Growing tomatoes in a shade house is a good option if you live in a climate with hot summers. This will save on water and will increase your chances of growing healthy plants that will survive our increasingly long heat waves.
Shade House Construction
If you don’t already have a shade house then you can erect a basic structure using timbre, metal posts or poly pipes curved into a semi-circle with the ends placed over metal posts and secured.
Cover your structure with shade cloth then tie on with tie wire. Covering your structure with chicken wire will help strengthen it and prevent the shade cloth from flopping around in the wind.
We used an old stock crate then attached it to metal posts to increase the height so we could easily walk underneath. You may want to consider cementing the posts into the ground for added strength.
It is best positioned so the open side faces the morning sun. Shade cloth that allows 50% sun to get through will be adequate for most plants to grow. Tomatoes will thrive in these conditions.
If you are looking for shade cloth, try this product from Amazon. (Paid link)
Choosing Tomato Seedlings
Tomatoes can be successfully grown from seed in the winter with this guide to Tomato Seed Germination or this guide to Germinating Seeds on a Heat Pad, however you can buy punnets of seedlings in the spring from your local garden centre. Look for plants with a strong centre stem and healthy leaves.
Growing Tomatoes in a Shade House
- Prepare the Soil
Prepare the soil by adding well matured manure or blood and bone. If your soil is of poor quality then adding potting mix or compost will help improve the soil structure. Add a small handful of pot ash then dig in well to a depth of 30 to 50 cm (12 to 20 inches).
- Prepare the Holes
Space the plants 50 cm (20 inches) apart. Build up the soil around the edge of each hole so it creates a well to keep the water around the plant. This will save on water during the hottest months.
- Stake and Plant the Tomato Seedlings
Insert a stake into the hole then plant the tomato so that the first leaves are just above soil level. Gently back fill around the roots then water in well and mulch.
If the stake feels loose then hammer in until you are confident it wont tip over with the weight of the vine.
As your plants grow you will need to fertilise every two weeks with liquid fertiliser for best results and give your tomatoes regular deep watering depending on the weather.
In the hottest months without any natural rainfall the plants may need deep watering every second day. The plants will soon tell you as the leaves will start to droop.
- Pinch Out Unwanted Shoots
As the plants grow you will need to tie the vine to the stake with twine or soft garden tie wire making sure the stem has plenty of room to expand. Any new shoots that appear between a leaf and the stem will need to be removed by pinching out.
- Pinch Out Top Growth
When the tomato vine reaches the top of the stake pinch out the top growth and continue to pinch out any new growth you see. This will let the plant concentrate its energy on producing fruit.
The bottom leaves will sometimes turn yellow due to water splashing on them when watering. Take them off to prevent disease.
Fruit Fly and Tomatoes
Fruit fly can be a problem in some areas. There are traps that are on the market but I find the best solution is to choose a variety such as Cherry or Tom Thumb which produce plumb sized tomatoes. They usually ripen before the flies get to them. Also picking the tomatoes before fully ripened can also help.
If fruit fly is causing you problems try this well rated trap from Amazon. (Paid link)
Ripen inside by placing in a paper bag or in a single layer in a box then place in a warm area out of direct sunlight. Place a ripe banana in with them to speed up the process then check regularly.
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