Tuesday, July 19, 2016

{Gardening Journal} All about... Planting Tomatoes!

Finally, my very first post of my gardening journal - sharing my experience on planting tomatoes in tropical weather. I used to think its impossible for the plant to survive low land as I've only seen it being planted in Cameron Highlands, but decided to give it a try when I came across some seeds from the nursery.

I'm glad I did as it was really satisfying to watch the plant bear fruits and transformed from pale green to bright red. It's such a pretty sight! 

However, the biggest reward from homegrown tomatoes (apart from the harvest) is that my elder, who used to dislike tomatoes, wanted to try out the tomatoes and decided he actually likes them. So now cherry tomato is one of his favorite snacks in the lunchbox. *success!*

First round harvest, weighing a total of 75gm.

Second round harvest, this time the yield was a total of 175gm!

Please take note that I am not a seasoned gardener, in fact you may call me amatuer as I only started planting about 9 months back & only have time to care for my garden in the weekends. I've been learning through numerous trial and failure, info exchange from the Malaysian Gardeners groups and new gardening friends that I've met along the journey. I hope this post would be useful for whoever new to planting tomatoes like me.. but please do share your suggestion if there are any better methods. 🙂 

Growing Tomatoes Must-Know
• Typically tomatoes should take about 90 days from seedling to harvest, but it took about 3.5 months for mine to grow up to the height of 4ft tall before they started flowering, and subsequently grew to about 5ft tall. 

• I grew my plant from seeds (you could germinate using the store bought tomatoes too) and they took about 3-4 days to germinate and  another 6-8 weeks for the seedling to grow to a stable size of about 1ft tall. Until that, best to keep the seedling in a sheltered area.

Planting Condition
• Avoid overcrowding the plants, you should need a deep pot (mine is about 8" deep) and keep the plants about 2m apart from each other. In my case, I had 2 seedlings in the same round pot and one is obviously overshadowed by the stronger one. It does bear fruits but much lesser. So ideally, I would suggest limit to 1 plant per pot.

• Tomatoes love sun and I notice my plants reached optimum growth when placed them under full sun with daily water (sprout upward really fast). Get ready trellis to provide the support for the stem and branches before they break.

• I used 6-in-1 organic soil with added perlite and risk husk to improve the drainage. No other special "ingredeints" except periodic fertilizer. 

• I fertilize my tomatoes weekly with non-chemical fertilizer and organic kitchen waste - rotating between organic fertilizer, crushed egg shells, fish amino acids (FAA- a type of homemade fish emulsions which I bought from a local gardener), Epsom salt and banana peels. Read on more to find out why I fed kitchen waste to my plant and what are the benefits. :)

• I noticed some leaves turn yellow during fruiting, it's probably due to the nutritions are channeled to produce fruits hence there won't be enough to supply to the whole plant. I just trim off the brown leaves once a week and add them to the top of the soil as mulching.
• I pollinated my plant by hand using cotton bud to exchange the pollen, and slightly shake the plant as suggested by other fellow gardeners. I left it to pollinate naturally at first without any luck (despite my garden is frequently patron by bees and butterflies), hence I decided to intervene and the success rate was 100%!

Note: I hand pollinated my pumpkin and eggplant too.

Fruiting & Harvesting 
• Once the flower is pollinated, the babies stay green on vine for about 3 weeks, I continued to fertilize weekly and they started turning red - which takes another 1 week time to be completely red.

• I was advised to cover the tomatoes with plastic bags to prevent fruit flies, but the tomatoes were alright despite I left them in the open.

• How to know its time to harvest? The fruit is all red (unless yours is non-red variety) and has a shiny outer layer. Cut with a scissors instead of plucking to preserve the freshness. We did the wrong way as my kiddos could not wait for me to fetch the scissors...

Important Tips 
Tips you ought to know if you are seriously considering to grow tomatoes... 

• With our unpredictable tropical weather, I would suggest avoid placing the plant in the open as excessive rain water could cause the tomatoes to crack open. I kept my plant in pot, indoor but under full sun. I find that this is an ideal condition for tomatoes to grow. This keeps it away from the snails too.

Companion planting with marigold helps to deter pest like white flies and mealy bugs. However it does not works for pests like spider mites and leaf miner, so would still have to check the plant frequently and combat with sprays - I don't use any commercial pesticides as that defeat the purpose of homegrown. Instead I made my own spray and a special herbal pesticide purchased from a friend. Read on more about the homemade spray..
Banana peels are good source of potassium. Just cut them into small chunks and burry next to the plant. Indeed I feed that frequently to all my edibles and roses too. Absolutely free and reduce wastage too.

Eggshells is a rich source of calcium, which is essential for the growth of a healthy tomato plant. You may grind the dried egg shells into powdery form for better absorption, but the lazy me just crushed the shells with the edge of a bottle and buried them directly into the soil. 

Epsom salt is a good source of magnesium and can be easily obtained from pharmacy (ask for medicine grade) for about RM5.90 - RM8.90 a pack. From my research, Magnesium is important to promote healthy growth of the tomato plant and it also improves sweetness of the fruits, so I make it a practice to sprinkle some Epsom salt to my tomatoes and chills periodically.

Note: Epson Salt is NOT normal kitchen salt, don't offer the wrong salt! ;-) 

• Homemade Chili Spray 
This is the homemade spray I have been making to protect my plants, my garden was once under heavy infestation of white flies and mealy bugs, but I finally managed to battle them off. 

This is what you need for homemade spray:
- 4 clove crushed garlic
- 4 dried chilies (cut) 
- 2 puff dish washing liquid 
- mix with 350ml water 
- Filter and add into spray bottle

Spray directly onto the leaves (top & reverse of leaf) in the morning or evening but avoid using under hot sun. I used the spray for 3 consecutive days when pests are spotted, it works really well for me. However, avoid using it on fragile plants with tiny leaf as it's quite a spicy spray.

Warning: REMEMBER not to touch your eyes after mixing the spray, it burns!

The Harvest and the Progress 
First harvest was the sweetest, these baby tomatoes weigh a total of 75g, almost equivalent to the weight of an M size egg each! (The double blue pea flowers are one of my favorite plants that gives me frequent harvest, but that shall be sharing for another day)

Tomatoes on vine. My love 💕

A week before the harvest.

3 weeks before harvesting.

The full tree - about 4-5ft tall and supported by few trellis. It would be ideal to provide support on the top instead.

The flowers, which i hand pollinated using cotton bud to transfer the pollen from one flower to anther. 

The seedling at 3 weeks old. 

That's it folks, hope you find this useful. I welcome any tips as it is really fun to watch the plant grow and stay fruitful. 

Happy gardening!


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