It’s hard to beat the taste of home grown tomatoes harvested fresh from the garden. No wonder tomatoes are one of the first crops most vegetable gardeners begin growing when they are so easy to grow, so productive and have some incredible varieties.
The first step when growing tomatoes is selecting the right variety, there a few fantastic hybrids that are worth growing but a lot of very unusual old heritage varieties that are ideal for home gardeners.
How To Choose The Best Tomato Variety
When it comes to hybrid tomato varieties that are two that really stand out and are worth growing, they are Shirley F1 and Sungold. These stand far above any other hybrids in my opinion and although the seeds are expensive (often 8 seeds for £3.79) they are delicious consistent croppers.
It is when it comes to heritage varieties that the range gets very interesting. Gardeners Delight is an old variety that is the most popular grown in the UK, it’s an incredibly reliable variety that produces good sweet tomatoes. Black Cherry has a mass of “black” cherry tomatoes that have a smokey sweet flavour, the colour is closer to a dark brown in all honesty. Blondkopfchen has got to be one of my favourites simply for the taste. Bloody Butcher is a larger tomato that produces a huge crop that are a deep red.
These varieties are just some of my favourites but when it comes to tomatoes it’s worth trying a few different varieties every year until you find some that really suit your personal tastes and growing environment.
Sowing Your Tomato Seeds
For indoor production it’s best to begin your seeds in a propagator or on a windowsill in February or March. If the plants are to be grown outdoors waiting until March or April will make sure the plants don’t need transplanting outside until the last frost has passed.
In a 3 inch (7.5cm) pot plant up to 8 seeds and cover with a light sprinkling of compost.
Water well straight after planting to make sure the seeds have good contact with the soil, the pot shouldn’t be watered again until the plants have germinated.
Within 7-10 days the seeds should be germinated and for the first week will grow quickly. As soon as the plants have germinated it’s important to remove them from the propagator and put the pot either into a cool greenhouse or windowsill.
Once the plants are about an inch (2.5cm) tall they need to be potted on into the individual pots that they will stay in until they are transplanted to their final positions. Each seedling should be carefully transplanted into a 3 inch (7.5cm) pot and watered well. If the plants have become tall and “leggy” during their time growing it’s beneficial to transplant the seedlings deeper in their new pot as this will encourage extra root growth.
At this stage the only care needed is regular watering and for the plants to be protected from cold, frost and draughts.
Transplanting Tomato Plants Grown From Seed
Plants grown from seed will usually be ready for planting in the final position 8 weeks after sowing. The plants will be 6-8 inches (20-25cm) at this stage - this is also the size that most tomato plants are bought from garden centres.
If planting outdoors all chances of frost must have passed before the plants are moved outdoors. Tomatoes will not survive frost.
Most indoor tomato plants are grown in either grow bags or pots of compost. Grow bags are not ideal but can give a relatively good crop. Compost bought from most suppliers also isn’t good enough quality to grow a REALLY strong tomato crop all season. Ideally home made compost is the best growing medium but a mix of store bought compost and rotted manure, home made compost or pelleted chicken manure can give a huge good crop.
If the plants are to be transplanted into the open ground outside they should be 18 inches (45cm) between plants in rows at least 24 inches (60cm) apart.
Aftercare & Harvesting Tomatoes
Training tomato plants can seem confusing. Bush tomatoes are the easiest to grow as they do not need any training, they are dwarf and although they usually still need a cane to support them they are left to grow naturally. Indeterminate and semi-determinate tomato plants are grown as cordons, these will grow tall and require a strong cane and special pruning.
Cordon varieties grow tall and require the “sideshoots” to be removed regularly to ensure the plants grow with one main stem. Sideshoots grow at a 45 degree angle from between the main stem and leaves, with your finger and thumb these can easily be removed while small.
Tie all tomato plants to their canes regularly to prevent any damage once the weight of the fruits begins to grow.
Tomatoes enjoy a good feed regularly, after the first flowers begin to show feeding once a week is ideal. Special tomato feeds can be bought online or in all garden centres but a home made comfry feed or liquid seaweed results in very strong plants.
Harvesting begins when the tomatoes begin to change colour (usually red but some heritage varieties can be black, orange, yellow, white or green when mature). In cases when it’s not obvious that the tomato is ready a quick squeeze of the tomato should show if it’s soft enough for eating yet, hard tomatoes are not ripe and ones that split when lightly squeezed are over ripe.
Harvesting should continue for several months. Plants grown outdoors will grow well until the first frost but those in the greenhouse can remain alive and continue growing slowly until October or November.
Top Tip: Tomatoes that haven’t ripened naturally on the plant can be placed in the kitchen with a banana and will usually ripen within 7 days.
Image source: Verrill farm