Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

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Tomato – Lycopersicon esculentum

Tomato - Lycopersicon esculentum

Family: Solanaceae.

Origin: South America.

Growing conditions:

  • Tomatoes are a warm season, frost tender annual. Seeds require a warm soil of between 18 – 28°C to germinate. Sowing at too low a temperature will cause delayed or failed germination.
  • Growing tomatoes successfully requires good soil nutrition. Grow in a fertile, well-drained vegetable bed with a soil pH 5.8 – 7. Prepare the soil by adding gypsum, an organic slow released fertiliser and organic matter prior to planting.
  • Adequate, regular water is essential for optimum growth and development of the fruit. Irregular, light watering practices will encourage thick skinned, small, sharp flavoured fruit.
  • By deep watering of the soil (not foliage) and layer of sugar cane mulch you will prevent bacterial and fungal disease as well.
  • Tomatoes can be grown on many different support trellises. This can include 3 stakes in a tee pee shape, lattice, or a chicken wire fence or over any structure that allows good airflow.
  • If staking the tomatoes be sure to place the stakes into the soil prior to planting. This will then minamalise root damage and disturbance later.

How to grow:

  • Seeds can be direct sown into vegetable beds to minimise transplant shock.
  • Tomato seedlings germinate best at a temperature of 15 degrees Celsius and above.
  • Keep moist and at the first sign of emergence liquid feed with a half strength dose of liquid seaweed and half strength worm juice to aid in root development.
  • If raising the seedlings in containers prior to planting sow seeds at a depth of approximately 6 mm deep into seed raising mix. Germination takes approximately 7 – 14 days. Seedlings are ready to transplant into the vegetable garden when the 2nd set of ‘true’ leaves appear. During the seedling development make sure they are not overcrowded and that they receive strong light. Seedlings will become etiolated (leggy) with weakened stems if insufficient light is given or if they are overcrowded.
  • Tomatoes seedlings can be buried up to their first set of leaves (remove this set of leaves prior to planting to prevent rot). This will encourage greater growth and fruit production.
  • Plant approximately 1 metre apart with 50cm between each plant to allow for good airflow, and lessen the chance of bacterial leaf spot occurring.
  • Pinch out lateral growth as the plant develops to encourage greater fruiting and less leaf production. Lateral shoots are small shoots that grow between the main stem and a side stem.

When to harvest:

  • You can either pick tomatoes when they are just starting to turn red and allow them to ripen on a well lit airing tray away from sunlight, or, you can allow them to ripen on the plant. If you choose to let them ripen on the plant you may need to enclose them in grow bags to prevent birds and other tomato loving animals from harvesting the crop for themselves.

How to harvest:

  • To pick tomatoes make sure you cut the stem cleanly with scissors or a knife.This reduces the chance of damaging the fruit and allowing disease to enter the plant.

Common problems:

  • Common pests include: white fly, caterpillars, nematodes, aphids, mites, fruit fly,
  • Common disease include: bacterial wilt, mosaic virus, fusarium wilt, grey leaf spot and damping-off just to name a few.
  • Blossom end rot is also common in tomato growing if you have not supplied the plants with sufficient calcium (gypsum) and regular, adequate water. This can be overcome by incorporating calcium into the planting beds prior to growing the tomatoes. It’s never too late to do this. Simply water the soil, sprinkle the calcium (gypsum) around the base of the plant and water in again with water, liquid seaweed or worm juice.
  • Tomatoes grown in the same spot each year can be badly affected by root nematodes. So it’s vital to rotate your tomatoes each season. They’re grown in the same bed as eggplant, capsicum (bell pepper) and chilli’s (hot peppers).

Rosella – Hibiscus subdantta

Rosella plant flower and calyx red

Origin: Native to tropical West Africa.

Family: Malvaceae.

Plant description:

  • Rosella is a fast growing annual shrub which reaches heights to 2 metres.
  • An attractive plant, with reddish green leaves and yellow flowers that resemble hibiscus. It is widely grown for its edible red fleshy calyx that are used in salads, jams, jellies, syrups, teas, wines and cordials.
  • The young leaves can be cooked like spinach and the fibrous stems can be used as jute substitute.

Growing conditions:

  • Rosella will grow in most soil types provided there is adequate drainage. The size of the harvest will depend on you providing plenty of water and fertiliser throughout the growing period. Once the rosellas starts to show signs of flowering, cease fertilising and only supply the plants with liquid seaweed.

How to Grow:

  • Sow seeds in early September- tropical areas or the onset of warm weather in other regions. Rosellas need a very warm soil, 25 degrees Celsius or over, to germinate. In cooler climates you will need to start the seeds indoors under glass, by using a bottom-heat propagating unit, or the top of a water heater.
  • Rosellas need at least 5 months of frost-free conditions to bear fruit.
  • To produce an abundant crop, three to five plants is all that is needed. These are usually grown from seed but can also be propagated from cuttings, but the yield will suffer from this. Leave approximately one square metre of growing space for each plant.

When to harvest:

  • Plants will generally begin to bear fruit when about they are approximately four months old and may continue to crop may for up to 9 months. It is advisable to remove the first “flush” of flowers. By doing this you will allow the plant to fully develop, which will provide you with more fruit in the coming months. Tip prune the Rosella when it becomes lanky to encourage a bushier, more productive plant.
  • The fruit is ready to pick when they are approximately 2 – 3cm across at their widest part. This is approximately 3 weeks after flowering.

Common problems:

  • Mealy bug and aphids may be your only adversaries with growing rosellas. If you have provided a balanced, regular fertiliser program along the way then these pests will probably not present themselves.