I love tomatoes. Big fat beefsteak; and I’ll search the plants for the fattest on a hot summer Sunday morning to be sliced as “one slabs” on a generous piece of Gluten free toast. I love the fact that ‘one slab’ is big enough to reach edge to edge of my bread. Teeny tiny plum tomatoes that remind me of little yellow Christmas bells.

Sprawling sweet 100’s that can take over a whole garden, almost needing a Gardener beware sign! Their bright red globes are perfect as single snacks in the kids lunch boxes and look fab with a green olive in a Martini at Christmas; not to mention they keep producing well into the late growing season and even then their unripe gems can be put to use in a green tomato jam (keep an eye out in Autumn for my favourite recipe to share).

… So why with good intention of these romantic fruits to harvest does it sometimes go terribly wrong?!

My mind rakes back to our first year living in Auckland when I grew a garden the size of a football field – just because the farm we leased meant I had paddocks to play on!

I was in seventh heaven as I staked and planted my 36 heirloom tomatoes. Brandywine, rated as the top tasting tomato; Beefsteak for my “one slabs”; Money maker, as a way to inspire the universe to provide and the obligatory Sweet 100’s of course. I had done everything right. So I thought. For calcium I had put my saved crushed eggshells in each planted hole, a dozen allocated per plant. I used Organic compost as I knew fertilizer can take its toll on the soil, giving lots of one nutrient and nothing of others. I used Seasol organic liquid tonic to soak the seedlings before planting and as an ongoing side dress. I put up wind protection to ease the buffer of wind over the paddocks. Mulch was last and yes it was pea straw. Perfect for Toms. I took photos of our baby ‘helping’ and 5 weeks on smugly left my 5 ft high plants with two hoses on a timer connected to wave sprinklers to manage my bounty while away beaching it in Hahei. 3 weeks later as we arrived home in the dark, sun bronzed and revived. I peered out into the paddock to check the garden under the generous moonlight as I lugged sleeping kids to their beds and to my shock could make out the silhouette of a rotted fungal heap now not more than two feet tall!

I was gutted!

What went wrong? Fungus. I hear of it time and time again from disheartened well intentioned friends as virgin gardeners who become disillusioned by their affair with the garden and then too nervous to try again. This my friend is where I say don’t give up! It happens to the best of us and there are simple steps sometimes missed when growing Tomatoes that is news best delivered now you probably have your plants in the ground for a few weeks and are ready and excitedly waiting for their provision.

From the time your tomatoes are planted until the end of the season your plants are susceptible to Blight and heirloom seedlings are potentially more prone as they are not bred to cope with the deficient soil and dominant fungi in today’s gardens. Blight spores can travel kilometers by wind, so if your neighbourhood has Blight – then you may too.

Here’s what to do. Two treatment options work well for blight and both are as simple as each other.

Organic Solution

Copper and Hydrogen peroxide: When your plants are a few weeks planted in the ground, visit your local Palmers for some Copper wire. Cut sections of wire 5cm long and push the wire through the stem 2 cms up from the soil level. Bend the wire ends over. In a small spray bottle that you’ll find in the fertilizer area of your local Palmers pour an undiluted solution of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. Mist this to your plants once a week throughout the growing season.

Keep your soil moist, but not wet and don’t make the fatal mistake of watering the leaves of your plants! This increases the risk of fungal disease like Blight or Blackspot and can flatten a bed like mine in a matter of weeks. Water your tomato bed in the morning only.

Alternative Solution

Copper Oxy treatment:

Kiwicare produce a handy copper spray in sachets that are mixed in water and misted on to your individual plants. This solution can be sprayed every two weeks until the fruit is set.

All tomatoes need feeding

Like any area of your garden; your plants will grow best when the soil is well fed and Tomatoes are hungry and thirsty fruit. Tomatoes like both Nitrogen and Potassium for yield and flavour. Potassium provides high yields and Tui tomato food is rich in the right mix to keep your Toms coming.

Using worm castings, worm wee, a sprinkle of Epsom salts along with a regular dose of Seasol which is both anti fungal and a natural antibiotic for your garden is an Organic soil solution I love. Worm farms are easy to set up and a full kit including worms can be purchased in store at your local Palmers.

Don’t pick the fruit too late

Tomatoes lose their flavour by 30% every day a bright ripe red fruit sits on the plant impressing the neighbours, so get out there and pick them a little early! Tomatoes picked when ripe, firm and almost red all over will continue to ripen off the vine and will retain more flavour than if left on the plant. When you pick your tomatoes a little earlier like this the plant is also not so taxed and can go on producing more fruit without the burden of energy to over ripen.

So with lessons learned, my crops following my Blight experience have been ripe, red and fungal free – so long as the laterals are removed on the plants and my sweet 100’s not left to grow like triffids!