There are hundreds of varieties out there and generally if you are growing tomatoes from seeds, you can do this outside or in a greenhouse, there are many more varieties available than if you want to buy plug plants in the spring. Also growing from seeds is much cheaper than paying 2 or 3 pounds for one plant. Choose the variety according to how much space you have for your tomatoes and how you would like to use your fruit. Bite size cherries, more firm mini plums or you would like a big beefsteak one for barbecues? If growing tomatoes to make sauce the best one to go for is San Marzano, this variety grows well outside in the UK too. Heirloom tomatoes are very popular and in my opinion they taste better too. Grow Gardener’s Delight or Black Cherry if you want a sweet, aromatic cherry sized fruit. Sungold is a hybrid one but sometimes it is too sweet for me, very popular with the kids though.
Some old, traditional varieties are Moneymaker, Alicante and Ailsa Craig, these are standard sized red fruits, many gardeners are still growing them and many say they are reliable and easy to look after. However these tomatoes can be a bit on the boring side when it comes to taste. Yellow fruits add an interesting colour to a salad in the summer, I have tried quite a few varieties and can safely recommend Golden Sunrise, sweet and really juicy. What I like most are the heirloom black and purple varieties, they are really tasty and more and more gardeners grow them across the country.
Black Russian and Black Krim are the favourites in my kitchen, they are really tasty in a sandwich or in a summer mozzarella salad. If you are growing tomatoes outside the black ones are generally quite hardy and early too, also Sub Arctic Plenty and Outdoor girl are a good outdoor type too.
Choose your tomatoes by how much space you have available for your plants. Most varieties are cordon types which means you will need to stake them, but there are quite a few bush varieties too and they can be very prolific and good tasting too. Garden Pearl is a safe bet even in hanging baskets. Click here to check out our selection of tomato seeds.
Why Grow Tomatoes?
They are not just absolutely delicious but very healthy too. They are full of minerals and vitamins, the below table is just a rough average, and I am sure that the home-grown tomatoes have even more goodness in them.
I come across lots of people every year sowing their tomato seeds in the unheated coldframe or greenhouse in the spring and they wonder why they will take a month to germinate. Tomato is a heat lover so the seed need quite high temperatures to germinate successfully. Sow the tomato seeds indoors in trays or in small pots and place them in the windowsill or in the airing cupboard to get some heat. This will always help germination. Sow from February – April depending how much space you have and where you will grow them. If you place the trays or pots in the airing cupboard take them out as soon as the seedlings appear.
If you have lots of room for growing tomatoes in your greenhouse and planning to get a head start, you can sow them in February and keep them inside as long as the weather gets warmer in late May. But if you have limited space inside for your tomatoes and the plants will have to go outside as soon as possible, then it is best to sow in April, so by the time the plants have 3 – 4 pairs of true leaves the weather is warmer outside so they can go straight into their final position in late May – early June.
If you have a greenhouse I would suggest sowing the tomato seeds indoors in the second half of March and then plant the tomatoes in the greenhouse late April – early May; with some extra protection they will grow well and ahead of later sowings. If you grow tomatoes outside I would recommend sowing the seeds late March – early April.
Germination takes 7 – 14 days depending on the temperatures, the compost you sowed them in and on the variety as well. As with any seeds it is best to cover them with about their own depth of compost.
Sometimes I sow tomatoes in unheated greenhouse too, late April is the best time for this. The sunshine during the day will warm the greenhouse up to 25 Celsius which is ideal for the seeds to germinate.
Potting on the tomato seedlings
When the seedlings are large enough to handle you will have to replant them into individual small – medium sized pots. It is better to repot more than once than planting them straight in big pots as in the rich compost a big root system can develop and not so much foliage growth. Plant the tomato seedlings deep, be brave and put them as deep where the first pair of true leaves are, it can be a necessity because if you are growing tomatoes inside they don’t get enough light and get leggy.
Water the plants often and little, as the nights are cold and the tomato plants don’t like sitting in cold water. Provide plenty of light by turning the pots around every day on your windowsill, and place the tomatoes in the greenhouse as soon as no frost is expected.
Planting tomato plants to their final position
It can be a large container, growbag or open ground, in the greenhouse or outside. Whatever is your choice or availability make sure that no frost is expected and the daytime temperature is around 20 Celsius at least. Growing tomatoes in the ground has many advantages, even if it is the ground in the greenhouse, as the soil dries out slower saving lots of time and effort during the summer months and also there are more nutrients in the soil, with feeding you can only replace a certain quality and quantity of the nutrients the plants need.
As mentioned above, place the plants deep in the soil; sometimes the lower leaves die, this is natural and a small stress can cause it, whether the plant dried out a bit or had too much water and/or too low night time temperatures; these can all cause the oldest pair of leaves drop off or just turn yellow. So if this is the case, just remove the lowest pair of leaves. To be honest by the time I plant my tomatoes to their final position the lower leaves are always yellow and also the plants can get a bit leggy if there is not enough light so I always remove the first pair of leaves and plant the tomatoes as deep as possible.
If you grow many tomato plants outside it is a good idea to mulch in between the rows and under the plants as well. During the growing season there are lots of jobs you will have to do around the tomato plants and mulching will help not to harden the soil around them. It also helps to keep weeds down and keep the soil moist. You can read more about mulching just click here.
Supporting the tomato plants
If you grow cordon varieties they need some support to grow up on. Most common is a cane but if you grow many plants in rows you can construct a cane and strong plastic net support for them. This is a good idea if you don’t want to prune them, it is a method used by only a few gardeners and they swear that the plants produce plenty of smaller fruits without pruning.
Tie the stems as needed to the canes using twine. Also the traditional method is to remove the sideshoots of the cordon/indeterminate varieties to restrict the tomato plant for a single stem in order to produce larger fruits and for the plants to be more controllable. Also remove the lower, yellowing leaves and some of the leaves from the middle of the growing tomato plants too if there are too many and the plants are too bushy, in order to aid air circulation around them.
Feeding and watering regularly will help to promote optimum growth. Many gardeners suggest feeding when started flowering but I do feed my tomatoes form an early stage, as soon as I plant them out to their final position. If you have some nettles and/or comfrey around your garden or allotment plot, you can easily make homemade liquid fertilizer, it is just as good as a shop bought alternative. Regular watering will help preventing the developing of blossom end rot.
Pollinating the tomato flowers
In the greenhouse in hot summer days it can be very dry, to prevent the occurrence of dry set on tomatoes and peppers too, you should aid humidity in those days, also planting flowers around your greenhouse will help bees to find their way in there, just make sure you leave the door open during the day, so you can have a better pollination in the greenhouse.
You will realize that the whole truss of tomato will not ripen at the same time but the fruits closer to the stem will first. In the shops most of the tomatoes are hybrid varieties which are bred for longer shelf life and uniformity of the fruits so that they look appealing. If you have lots of unripe tomatoes in October – November time you can pick them and take them inside the house, they will just ripen fine, or you can put them in a paper bag with a banana, as the ripening banana emits ethylene which accelerates ripening of other fruits around it.
If you are into gardening, you can get into growing this wonderful and versatile veg too. Tomatoes come in many different sizes, colours and taste you just can’t get from a shop bought fruit. Growing tomatoes, whether in a greenhouse or directly outside, is really satisfying and the fruits are so much tastier than the supermarket ones and you can have so many different varieties too.
The allotment we belong to holds an annual Halloween pumpkin growing competition. We’d never grown a pumpkin before, but thought we’d enter and have it as another vegetable ticked off...