The what when and how of planting tomatoes in temperate climates.


The beauty of the crop rotation system is that it really forces you to unlock the secrets of each plant family. A delicious puzzle to solve to attain the next level. The humble tomatoes story unfolds, its original form was tiny golden orbs from Central and South America. Coined solanum lycopersicum “wolf peach” and imported to Europe as ornamental plants that people actually thought were poisonous! What a waste! These tomatoes would have been even more packed full of vitamin C, beta-carotene and antioxidants than their contemporary descendants!

So which tomato seeds should you choose?



Anything that begins “Distorted and weird…” is a must have! By now we all know heirloom seeds are best. They are the juiciest, most colourful and delicious – the antithesis of the perfectly round, tastless supermarket variety! And when you read the packet they have the best descriptions and let’s not kid ourselves that the blurb is what gets us everytime.


Will your tomato live out its days in a 35cm diameter pot or will it free range it in the garden?

If the answer is a pot then a determinate variety is the way to go. They stop growing once they fruit so they are shorter, fruit earlier and are harvested all at once.

If you have the space I’d encourage indeterminate varieties because they have higher yields. They will keep producing for months if the sun doesn’t fry them or frost kill them. These are the older and wilder varieties, they scramble, they climb, but if you train they upwards they won’t take over the whole garden. And if they do, then it’s really not such a bad thing.


If you have ever experience the frenzy of bottling that occurs when all your tomatoes fruit at once then you will know the importance of planning. Working out when your tomato varieties are likely to be ready for harvest means you will not become a slave to the tomato sauce production line and suffer the inevitable deflation of tomatoes giving up the ghost in unison. My little collection will keep me in a steady stream of tomatoes from High Summer through Early Winter with a single sowing in True Spring. If things look patchy I will just take some cutting in High Summer, but no more sowing is required.

Days to harvest are taken from time of transplant. If you have only a short growing season where the days are consistently above 10C then consider only plant early-mid varieties. Sow 6-8 weeks before planting out, early planting is essential as later plantings will have less time to bear fruit and can often fry in the hot summer sun. I sow in September to plant out in November.





Early: 45-65 days
galapagos, gold dust, kotlas, stupice, swift, whipper snapper
Early-Mid: 45-85 days
anna russian, break o day, eva purple ball, golden dust, gregon’s altai, indian river, jaune flamme, snow white, thai pink egg, tigerella, tiny tim, wild sweetie
Mid: 65-85 days
beam’s yellow pear, black cherry, broad ripple currant, brown berry, burley gem, camp joy, campbell, cherry roma, costoluto de marmarle, earl of edgecombe, earl’s faux, golden gourmet, golden sunrise, green zebra, harbringer, kellogg’s breakfast, livingston’s golden ball, manapal, mary italian, nebraska wedding, new big dwarf, olomovic, perron, pineapple, pink ping pong, principe borghese, purple russian, red pear, riesentraube, rose quartz multiflora, schimmeig creg, soldaki, stor gul, sutton white, taxi, tommy toe, tropic, valentine, wapsipinicon peach, white beauty, wonderlight, yellow perfection
Mid-Late: 65-105 days
amish paste, arkansas traveller, black krim, black russian, bull’s heart, cherokee purple, druzba, german johnson, green grape, grosse lisse, lemon drop, mortgage lifter, oxheart red, oxheart yellow, pink brandywine, ponderosa pink, red cloud, red russian, reisetomate, rouge de marmande, san marzano, verna orange
Late: 85-105 days
beefsteak, blue ridge mountain, debarao, german gold, granny’s throwing tomato, hillbilly, periforme, tasmanian yellow





When seedlings grow their first set of true leaves it’s time to thin out the weaklings!



This is the final consideration and perhaps the most important. Choose a diverse selection of tomatoes so that you won’t get bored. I grew way too many stuffing tomatoes one year and just ended up using them in salads and whilst they had lovely robust skins to be filled full of delights they really didn’t stand up on the taste front.

