Ask a Palmers Expert: Darryl’s top tomato tips

Darryl from Palmers Rotorua is somewhat of a tomato expert, he tries growing a few new varieties each year so he can accurately advise customers on each tomato variety. Palmers Rotorua is proud to stock over 30 different varieties of tomatoes.

What drives your passion for growing tomatoes?

I love the flavour and satisfaction you get from growing your own garden fresh tomatoes. I love making tomato relish and make over 30 jars each year. I love sharing my surpluses and give away a lot of fresh fruit and
vegetables to neighbours and friends. We also gave away over 40 kg of Feijoas as well as lots of plants from our driveway over the initial lockdown.

What is your preferred way to support tall growing tomatoes?

I generally grow grafted tomato plants due to the increased vigour and better disease resistance. So I have a main stake and two side stakes for my tomatoes and grow them as three main leaders up to 2m high. I use the
rolls of foam wire to tie the plants as it holds in place, causes less damage and can be used year after year.

What has been your greatest challenge when growing tomatoes?

Being in Rotorua the season is a bit shorter due to cold nights so I start my plants off in late August or early September in plastic pots, which I place in the warmest sunniest area under a sun roof. Come mid March
the plants start going backwards very quickly as the nights get colder again.

What are some of your favourite tomato varieties?

For early and small tomatoes I would grow a ‘Tumbling Tom’. For mid to late season, ‘Sweet 100’ is our top selling tomato with endless small cherry tomatoes all summer. For a really reliable tomato I always grow ‘Money
Maker’ which is the main tomato for my relish. ‘Beefsteak’ is our best selling of the large tomatoes, but we have over 30 different tomato varieties in store so there is something for everyone. I always try to grow 2-3 different varieties every year to see how well they grow. I do enjoy growing some of the striped and coloured tomatoes for something different.

What do you feed your tomatoes?

I put a lot of effort into getting it right at planting time. I always soak my plants in seaweed tonic until the bubbles stop. I then place a handful of Rooster Booster or sheep pellets in the bottom of the hole with compost on top and around the plant when planting. I plant each tomato seedling slightly deeper than it was in the original pot to help with root development. I water every two weeks with seaweed tonic and feed with a high potash fertiliser. For the many tomatoes I’ve grown in containers I’ve trialled Tomato mix, Vegetable Mix and Tui Pot Power potting mix, all of which have performed exceptionally well with the addition of some tomato specific fertilisers.

How often do you water?

My tomatoes are generally watered every 2-3 days depending on the temperatures at the time. I always water mid morning by way of my set irrigation timer which I change as I need to.

What advice do you have when it comes to controlling diseases and pests on tomatoes?

I use copper sprays at regular intervals, often just before wet weather to keep the various fungus issues at bay. I also tend to remove  the leaves off the bottom 30cm of the plant to reduce waterborne fungus issues like blight. I use neem granules around the base to help deter insect pests. Neem granules, neem spray and Success spray would be your best sprays to help deal with psyllids.

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