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The popularity of growing tomatoes in the home garden vegetable patch is unquestioned. Few other crops give so much satisfaction in their growing or have so, much culinary value. In a great number of gardens in southern Victoria they are the first crop to be planted, usually far too early, in the hope of having a ripe supply before Christmas.
This annual attempt to beat seasonal conditions has long been a gardening gamble, and one which the gardener rarely wins. A few warm days in September can tempt the grower to put some plants in, but subsequent patches of cold weather sees them standing still and making no progress.The first weeks of November usually provide the most suitable conditions for plantings south of the Divide. The ground is then beginning to warm and increasing temperatures keep the plants moving.
The problem facing many growers is what sort to grow. The once fairly limited choice has grown into a great range' of shapes and sizes. The large and medium varieties have so many culinary uses that they never lose their popularity, so there is some advantages in planting a few plants of two or three types. The emphasis, however, should be on a few. It is better to limit the number, stake and tie (even the bush types) and generally care for them well than to make extensive plantings which cannot be cared for properly.
Tomatoes are very obliging plants and can. be easily grown in containers so that people living in flats
and home units with some sunny space need not deprive themselves of a plant or two. Another way to obtain a good crop in limited space is to train one or two plants of the taller types against a sunny fence with the aid of netting or trellis. With careful pruning they can be grown with two or three leaders ,to provide a substantial crop. The tall types need staking and pruning by removing the side laterals which keep growing in the axils of the leaves. The unpruned bush types are usually not staked, but staking does help to keep the crop clean and to reduce pest problems.
Careful feeding is essential. Attempts to grow the biggest tomatoes in the district or treble the size of the crop by rich feeding can have disastrous results. Overfed tomatoes can develop a great deal of luxuriant growth at the expense of fruit. For this reason, particular care must be taken in the use of nitrogenous fertilisers. Best results, either in the garden beds or in containers, will be obtained with a friable, well-drained soil which has been enriched with organic matter such as compost or well-rotted animal manure.
Poultry manure is an ideal feeding medium provided it is not overdone and the material is dry and well-aired. A shovelful to the square metre worked through the soil is sufficient and if it contains a certain amount of straw, so much the better. If a complete fertiliser is usedis it will be best placed in bands beside the rows of plants at the rate of a large handful to each couple of metres of row. Plangts grown in ,co taints, can have a handfull,mged thorougtily in (the lower layer of soil wifete the roots will, in time, reach.
Some extra feeding can be given during growth to improve the quality of the fruit, but not before the first flowers appear. This can be done with an application of one of the prepared liquid manures or with liquid manure made from old cow manure.
Alternatively the plants can be watered with sulphate of ammonia dissolved at the rate of a matchboxful to a gallon of water. Plenty of water is important during the heat of summer, but it should be remembered that tomatoes are very susceptible to sharp fluctuations of moisture, particularly when the fruit is developing. The best watering programme is to provide only sufficient water to keep the soil evenly moist until the plants begin to bear and thereafter to see that they are well supplied and never at any stage allowed to dry out.