Tomatoes are one of the easiest and most rewarding food crops to grow and few things taste as good as a fresh tomato eaten straight from the vine. To ensure maximum tomato success here’s our handy growing guide…
Plugs and potted tomato plants are readily available from garden centres, village shows and even car boot sales, but they’re easy to grow from seed and, in doing so, you’ll have a huge choice of varieties to pick from.
Gardeners intending to grow them in a warm greenhouse can begin sowing as early as February; anyone else should wait until mid-March or April.
Simply dot your seeds on the surface of pots filled with sowing compost, cover with another 1.5mm of compost and place somewhere warm (a propagator is ideal; airing cupboards are excellent; warm windowsills will do the trick).
Keep the soil moist and the seedlings should emerge within one or two weeks.
Once up, your next task is to keep those seedlings happy until they’re ready to plant out—which, if they’re going outside, is when all danger of frost has passed.
Along with warmth and water they need maximum light, so a conservatory, glass fronted porch or the windowsill that sees the most sunshine is your best bet.
If they’re a little lacking in light, then they’ll have a tendency to reach for the sun and grow long and leggy. If this happens then pot them on, burying some of the stem into the compost and in all but the worse cases new roots will soon sprout from the stem and you’ll have a stockier plant on your hands.
Planting out and growing on
Wander around a big, modern garden centre and you’ll probably find a whole aisle of potions dedicated to feeding tomatoes. These will probably increase your yield but they’re not vital for a successful harvest, however, your toms will need some nourishment from the outset so plant them into a good compost or growbag.
Tomato plants are a thirsty bunch so give them a good soaking when first planted out and continue to water well throughout their growing season.
To develop stronger plants it’s worth skipping a day or two of watering in their early life to encourage the roots to dig a little deeper for a drink. Some varieties, particularly those that produce small tomatoes from tumbling tresses, can be grown in pots, but they’ll need much more frequent watering than those planted directly into the ground.
Despite their water cravings they’re quite hardy so you should find that they can cope with a bit of neglect, springing back to life when any dry soil gets a fresh watering.
Once properly established and able to bask in continuous warmth you’ll find they grow quickly. Unless you have a bush variety you’ll want to focus growth to the main stem and trusses that come directly from it, so snip out any shoots that appear between leaf and main stem, and support the plants by gently tying them to a tall, sturdy cane.
Plants grown outside will have a shorter season and it’ll take longer to ripen the fruit, so limit the plant to between four and six trusses to concentrate energy into these fruits—simply snip out the plant’s tip after that final truss has appeared.
Plants grown in a greenhouse can have their tips lopped off when there’s no more room to grow. Those indoor plants will also need to have air circulating around them to avoid getting damp-related diseases, so open windows and doors when you can and cut away the bigger leaves when the fruit has set.
Six varieties to try
Alicante: a hardy variety that can be grown indoors or out
Gardener’s Delight: an ever-popular cherry tomato
Tumbling Tom: a great choice for hanging baskets
Tigerella: a two-tone reliable cropper
Fantasio F1: a tasty blight resistant tomato
Black Russian: dark-skinned heirloom variety which we’re trying out for the first time this year