How To Grow Your Own Tomatoes
08 October 2018
Where to Grow
Tomatoes are sub-tropical plants and therefore require a position in full sun. This is especially important in most areas of the UK and Ireland where sunlight and warmth are at a premium even in mid-summer. A position against a wall or fence will give a better chance of success as long as they can receive sufficient water; avoid hedges as the soil will be too dry. Tomato plants also grow very well in raised beds, they appreciate the soil conditions which provide moisture without water-logging.
In cooler parts of the UK tomatoes are better grown undercover in a polytunnel or greenhouse. In poor Summers outdoor tomatoes can fail to ripen (especially larger varieties) or fail altogether.
Site and Soil
Tomatoes require a very fertile soil. Remember a healthy plant may be up to 2 metres tall and produce hundreds of fruit while taking up a relatively small space (a cabbage takes up more room and only produces a single head!). Prepare your beds by adding plenty of well rotted manure at planting time, as much as a full wheelbarrow every 3 square meters.
Tomatoes can also be grown in pots and growbags but due to the restricted root space you will need a more intensive feeding regime. Make sure pots hold at least 40 litres and only plant 2 plants in a growbag, these conditions are not ideal but may be the only option in a small city garden or if growing on a balcony. Use a the best compost you can and feed with a generous amount of seaweed and poultry manure pellets when planting out, supplementary liquid feed with an organic seaweed feed.Mycorrhizal fungi tomatoes
When to Grow
Sow seed indoors in late February to mid March using a heated propagator or a warm, South facing windowsill. The temperature of the compost should be approx 22 degrees celsius for the seeds to germinate; young plants will also need to be kept warm until early Summer when the soil temperature is above at least 10 degrees.
Tomatoes can be sown in seed trays and pricked out to larger pots but I prefer to sow in modular trays and pot on to a larger 10cm pot after the third leaf has formed. Seeds should be sown 2cm or 3/4 inch deep in a low nutrient seed compost and potted on to a richer potting compost.
Where tomato seedlings have been started in pots or containers, they should be transplanted into their final positions when they are approx 15cm high before the roots become restricted by the pot or 'potbound'.
Where tomato plants have been grown under cover and you intend to plant outdoors, remember to harden them off for a week or two before planting them in their final outside positions. Hardening off means getting them gradually used to outside temperatures by leaving them outside on fine days and bringing them in at night. You leave them out for progressively longer until they can be left out at night provided all risk of frost has passed. This is especially important in the UK because May and June can often be cool and windy.
Tomato Crop Care
If you are growing cordon varieties you will need to pinch out any side shoots which form to prevent energy sapping lateral branches growing. The side shoot will appear at the point where a leaf branch meets the main stem; they can be nipped off with your finger nail when small but will need to be cut with a sharp knife or secateurs if allowed to grow larger.
If fruit is slow to set in early Summer tap the plant support around midday to encourage the spread of pollen.
If you are growing in a greenhouse or polytunnel keep well ventilated especially on hot days to prevent the build up of pests and disease.
Pick as soon as the fruits are ripe for the best flavour - eat as soon as possible. This also encourages the production of more fruit. As soon as a frost threatens in October/November, harvest all the fruit immediately and ripen them on a window sill. With upright varieties, it is possible to gently flatten the plants and cover with horticultural fleece to protect them from frost.