GROWING TOMATOES (Lycopersicum esculentum)
There is no more popular crop for the little garden than the tomato. To be certain of success, tomatoes must be grown under glass, but in favourable seasons and in sheltered gardens reasonably good crops of fruits can be obtained from outdoor plants, and should the fruits not ripen in the open they can either be used green for pickling or brought indoors and ripened in a warm room.
Cultivation of the tomato is comparatively simple, yet there is no crop which presents more difficulty to the novice. In the first place it is impossible to grow tomatoes season after season in any garden or greenhouse without sterilizing theused. The tomato disease is almost certain to put in an appearance sooner or later with fatal results.
The soil for cultivation of tomatoes under glass can be easily sterilized by the use of Cheshunt Compound, or formalin, as a soil drench before the seeds are sown. A pint of commercial formalin to thirty gallons of water may be used for the purpose.
Tomatoes are sown at any time after the New Year in open sandy soil in well-drained pots. They need a temperature of 50° for the germination of the seeds, and can obviously be sown thus early in the season only where heat is available. Before the second leaves are made they are potted up singly in small thumb pots,each seedling being buried up to the seed leaf.
For these pots a mixture of leafy soil and sand with a little light loam is used. Water the soil with tepid water after potting. As the pots are filled with roots, the plants are potted on into 3-in. And later into 6-in. pots, a little heavierbeing used each time the plants are shifted. The ideal soil for the final pots (or for the border, if they are grown in one) is made of three parts fibrous loam, one part old manure from an old hot bed, or leafy soil finely sifted, sufficient sharp sand to make the whole porous, and as much as is available of wood ashes from the bonfire. Bone-meal can also be mixed with the potting soil if desired.
The general cultivation of the plants consists in training the main stem of each to some sort of support, usually under glass to a bamboo cane, and in the regular pinching out of the side shoots that develop in the axils of the leaves. Care must be taken, of course, not to pinch out the flower trusses in mistake.
Pinching is practised to restrict the growth to a single main stem, so that more food goes to the trusses of fruit, and also so that more sunshine will reach the fruits.
As the plants develop they are fed with occasional doses of a weak liquid manure which is, however, best given after the first fruits have set. The atmosphere in the house should be fairly moist except while the flowers are open, during which time a rather dryer atmosphere is required. It is a good plan, about noon during the time when the flowers are wide open, to tap each cane lightly. This shakes the pollen dust on to the pistil, and encourages the setting of fruits.
Seeds are sown thinly in drills in. apart, and about 1in. deep, at the end of March. The soil should be rich and open.
Thin out theto about 1 in. apart, and keep the plants well supplied with water and liquid manure, made from animal droppings, throughout the summer. Quick, unchecked growth is essential to make large succulent leaves. When required for use, the outer leaves are cooled off, not cut.
For exhibition purposes, Spinach Beet is sometimes grown in pots. Seeds are sown in the pots in a cold frame, and thinned out so that about three plants are left to a 6-in. pot.
Stimulant for General Use
A useful stimulant on pot tomato plants which can be safely used during the growing and fruiting season, where ordinary animal manure is not easily obtainable, is 1 oz. of phosphate of potash and 1 oz. of nitrate of potash to 1 gall, of water. This should be applied only after the soil has already been soaked with clear water.
Amateur growers would do well to keep in mind the fact that tomatoes are fruits and therefore need plenty of phosphatic manure (bone-meal is an example). They can be fed with nitrates in the form of sulphate of ammonia, or nitrate of soda, but these fertilizers are best given only after the fruits have set, otherwise they tend to encourage leaf production rather than fruit production.
If diseases and pests appear amongst the tomatoes, fumigation of the greenhouse with any of the recognized commercial fumigants and spraying with Bordeaux mixture are measures that can be resorted to with safety. Badly diseased plants it is always safest to destroy, to prevent the spread of infection.
For exhibition, tomatoes should be staged with the stalks on the fruits, choosing well-coloured and solid, even-sized specimens in preference to an irregular assortment.
In any fairly-sheltered garden, tomatoes can be grown in a row along a south wall or fence. Or they can be grown in a row across the vegetable plot, where ample sunshine will reach them.
Plants are generally obtained by the amateur in pots from the nursery about the first week in June. If there is any choice, the plants obtained should be short jointed, sturdy, and dark green in colour. Any that are long, drawn, and pale, have been too long in heat, and will be tender, and liable to a set-back by sudden exposure in the open garden. Moreover, plants that have been drawn in this way never completely recover and will not produce the quantity of fruit that can be expected from sturdier plants.
Tomatoes are grown outdoors on the single-stem system, just as described for greenhouse culture. That is, the side shoots are regularly pinched out, so that only one main stem is left.
When they show about four bunches of fruit it is advisable to pinch out the top of each main stem, as it is unlikely that more than this number of fruit trusses will be able to reach maturity and colour well. Pinching out the top causes all the nourishment of the plant to go into the fruits that are already set.
Amateurs frequently make the mistake of stripping all the lower leaves off tomato plants. As far as possible the foliage of all plants should be kept intact during the growing season, for the sound reason that the leaves are the food, factories of the plant, and if they are removed the general health of a plant is bound to suffer. In the case of tomatoes it is important to allow sunshine to reach the fruits, and where the plants have been well fed, and have consequently developed luxurious foliage, it may be advisable to cut back the leaves, say half-way, or sufficiently to allow more sunshine to reach the fruits. But to strip the plants is weakening.
In September, if there is likelihood of frost, any fruits that have not yet coloured and been gathered, should be cut from the plant and hung in bunches in a warm room, where they will quickly ripen. The plants themselves should then be pulled up and burnt. This is an important point, as plants left lying on the surface of the soil, or dug into the soil, are very likely to spread tomato disease, so that tomato culture would be impossible another season.
Useful varieties of tomatoes are as follows: Indoor: “Best of All,” “Perfection.” Outdoor: “Sunrise,” “Open Air.”