How to grow tomatoes
GARDENING - GROW YOUR OWN VEG
you have never grown your own tomatoes you really should.
What you buy in the supermarkets, no matter the quality or
the price, will taste anywhere near as good as those you grow
fresh and pick just before you are ready to eat them. Au naturel
with a little salt they are out of this world.
The weather in the UK is never that helpful for tomato growing.
Either too hot, too wet, too cloudy but never just what you
want. Best results for growing tomatoes in the UK will be
obtained if they are grown in a greenhouse.
In southern parts of the UK, or in particularly sheltered
areas, it is possible to grow tomatoes outside. If grown in
the open air, they should preferably be grown against a south
facing wall or fence to ensure they are sheltered from cold
winds and to give them maximum sunlight.
The seasons seem to be shifting in recent years, with less
warm early Spring weather but warmer weather lasting well
into the Autumn. Outdoor tomato plants will grow well given
the right conditions, the main problem is the ripening of
the fruit and, as the fruit will be slower to form on outdoor
tomatoes, getting them to ripen can take until very late summer
or early Autumn. Greenhouse tomatoes however will ripen a
lot sooner meaning you can enjoy them throughout the Summer.
When to sow tomatoes
should be sown at weekly intervals from February onwards depending
on the variety chosen, one inch deep and one inch apart. Years
ago they would always be sown in pans covered with glass and
paper and placed close to the glass in a warm greenhouse or
moderately warm frame. These days you can grow them in all
sorts of containers, the main need is for warmth and darkness
until the seed sprouts. Instead of glass you can use polythene
or cling film to cover the seeds but make sure the air can
get in otherwise you may have problems caused by mould. A
rough guide, if growing in a greenhouse or under glass, is
to have a temperature range of 15°C during the night and
21°C during the day.
No matter what you have chosen to grow your seeds in they
should be shaded from the strong sun until the seeds germinate.
Seed sown in February should produce fruit in July. As soon
as two leaves appear on the seedlings, they should be pricked-off
(that's the technical term us gardeners use for the next stage
of growing any plant from seed) singly into small pots, a
good half of the stem being buried in the soil. Peat pots
are good because you will not need to disturb the roots when
the tomato plants are planted out and the peat will also provide
The young plants must be kept in warm conditions and not
allowed to dry out. Also ensure the plants are kept in direct
sunlight as you want to grow straight plants and not ones
that bend towards the light.
If you only pricked them into small pots, as they grow, they
should be moved on into larger pots, and in about 10 or 12
weeks, they should be ready for planting out. Larger or established
greenhouses have beds for the tomato plants but if you do
not then large pots will do very nicely. The plants should
be planted out about 18 inches apart in a row, or into large
pots with a diameter of at least 10 inches. The first truss
of bloom must be formed before the plants are planted out.
The tomato plants should be planted very firmly.
If you do not want to grow tomatoes from seed there are plenty
of garden centres that sell plants which are ready to go straight
into their final location. Buying this way also makes it easier
to have several different varieties in the greenhouse.
Type of soil required to grow tomatoes
To grow tomatoes successfully they need to be grown in fibrous
loam, mixed with a little sharp sand, together with leaf-mould
and some well-decayed manure. Fibrous loam is basically good
quality soil, often mixed with peat. Like a lot of plants
that are going to produce fruit, the better its growing environment
the better will be the quality of fruit, both in flavour and
size. Getting the mix right is important as you do not want
it drying out too quickly (needs to be moist all the time)
but nor do you want it to get waterlogged. Good quality will
ensure long healthy roots for the intake of nutrients and
support of the plant.
It is a good idea to add a layer of old manure and / or leaf
mould below your soil or in the bottom of your pots, for both
the nutrients it will provide and to help with moisture retention
during the hot summer months (even in the UK it gets hot in
the greenhouse). However beware of over-manuring as this encourages
too much plant growth and limits the fruitfulness of the tomato
plants, and no manure must be used which has not fully fermented.
In other words the manure should not be fresh left
for a year or two manure becomes ideal.
Throughout the growing season you should be adding nutrients
to the soil like nitrate. There are some good bespoke tomato
feeds available from garden centres. Not essential if you
have a good growing medium but it all helps.
Growing tomatoes in a greenhouse
greenhouses are ideal for getting started and you do not
even need a big one to grow enough plants.