Wild Sweetie, Beam’s Yellow Pear, Riesentraube, Red Fig, Christmas Grapes, Brown Berry, Broad Ripple Yellow, Mexico Midet, Gold Rush, Sweet Pea, Sugarlump, Tiny Tommy, Yellow Pygmy, Lemon Drop, Cherry Roma
Tommy Toe, Tigerella, Black Russian, Wapsipinicon Peach, Purple Russian, Green Zebra, Speckled Roman, Jaune Flamme
Black Krim, Grosse Lisse, Mortgage Lifter, Big Rainbow, Brandywine Pink, Costoluto Genovese, Periforme Abruzzese, Hungarian Heart
Sauces & Pastes
Amish Paste, San Marzano
Schimmeig Creg
Dwarf Tomatoes (Determinate)
Principe Borghese




Finally time to get dirty. We’ve chosen a selection of early, mid and late tomato seeds and worked out how many we need to plan, but how many do we need to sow?

Formula for success:
Number Plants Required x (3 seeds x 2 milk cartons)



Tomatoes don’t like transplanting, moving house too many times is jut too stressful! Milk cartons allow enough room for them to grow until they are ready for the garden bed and then all you have to do is pop out the bottom and plant. This saves you the hassle of pricking out delicate seedlings as well. You know I am all for minimising work and maximising dozing in the sun! You have provided them with food, water and warmth now it’ just about maintaining the balance.

Place them in a spot that gets direct early morning sun, but as the days get hotter protect from midday and afternoon sun. You may need to move them into a sheltered spot if days are climbing towards 30C. Somewhere near a high thermal mass wall that gets morning to noon sun and then is sheltered is ideal as tomatoes need heat more than direct sunlight.


1. Calculate number of pots/milk cartons required
2. Fill the folded cartons up to the top with homemade potting mix
3. Use a small square bottomed pot to firm it down to prevent sinking
4. Fill the space left with Seed Raising mix and firm this down too
5. Place 3 tomato seeds per carton in a triangle shape 30mm apart for ease of thinning later
6. Cover with seed raising mix to a depth of no more than 2 x seed size.
7. Firm this down gently
8. Water with cold chamomile tea to encourage germination and prevent dampening-off, gently sprinkle or mist to avoid washing seeds to corners of cartons
9. Place in a container filled with 20mm of water. This will wick up through the soil and keep seeds moist, no need for top watering
10. Place Plastic juice bottle with bottom cut off over the carton to keep heat and moisture constant


1. Keep water in container topped up
2. Adjust position for optimum warmth/minimum frying
3. Once they have germinated add a little mulch such as coconut coir around them to stop the soil drying out.


Now’s your chance to indulge in some ruthless destruction!


Once the first set of mature leaves appears thin each carton to the strongest plant, if you have ever saved tomato seeds you stop feeling so sentimental, one tomato will give you seeds enough for years to come. Simply pinch the tops off the lesser seedlings (no need to pull them out and disrupt the soil) Grow these on until they are ready to plant out (8-12 weeks) and choose the best specimen and give the lesser back-up away (shh..don’t tell they’re getting the runt of the litter).


If snails are a problem drill small holes in the top bottle and put its screw top lid back on, but otherwise that’s most of the hard work done.

I needed 9 tomatoes for my raised garden bed. (2×9=18 cartons)
Galapagos – 45-50 – Cherry
Valentine – 70 – Cherry
Wild Sweetie – 70 – Cherry
Beam’s Yellow Pear – 70-80 – Cherry
Purple Russian – 70-80 – Salad
Schimmeig Creg – 70-85 – Stuffing
Amish Paste – 70-90 – Sauce
Mortgage Lifter – 80-90 – Slicing
Granny’s Throwing Tomato – 90-100 – Salad


And what of the other solanaceae? They seem to be getting ignored.

The key to crop rotation is that plants that share the same family often have very similar requirements. The tips for sowing tomatoes can be followed for both eggplants and capsicums. Chillies are perennial plants in our garden so left out of the crop rotation. Potatoes exudate something from their roots that stunts tomatoes growth and they in turn make potatoes more suseptible to blight so potatoes have been banished from the bed.

I sowed 4 cartons of mini sweet capsicums for 2 plants and 2 cartons of little finger eggplants and 2 of florida market for 2 plants.

Happy growing!


4 thoughts on “SOWING TOMATOES”

  1. hey! Fun post! You can sometimes find eggs in small caniotners here… but we usually have to get them in a bag too… and I almost always break one or two! haha! I guess I”m not careful enough :)Andrea

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.