Our Backyard | How to grow your best tomatoes ever

I know what you are all thinking: it's time to plant your tomatoes.

At this time of the year we all want to jump in, but proceed with caution. Even though we have finally turned a weather corner, random frosts can still 'fry' your tomatoes and there is no returning to life.

If you can find the strength, hold off buying your tomatoes until after Melbourne Cup Day every year.

More sun, more fruit - ideally your tomatoes should be in the sunniest spot in your garden. Tomatoes love sunshine. Seven hours is the optimum. Plant with plenty of space 60 centimetres apart, as this will let light and air into the lower part of the plant.

The right soil - tomatoes love rich, well drained, slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.5 to 6.8. You can purchase a very inexpensive soil tester from your local garden centre to determine your pH.

If your soil is too acidic, add dolomite lime. If it's too alkaline, add sulphur to manure.

If you like your tomatoes a little sweeter, sprinkle baking soda on the soil (which reduces acidity). I have also read that putting a fish in the bottom of the hole when planting enhances production. I haven't tried this but it might be fun if you have access to fish and fish bones.

Timing is the key - whether you are growing tomatoes from seeds or buying them from your garden centre, tomatoes like warmth. Wait until soil temperature is over 15.5 degrees Celsius. If you can't resist putting them in, provide a cover or leave them in your green/glass house for a bit longer.

Plant deeply - something that's cool about tomatoes is that they root along their stems. Often tomatoes are 'leggy' and look like they might break in a big wind. To prevent this, pinch all the lower leaves and plant deeply to your first leaves. Each node where you have pinched leaves off will turn into more roots, making your plant stronger and more robust.

Companion plant - tomatoes thrive when planted with onions, basil and garlic. Hopefully your onion and garlic is already planted. Grown together they are said to repel pests and diseases.

Watering deeply is critical as juicy tomatoes require plenty of water. Mulch is also hugely beneficial to keep the water from evaporating, I like lucern hay but anything will do. Drippers work really well.

Worm tea is brilliant for all plants but particularly great for production plants. Add a cupful every few weeks to accelerate and enlarge fruit.

Pinch 'suckers' off the main branch. In the elbow off the main branch, in between new branches, is a small 'branch' - this should be pinched out. This provides better air circulation, keeps down disease and allows the plant to focus on fruit growth. Small leaves and tender stems may also be pinched off or use pruning snips for a clean cut.

Cage or stake - tie your plants up early to prevent fruit from hitting the ground.

Not the windowsill - beautiful ripe tomatoes form their colour from warmth not light. If the temperature is cool, bring your fruit inside to ripen. Although the windowsill in a wonderful tradition, its better to put your tomatoes into a loosely closed paper bag for faster ripening.

Good luck with your tomato growing. I know a lot of people that had a very unrewarding crop last year so hopefully this year will be a winner.

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