Tomatoes are an easy and rewarding crop to grow. Quite often they are the first plant a child will toddle home from school with and are a perfect introduction to growing your own food.
The main reason to grow them though, is flavour. Supermarket tomatoes are grown to travel well and stay looking good for as long as possible on the shelves. They are often picked before they are ripe too which is not ideal. Flavour is on the list of criteria but much lower down than it should be.
Technical Tomato Terms
First let's start with some technical tomato terms that you may come across. These will help you choose the right variety for the space you plan to grow them in.
Indeterminate or Cordon varieties
This is your typical, tall tomato plant. They have a single long stem and usually grow up canes or twine up to 6' (1.8m) in height. Cordon varieties produce side shoots which need to be removed, as they appear, or they will grow into large lateral branches leaving a tangled plant with a lower yield of ripe fruit.
Determinate or bush varieties
These are smaller tomato plants that are great for growing in containers, hanging baskets or anywhere where space is limited. Bush varieties are sprawling rather than having a single central stem. Because they are low and sprawling they are suitable for growing under cloches or mini polytunnels. They spread about 2 or 3 foot and removing side shoots is not necessary as the bush is ‘self stopping’.
These are very small and compact plants growing no more than 8 inches high. Ideal for container growing.
A truss is a group or cluster of smaller stems where flowers and the subsequent tiny green tomatoes develop. Much of the support and pruning of the plant is done in relation to where the bunches of tomatoes, or 'trusses', are growing so it is useful to know this term.
Where to Grow
Tomatoes require full sun. This is especially important in most areas of the UK where summers are unpredictable and sunlight can be scarce. Position them against a wall or fence if possible to get the best results. Tomatoes need good fertile soil. Prepare your beds by adding plenty of well rotted manure at planting time, as much as a full wheelbarrow every 3 square meters.
If you don't have a large garden or allotment and want to grow in a container or planter then Haxnicks have a big variety to choose from. Which container you choose depends on the variety you have selected above.
There is a useful table at the bottom of this blog which shows the whole range of planters with a short description and link to find out more.
When & How to Grow
Sow seed indoors in late February to June. If sowing early then use a heated propagator or a warm, south facing windowsill.
Tomatoes can be sown 3/4" (2cm) deep in compost filled seed trays. Try and keep your seedlings warm and give them as much light as you can. Too little light will result in tall and weak seedlings. The best tomato seedlings are short and stubby rather than tall and thin. Compost should also be kept moist and should never be allowed to dry out.
When your seedlings have 5 or 6 leaves you will need to prick them out and pot them on into 10" (22cm) pots filled with a rich potting compost. When they are 12" (30cm) tall move them to their final position in your plot or container. To grow really strong plants you can transfer the seedlings from the seed tray into Rootrainers and plant them out after around 6 weeks when they should have developed a super-strong root system.
Depending on the variety they will need support as they grow. Canes have long been the traditional way to do this. If using canes then ensure that the plants are tied gently to allow the stem to grow in both width and height. Tying too tightly will restrict growth and damage the plant. A frame such as the new Haxnicks Tomato Crop Booster is an ideal way to gently support the plants without damaging them. A properly supported plant can put all of its energy into producing fruit leading to higher yields. So if you want to triumph at the village show or simply want to be self sufficient in tomatoes then this could be your secret weapon.
If you have chosen a cordon variety you will need to pinch out side shoots as the plants grow. You will find these shoots between the main stem and the branches. To the novice gardener it seems like this will mean you get less tomatoes but the opposite is actually true. Pinch them out when they are 1" (2.5cm) long and this will add light and air to your plant, keeping it healthy and allowing it to concentrate its energy on fruit production.
When the 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.
Watering and Feeding
Tomatoes love a regular, consistent water supply so 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.
If you are growing in containers or growbags there will be restricted root space so you will need to feed them more. You will also need to pay close attention to watering. Some self watering planters such as Vigoroot Easy Table Garden and Vigoroot Self Watering Tower Garden will make this easier but containers generally do require frequent watering.
Pests & Diseases
Blossom End Rot: the bottom of the fruit turns black and becomes sunken.
It is caused by irregular watering, together with a lack of calcium in the soil. Consistent regular watering and feeding will help avoid this disease.
Tomato blight: this causes the fruit and foliage rot and is most common in wet weather. Avoid planting in areas that have had plants with the disease in. Instead grow your tomatoes elsewhere in containers and leave these areas to rest for a year or two. Choosing a blight resistant variety of tomato in the first place is also a good way to avoid blight.
Tomato leaf mould: mainly a problem for greenhouse grown tomatoes and rarely seen in outdoor grown ones. Yellow blotches develop on the upper leaf surface and a pale, greyish-brown mould growth is found under the leaf. It causes significant yield loss. To avoid this, keep the greenhouse well ventilated or choose a resistant variety of plant.
Tomato splitting and cracking: This is to be avoided as it leaves the plant vulnerable to being infected by a fungus, such as grey mould. To avoid splitting keep the plants comfortable by controlling temperature and sunlight levels carefully. Feed and water regularly to maintain a constant soil moisture level.
Companion planting Growing garlic and nasturtiums near your plants will help deter bugs.
Pick the fruit when it is ripe. At the end of season you may have green tomatoes and not enough sunlight to ripen them. If this happens then you can either make delicious Apple & Green Tomato Chutney or you can try and ripen them. There are several ways to do this:
- lift the plants with unripe fruit and lay them on straw under cloches
- place fruits in a warm, dark place and wait
- put the green fruit in a drawer next to a banana, which will release a gas that aids ripening.
Try something new? Mycorrhizal Fungi
If you have grown tomatoes before and want to try something extra to boost your crop then tomatoes respond well to inoculation by mycorrhizal fungi. The fungi and the tomato plants have a symbiotic relationship. The fungi form a network of hyphae which transport water and minerals to the plant and in return the roots produce sugars to nourish the fungi. Mycorrhizal fungi are available as a powder to coat seedlings when planting out.
Which Haxnicks Container is right for me?
(click on title to see details)
|Suitable for Indeterminate or Cordon varieties||Determinate or bush varieties||Dwarf||About this product|
|Tomato Crop Booster||X||A frame that properly supports tomato plants giving a higher yield. Poly cover sold separately to turn it into a mini greenhouse.|
|Tomato (climbing) Patio Planter||X||Planter with 3 sided plant support included.|
|Tomato Patio Planter (2 pack)||X||X||X||2 pack of large planters with pockets for holding canes to support the plants. For growing all varieties of tomatoes.|
|Vigoroot Tomato/ Potato Planter||X||X||X||Large planter for growing all varieties of tomato. Vigoroot fabric gives stronger root systems for healthier plants|
|Grower System||X||X||A steel-tube growing frame with poly or Micromesh cover. Ideal for your smaller tomatoes and other veg.|
|Vigoroot Self Watering tower garden||X||X||A compact circular plant tower perfect for balconies and patios with Vigoroot for strong roots.|
|Vigoroot Easy Table Garden||X||X||Vigoroot fabric planter with integral self-watering system & poly protection cover - a raised bed, greenhouse and irrigation system all rolled into one!|
|Other Tomato Accessories|
|Tomato Tubes||X||X||X||Crop protection for those without a greenhouse.|
|Twist Up tomato Cloche||X|