Once your tomato plants are in their final position in the
greenhouse regular and generous watering is essential. On
particularly overcast days when there is a lack of evaporation
you may get away with not watering, as you do not want the
soil in a saturated condition.
Ideally, in the greenhouse the plants should be three feet
apart although in practice you may not have this much space
as todays greenhouse is expensive per square foot compared
to those of the past. Traditional glass greenhouses are best
but there are a lot of cheaper polythene alternatives available
and there will be something to suit all budgets to enable
the growing of your own tomatoes. What you do have to watch
with the cheaper polythene greenhouses is that you are careful
assembling them and that you locate them in a sheltered position,
anchored to the ground, otherwise one high wind and all will
If you have a traditional glass greenhouse you will either
have metal or timber struts to which you can attach a series
of wires to act as supports for your tomato plants. If not
bamboo canes will do just as well. It is best to put them
in the soil as you put the plants in and that way you are
not damaging the roots later on. To give the bamboos more
strength it is as well to tie them together with a few horizontal
As the tomato plants grow you should tie them to the bamboos
or wires, to support them, with garden raffia or similar which
will not rub and damage the plants.
All side shoots must be nipped off, only the flower trusses
being allowed to grow from the main stem. The plants should
have their heads pinched out as soon as they reach the top
of the bamboos or wires. This will usually allow for about
five or six trusses per plant.
Years ago it was recommended to "set the fruit by passing
a rabbit's tail over the flowers each day which would
obviously stir up the pollen. Not worth worrying about as
the bees and other insects seem to do the job perfectly well.
Tomatoes enjoy the warmth which is why they are more suited
to greenhouse growing but they will not do well if it gets
too hot so you will need to have some form of shading or ventilation
(or both) to control the temperature. If your plants are in
early enough and night temperatures are too low some sort
of heating will be needed. The smaller the greenhouse the
easier it is to heat. Some sort of paraffin heater is ideal.
You should be looking at a night temperature of between 12°C
and 15°C and a day temperature of 15°C to 24°C.
Growing tomatoes outside
If you are going to grow your tomatoes outside in the open-air,
seeds should be sown in March as above but you do need to
ensure you get varieties that are suitable for outdoor growing.
Once the young plants are about 15 inches high they can be
put out at night to harden off, that is assuming there is
no frost, and should be planted out about the end of May when
all risk of frost has passed.
Many people use grow bags for their tomatoes but most of
these do not provide the depth to enable strong roots and
sturdy plants. Far better to buy grow bags and put the mixture
into large tubs or containers.
You can of course make up your own growing medium as for
the greenhouse but make sure there will be good drainage for
the plants as these will be subject to the elements, and that
can mean heavy rain.
Wherever possible outdoor grown tomatoes should be planted
against a south facing wall so they are fully exposed to the
sun. The plants should be kept well watered with liquid manure
to keep up a rapid growth but as soon as the blossom-buds
appear, watering with liquid manure should cease. The side-shoots
must be nipped out and the tops nipped off once your plants
have got about six trusses on each which will mean they are
about four foot high. Like those in a greenhouse they will
Ordinary watering must be carried out most days to keep the
plants from drying out and, in particularly warm weather,
you can put a mulch of grass cuttings around the base of each
tomato plant to help reduce moisture loss.
In most years outdoor grown tomatoes will not ripen on the
plant before the weather turns but if you remove the green
or only partly ripened tomatoes and put them on a sunny windowsill
in the house they will ripen in a couple of days. You could
of course consider making green tomato chutney.
There are many varieties to choose from and if you have the
space it is worth growing three or four varieties.
3 lb green tomatoes
2 tbsps salt
1 1/2 pts vinegar
1/4 lb Demerera sugar
2 tsps grated horseradish (optional)
1 tsp mild curry powder
1 tsp mustard see
1 tsp celery seed
the tomatoes and cut into thin slices.
in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt.
with a cloth and leave for 12 hours.
twelve hours (the following day) drain the moisture from
the chopped onions and horseradish to the tomatoes.
a large pan bring the vinegar to boiling point together
with the spices and sugar.
the tomatoes, onions and horseradish to the boiling vinegar
and cook until a pulp which takes approximately one hour.
in airtight jars.
Read the Food tip on preserving
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