Tomatoes come in many different colours, shapes and sizes, including large beef steak types, oblong plum varieties, small cherry types and even purple, yellow, orange and sometimes striped types. What’s more, there are varieties that can be grown as standard cordons, some as bush plants and others in hanging baskets.
There are indoor and outdoor varieties to choose from, depending on your specific requirements, and ones which can be grown in small areas, for those short on space. Most tomatoes are grown in grow bags, however they can also be raised in large pots or grown straight in the ground in warmer areas.
Sowing Tomato Seeds
Sow seeds in seed trays or small 5cm pots and prick each seedling out into a 9cm pot when they have formed at least two ‘true’ leaves.
If you grow tomatoes in a heated greenhouse, you can sow the seeds from mid-January to early February. However if you don’t have a heated greenhouse, sow them in late February to mid-March on a windowsill or in an unheated greenhouse. It is not advisable to sow tomato seeds outside in the UK; once the soil temperature has reached a level suitable for them to germinate and thrive (roughly 18°C), plants that have been raised indoors will already have flowered and be producing fruit.
Care and Maintenance of Tomatoes
Transfer young plants (approximately 15cm tall) to 23cm pots or grow-bags, or plant them outside in warmer areas, 45-60cm apart when the flowers of the first truss are beginning to open (harden them off first by slowly acclimatising them to outside conditions).
Tie the central stem to a vertical support (such as a cane) if you are growing a cordon variety. Bush or hanging basket varieties do not need support. Remove side shoots on standard varieties and water the plants regularly to keep the soil moist. You may need to feed the plants with a general fertiliser if they are grown in pots or grow bags.
Tomato Growing Tips
Once the plants have reached the top of the greenhouse or have seven trusses indoors or four trusses outdoors, remove the growing point of the main stem to allow the plant to concentrate its energy on producing fruits.
Keep the soil or compost evenly moist to avoid the fruits splitting. Irregular watering can also lead to blossom end rot, where the bottom of the fruit turns brown and becomes sunken, rendering it inedible.
The longer you leave the fruit on the vine, the tastier it becomes. It also develops more lycopene if left to ripen on the vine. Lycopene is thought to help prevent prostate and breast cancers. You can either pick each fruit off the truss, or snip the whole truss off the plant and remove each fruit later on.
At the end of the growing season pick the remaining green fruits and store them in a drawer or paper bag with an apple or banana skin, which contain ethylene and will help speed up the ripening process.