The Great Changeover: From Broad Beans to Tomatoes

This is purely an exercise in patience, something that by late spring - if the weather has failed to recognise what the calendar is telling us all - we have very little of. 

There's a number of variables that can push it back. Did we propagate our tomato seedlings too late? Are our broad beans a little slow to produce? Is the weather a complete shit show of emotions and can't work out what season it is?! Scoring 2 out of 3 this year the changeover has fallen circa mid November. 

Even though our seedlings - propagated on time, thanks - have grown leggy and impatient, waiting until the weather has sufficiently heated is a smarter proposition than forcing them in early. It has also given our broad beans some extra time to develop, increasing our harvest.

Step 1: Harvesting Broad Beans

On years when the broad beans have come early we cut the plants at their base and leave the roots in ground to decompose. This allows the full transfer of nitrogen into the soil, which our tomatoes need in large quantities to grow. This year, however, with the lateness of the harvest we have decided to pull the plants out in their entirety. 

Note: the white things on the roots of the broad bean plants are a bacteria called rhizobium, which invade the plants' root hairs and form these nodules (which have effectively hijacked the plants allowing them to draw in nitrogen from the air to the soil).

Time to harvest the broad beans, which will be at different stages of maturity. The smallest ones we cook up whole, while the rest we pod, blanche and freeze for storage.


Step 2: Prepping The Soil

Once the broad beans have been removed from the patch, it's time to gently dig over the soil and prepare it for the tomatoes. 

We don't want to overly disturb the soil, and the life that's within it,  so try to keep the tilling to the top 15-20cm. This will help break up any compaction - something that is more common with ground level patches that are walked on - and free it for the new tomato seedlings.

Because we have chickens, we pile up any chook poo collected over the previous growing season, and allow it to mellow in a corner of the patch. At this point we spread it around the soil before tilling. If you are living chook free you can opt for a slow release pelletised chook fertiliser, which won't burn your new seedlings. Otherwise, use an all in one tomato food

Once the soil has been tilled and fertilised, level it out for planting.


Step 3: Planting Tomato Seedlings

Now it's party time. Those babies you've been diligently caring for (or that you perhaps bought from the nursery) finally have their moment. 

We space ours every 60-90cms - right next to a drip line dripper - and, as they are quite leggy this year, bury them deeply up the stems. This will help encourage the plants to develop extra roots, and therefore provide extra stability when settling in.

If you have basil seedlings ready, they can go in between now, otherwise wait a few weeks. Basil is even more cold intolerant than tomatoes, so waiting a while longer is often best.


Step 4: Feed and Stake

Because we want to ensure a successful transplant - which can often be traumatic for warm season seedlings - we give them a feed with seaweed extract

Stake immediately, so that you avoid damaging more extensive root zones at a later date, and remember that tomatoes - if they are indeterminant varieties (most tend to be) - will grow upwards of 2m tall. 


Step 5: Maintenance

The hard work has only just begun. In the absence of good rainfall, water daily, preferably in the morning, and keep an eye out for any pest or disease damage. Try to take preventative measures, such as netting if possums/birds/ vermin are problematic in your garden, but always keep on eye on them for early signs of issues and address them before spiralling out of control.


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