How I love self-starters

Posted by Laura Grant on January 14, 2009
Posted in Garden


Give some plants a chance and they’ll grow like weeds in your garden. Tomatoes are like that, they were my first crop of home-growns and I didn’t even plant them myself, birds did. I’d put some cherry tomatoes on my bird feeder at some point and the next thing I knew I had tomato plants sprawling all over my flowerbeds.

I didn’t know then that I was supposed to stake them up (I was totally clueless about gardening). But the tomatoes were delicious, despite my ignorance, and they made me realise that growing food wasn’t as hard as I’d imagined it would be.

Now every year at around this time (starting in December), I start to find tomato plants growing around my garden. This year I have found 10 plants and all but one have been transplanted into my vegetable patch. For the first day or so after I moved them they looked a bit droopy and out of sorts but I watered them well every evening and now they’re fine.

I’ve got a variety of different types: cherries, little baby Rosas and the standard slicing kind that are called English tomatoes in my local supermarket, plus a couple that I don’t know because they haven’t produced any tomatoes yet. Cherries are still my favourite because you get lots of tomatoes on one plant. I also planted a few Roma tomato seeds a fortnight ago because they make such delicious tomato sauce for pastas.

One thing I have learnt is that it is better to stake up tomato plants or the fruits will lie on the ground and get chewed by all kinds of creepy crawlies and they can get a bit grubby and deformed-looking.

Another thing I’ve learned is that even though they produce huge, heavy fruits, tomato vines are surprisingly fragile. If you let a plant grow too big and bushy before you try to stake it up you may find that the vines break easily when you try to bend them to your will. You have to be very gentle with them and they tend to give off a sharp, herby smell when you handle them.

Some of my plants had already started sprawling outwards before I decided to stake them up, so I put the dowl sticks where the branches could reach comfortably and I suppose it looks a bit untidy, but the tomatoes are off the ground, which is the main thing.

sprawling tomato staked according to where the branches would comfortably reach

I used plastic pull ties – which you can buy for about R15 in a bag of about 50 – to tie the plant to the stick. They’re really easy to use, but you just have to be careful not to pull them too tight, because you can’t loosen them again, you have to cut them off and start over.

With the really small plants I’m trying out using a kind of tepee shape made of three dowl sticks that I saw in a book and hopefully they’ll grow up the sticks and look all neat and tidy. I’ll see whether I can get it to work.

tomato in a dowl-stick tepee


8 Responses to “How I love self-starters”

  1. Nicola
    January 14th, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

    Oh… you have totally inspired me to try and grow my own tomatoes. The only thing standing in my way is lack of ground to plant them in. Do you think they will grow in a container? How great it would be to step out onto my balcony and pop a little tomato into my month that I have grown myself!

  2. Laura Grant
    January 14th, 2009 @ 8:24 pm

    Yes you can definitely grow tomatoes in a container on your balcony. You just need a well-drained pot (put a layer of stones in the bottom), fill it with potting soil and plant some seeds and then make sure it gets enough light and water. Good luck.

  3. PA Farmer
    February 23rd, 2009 @ 9:38 pm


    Regarding staking/supporting your tomato plants, I have some advice. I have personally tried almost every product on the market and found the best thing — its a simple plastic stake with built in twistie ties from

    The metal cages dont work, and the bamboo sticks are just too weak.

    Hope this helps!
    and happy gardening

  4. Laura Grant
    February 24th, 2009 @ 7:33 am

    I looked at the tomato stake site and it looks like a great product. But, alas, getting it shipped from the US to SA? It’s just not feasible. Too expensive, too big a carbon footprint. But looking at it gave me an idea for perhaps trying to make myself something similar. I am now on the hunt for suitable material.

  5. Ohio grower
    August 5th, 2009 @ 3:32 am

    I use 1/2″ or 3/4″ PVC (rigid plastic water line)pipe for stakes. Drill a hole thru them for the ties. Can’t beat the price & I’ve used the same ones for over 10 years.

    August 16th, 2009 @ 8:05 pm


  7. BV
    November 9th, 2009 @ 2:05 pm

    Hi, i am new to gardenining. Just planted 6 tomato seedlings. Where to buy the dowl sticks in jo’berg and how much they cost?

  8. Laura Grant
    November 10th, 2009 @ 8:18 pm

    I bought my dowl sticks at my local Mica. I can’t remember how much they cost; a few rand each, I think. A word of advice, though, buy the thicker ones, because the thin ones tend to bend when they’ve been exposed to weather for a while and don’t support the tomatoes very well. – Laura

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