Growing Tomatoes

tomatoe plantsHome-grown tomatoes are easy to grow. All they need is an open, sunny spot in the garden, and in return you will get a good supply of tomatoes throughout the summer.

Growing from Seed

Once you have chosen which varieties to grow, raising the plants is simple: sow the seeds in a pot and in about eight weeks the seedlings will be large enough to plant out. By mid-summer the first sun-ripened fruits arrive and they continue throughout the summer.

Start your tomatoes off by sowing seeds in a pot or seed tray towards the end of April. Leaving them to germinate on a windowsill or somewhere that is warm and frost-free.

1) How to sow: Fill a 7.5cm (3in) pot with seed compost, lightly firm the surface and water. Thinly scatter the seeds, cover with a small amount of compost and clearly label the pot. Keep the compost moist but not waterlogged.

2) Handling seeds: Once they are large enough to handle, carefully prick out a single seedling using a dibber, bringing as many roots as possible with it. Lift the seedling gently by holding a leaf. Avoid the stem as this is easily damaged.

3) Pricking out: Take the seedling and plant it in its own 7.5cm (3in) pot of seed compost. Gently firm it into position and water in. Place in a warm, frost-free, well-lit location, remembering to turn the pot daily if it's on a windowsill.

4) Growing on: When the roots start to come through the drainage holes, transfer the plant into a 12.5cm (5in) pot, taking care not to damage the roots, and water in well. If the plant is very tall, tie it to a cane for support.

Tips for success

a) Seeds should be sown six to eight weeks before the last frosts are expected.
b) Clearly label the seed pots with the variety name and the date of sowing.
c) Tomato seeds germinate best at 15°C to 20°C (59°F to 68°F). A windowsill is ideal.
d) Before planting out, harden off the plants by placing them outside during the day for a few weeks.
e) Prepare the site by incorporating organic matter into the soil.
f) The tomato is ready to plant out once the first flower-bearing truss has formed.
g) Watering the plants regularly will help to prevent the fruits' skin from splitting.
h) When four trusses have set fruit, remove the growing tip to hasten ripening.
i) Remove weed competition from around the tomato plants during the summer.
j) Pick the fruits when they are fully ripe, to capture all the flavour.

Caring for your plants

1) Planting out: When risk of frost has passed, drive a strong stake around 2cm (0.75in) in diameter into soil that has had organic matter dug into it. Then, next to the stake, dig a hole a little deeper than the height of the plant's pot. Place the plant in the hole and firm in.

2) Staking: Use soft twine to tie the plant's stem loosely to the stake. As the plant grows, check the ties regularly and loosen them occasionally to prevent stem damage. The next tomato should be planted 45cm (18in) away to allow the sun to reach the ripening fruits.

3) Remove sideshoots: Using your thumb and finger, nip out any sideshoots that develop between the leaf and the stem to help channel the plant's energy into its fruits. Watering and regular feeding with a high-potash fertiliser will ensure a plentiful, healthy crop.

4) Harvesting: When the fruits have ripened, pick them by bending back the fruit at the notch on the stem. They can be eaten straight from the plant, or can be stored for up to a week in the fridge. Continue to water and feed the plant to help the remaining fruits mature.

Variety guide

a) 'Gardener's Delight' is a heavy cropper with deliciously sweet, small, deep red fruits.
b) 'Tigerella' Each medium-sized red fruit of 'Tigerella' is easily recognised by its paler tiger stripes. It fruits early and has a wonderful flavour.
c) 'Outdoor Girl' is an early-maturing tomato with a good flavour, this sturdy variety produces a generous yield of medium-sized fruit.
d) 'Alicante' is reliable and heavy-cropping with an excellent flavour. It is ideal for beginners.
e) 'Ailsa Craig' is a high-yielding variety that produces richly flavoured, red fruits.
f) 'Marmande' is a large red beefsteak variety, distinguished by its irregular shape. Fruits have a sweet, juicy flavour and very few seeds.
g) 'Sungold' The sweetness of the cherry-sized fruits makes them ideal for use in salads.