Growing your own tomatoes is simple and just a couple of plants will reward you with plenty of delicious tomatoes in the summer. There are all sizes of tomatoes to try, from the tiniest cherry types, favourites with children, through to full-flavoured giant beefsteak tomatoes.
Tomatoes generally come in two different growth habits: cordon (or indeterminate) tomatoes grow tall, reaching up to 1.8m (6ft) and require support; bush (or determinate) tomatoes are bushy and don’t require staking.
Tomatoes are easy to grow from seed. You can sow seed from late March to early April if you will be growing the plants outdoors. If you are planning on growing your tomatoes in a greenhouse, you can start sowing seed earlier, from late February to mid-March.
Sow in small pots indoors, using a propagator or place the pots in a plastic bag and keep on the windowsill. The young seedlings need to be kept at around 18°C (64°F). Transplant into 9cm (3½in) pots when two true leaves have formed.
Young plants are available from garden centres in spring if you don’t have the space to raise tomato seedlings. But they will still require frost-free conditions and hardening off before planting outside.
When the flowers of the first truss are beginning to open, transfer to 23cm (9in) pots, growing bags or plant 45-60cm (18-24in) apart outside. Plants for growing outdoors should be hardened off first.
Cordon tomatoes - Tie the main stem to a vertical bamboo cane or wind it round a well-anchored but slack sturdy string. Remove the sideshoots regularly when they are about 2.5cm (1in) long. When eventually plants reach the top of the greenhouse or have set seven trusses indoors or four trusses outdoors, remove the growing point of the main stem at two leaves above the top truss.
Bush tomatoes - Those grown as bush or hanging basket types do not need support. You won't need to remove sideshoots.
Water regularly to keep the soil/compost evenly moist. Fluctuating moisture levels can cause the fruit to split. Feed every 10-14 days with a balanced liquid fertiliser, changing to a high potash one once the first fruits start to set. Irregular watering, together with a lack of calcium in the soil leads to blossom end rot - the bottom of the fruit turns black and becomes sunken.
For indeterminate (vine or cordon tomatoes), there is evidence that removing some leaves above the ripening truss (which allows the fruit to be warmer during the day but cooler at night) can encourage slightly earlier ripening without negatively affecting cropping. Removing leaves below the ripening truss does not improve ripening but can help reduce the spread of diseases such as tomato leaf mould or tomato blight where these are a problem.
Blossom end rot: Dark blotches appear on the ends.
Remedy: Water regularly and not sporadically and never allow the soil to dry out.
Tomato blight: Disease that causes fruit and foliage rot, most common in wet weather.
Remedy: Select resistant cultivars.
Tomato leaf mould: Leaf mould can develop rapidly to cause significant yield loss in greenhouse-grown tomatoes. It is rarely seen on outdoor crops. Yellow blotches develop on the upper leaf surface. A pale, greyish-brown mould growth is found on the corresponding lower surface. Where the disease is severe the mould growth may also be found on the upper surface.
Remedy: Select resistant cultivars. Provide ample ventilation to indoor tomato crops.
Tomato splitting and cracking: Cracking or splitting usually does not affect the taste of the tomato, but split fruit left on the plant will often be infected by a fungus, such as grey mould and can cause a variety of physiological disorders.
Remedy: Control temperature and sunlight levels carefully. Feed regularly to maintain high soil fertility. Water to maintain a constant level of soil moisture.
Start picking when the fruit is ripe and fully coloured.
At the end of the growing season lift the plants with unripe fruit and either lay them on straw under cloches or place fruits in a warm, dark place to ripen. Alternatively, you can place the green fruit in a drawer next to a banana, which aids ripening.
Nigel Slater uses large, ripe tomatoes for his delicious supper dish, roast tomatoes with cheese and thyme.
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‘Tornado’ AGM:This bush (determinate) cultivar is hard to beat outdoors and is suitable for hanging baskets or pots.
Gardeners Delight :For small, flavoursome tomatoes, try this reliable and heavy cropping cultivar. A cordon (indeterminate) type. Good in growing bags or pots.
‘Tumbler:A trailing tomato that can be grown in hanging baskets. A small bush (determinate) cultivar.
Ferline:This is a beefsteak tomato with flavoursome, large red fruits and some resistance to tomato/potato blight. A cordon (indeterminate) type. Good in growing bags or pots.
Sweet Million AGM:This tomato produces masses of small, sweet, cherry-sized, bright red fruits that children love. Sweet Million grows well in growing bags and pots, which makes it ideal if you are short on space. Described by Raymond Blanc, of Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, as ‘a good tomato experience… juicy.’