How to grow tomatoes
The rich, sweet tang of a home-grown tomato is unbeatable, and eaten warmed by the sun and fresh from the vine tastes utterly different to any taken from the supermarket shelves. Growing your own tomatoes is simple too, and there's a whole new world of different, delicious varieties to try that taste nothing like those bought in the shops.
When considering how to grow tomatoes, it is worth knowing that there are three different types – the tall cordons, which need staking and pinching as they grow; bush types, which need much less attention; and trailing tomatoes, which have been bred to grow in hanging baskets. Before you grow tomatoes, think about which you prefer and make sure you know what type your variety is so you can cater for their different needs.
All types are tender, so grow tomatoes either in the greenhouse or on the windowsill before planting them outside once the frosts have passed. Tomatoes are ideal for growing in containers on a sheltered, sunny patio or can be grown in the ground in rich soil in the hottest, sunniest spot you've got. A good tip when growing tomatoes is to know that different tomatoes seem to do better in different areas, so it is well worth growing a range of varieties and getting to know which will do best in your garden.
Most of all, home-grown tomatoes need plenty of food, water and sunshine - give them these and you can't go wrong.
How to grow tomatoes
One of the joys of growing your own tomatoes is the range of varieties available, and for the very best choice, grow from seed sown indoors in spring. You can also buy young plants from the garden centre later in the season. Sow seeds into small pots and cover with cling film to help keep the humidity levels high to encourage germination. Place the pots on a warm, sunny windowsill and keep the compost moist. Once seeds have germinated, pot the seedlings on into individual pots and then a few weeks later, pot your plants on again into bigger pots, growing them on until the weather is warm enough and they are large enough to go into their final spot or container outside, or in the greenhouse.
Home-grown tomatoes need help to acclimatise to the outdoors, so harden them off by placing them outside during the day for a couple of weeks, bringing them indoors again at night.
A helpful tip on how to grow tomatoes is to plant them deeply, burying them right up to their first leaves. This will encourage them to produce roots from the stem, which can take up more water and will help to produce strong, vigorous plants.
When growing your own tomatoes, it's good to know that they are hungry, thirsty plants so give them a large pot or grow bag if growing in containers and water all plants regularly, keeping a particularly careful eye on those grown in pots. As soon as the first flowers appear, feed your plants weekly with a high potash, liquid tomato fertiliser.
Grow your own cordon tomatoes by staking them with a bamboo cane and garden twine - there should be only one main stem, so pinch out any side shoots that form in the leaf joints between the leaves and the main stem once flowers appear. As soon as five trusses have developed, pinch out the top of the plant two leaves above the last truss to ensure all your fruit have time to ripen before the frosts, and that your plants don't waste energy trying to produce any more. If growing in a greenhouse simply pinch out plants when they reach the top of the house.
Growing your own bush and trailing tomatoes is easy - they are simply left to grow naturally and don't need any staking, support or pinching out.
As long as you keep your home-grown tomatoes fed and watered they should do well, but the main problem you may encounter could be blight. Common in warm, humid weather, blight is a fungus disease that causes chocolate brown blotches on leaves and stems, eventually spreading to the fruit and causing them to rot. Often prevalent in late July and August, it can spread very quickly and there is no cure - so at the first sign remove affected growth. It is also worth harvesting tomatoes to ripen indoors. Outdoor grown tomatoes are most affected but it can enter greenhouses via vents and doors where it will quickly spread in the humid environment. When considering how to grow tomatoes, it is also worth looking at blight resistant varieties such as Ferline.
A good tip when growing tomatoes is to grow companion plants such as marigolds and basil nearby – marigolds are said to encourage bees for pollination and to deter whitefly, whilst it is thought that basil helps to improve the flavour of the fruit, not to mention being the perfect tomato eating companion too!
When to harvest tomatoes
You can tell when to harvest tomatoes when they are all one colour. Once they are ripe they will happily stay on the plant for a couple of weeks so only pick them when you need them - they taste much better eaten fresh from the vine! Home-grown tomatoes will keep at room temperature for a few days.
Any stragglers still on the plant at the end of summer won't redden before the frosts, so bring them indoors to ripen on a windowsill.