Articles Posted in the Garden category

How I love self-starters

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