes growing in your pot or garden. It’s so easy!

It’s not necessary to buy seeds, as you can source these from your choice of fresh tomatoes that you may have in your fridge. However, you can purchase tomato seeds at any nursery or even grocery stores these days.

If growing from tomatoes, choose some fresh tomatoes that you particularly like the taste of, and then pulp these in a bowl and add a little bit of cold water. Let this mixture stand and, after a while, a whiteish film will form on the surface of the liquid. After 36 hours, add a little more water to the mixture and stir it in well.

This process will separate the seeds from the pulp and the seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl. Once this has happened, strain the mixture through a sieve, rinse the seeds under cold water and then leave them on a piece of paper towel until they are dry.

Sow the seeds into small pots or seedling trays filled with potting soil, and leave them in a warm, sheltered place to germinate.

Once they have germinated, and have sprouted three or four leaves, then they are ready to transplant into your garden, veggie patch or into a medium-sized pot.

It is essential to plant tomatoes along with sticks or stakes, as they are climbing plants.

Training them to grow on stakes has the benefit of requiring less space for them to grow in.

Each stake should be approximately 1.5m to 2m in length, and it is advisable to use square stakes instead of round ones to prevent slippage.

Insert the stakes firmly into the ground, approximately 600mm apart, and make the planting hole around 100mm in front of each stake.

Carefully transplant the seedlings into the planting hole, being careful to angle them towards the stakes. Pat the soil firmly in place around each seedling and water them well. As the seedlings grow, you will need to tie the stems to the stakes to train them to grow upwards – for this make sure you use soft ties, such as old stockings or pantyhose, and not hard material such as wire or string.

Make sure you water your tomatoes regularly and well. Three of the most effective companion plants for tomatoes include Sweet Basil, Marigolds and Mint, which keep aphids, thrips, fruit flies and a host of other pests at bay. Also do your best to attract the friendly bugs, such as ladybirds who love aphids in their diet. So keep an eye on them, and in about six to eight weeks you will have your crop ready to eat.

Enjoy the experience of growing your own tomatoes whilst spending time outdoors in your garden.

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