I am not an expert on growing tomatoes, I would like to make that VERY clear but I have been growing them for about 17 years off and on and I have been asked by a few people to write a blog about the basics.
If you have never grown anything I would definitely recommend starting with tomatoes – they are VERY hard to kill (Believe me I have unintentionally tested this out!) and almost always bare fruit!
If you have grown other things, then you may want to consider what you want the tomatoes for, basically salad or sauces? There are hundreds if not thousands of varieties (in fact that is the name of one of my favourite varieties!) And each one has it’s own attributes. But basically all you need to start is a pot or tray if you have one, compost and a sunny space.
Tomato seedlings when they first sprout.
If you have non of these, you can buy them all from the pound shop, B+M bargains, wilkos or any gardening centre. Just sprinkle the seeds on the compost in the pot and gently press down, cover with a sprinkling of compost, water and wait for the magic to happen…
Once the seedlings are quite strong (like the ones above) you can use a spoon to lift them one by one and place each in a smaller pot filled with compost. Unfortunately you have to say goodbye to the smaller feeble ones. This is called ‘pricking out’ and I hate throwing them away but this is survival of the fittest!
These then need to be kept in a sunny warm place and watered regularly. This is a fab phase, you will treat these little seedlings better than your children and they will cause you a lot less aggravation (hopefully).
Once they get to the height of the ones above you have to think about their forever home…
You CAN grow tomatoes outside in a sheltered warm spot. To do this you have to ‘harden them off’ which basically means toughen them up a bit. You do this by putting them outside (ideally in a plastic tub but not absolutely necessary) for an hour one day, a couple of hours the next and so on for about 5 days until you can leave them outdoors all the time.
It is less fussy to grow them inside but you do need quite a lot of space, I have grown them on the windowsill but they basically took over the whole space – day of the triffids style! So a greenhouse (no matter how small) is much better. You can pick plastic ones up quite cheaply at Wilkos or online.
The best thing to grow them are grow bags –
You make a small hole to place the plug (plant) in and water directly into the hole. You should be able to fit three in one average size grow bag. You can grow them in large pots too but make sure you have fresh compost or manure in them.
Once you get the first yellow flowers you need to start feeding them. Don’t worry this isn’t little shop of horrors – they are not carnivorous! You can buy tomato feed from anywhere that sells gardening stuff, my favourite is tomorite but any will do. It’s a liquid food that you dilute. Pour a cap full or two into your watering can every few days.
Most tomato plants are what we call Indeterminate or vine and these will need support as they can grow quite large. Bamboo canes are perfect.
Determinate or Bush tomatoes are smaller, can be grown in a pot or container and don’t generally need support but they don’t produce as much fruit.
The biggest pain in the arse with vines is that you have to ‘prick them out’ which means getting rid of some of the leaves to encourage more fruit to grow… you do this by when the first tiny fruits begin to appear, by stripping away some of the leaves underneath to allow light and air to reach them better. When there are about four or five groups of flowers, pinch out the plant’s growing tip. I tend to go a bit mad…
It looks harsh but the buggers grow back so quickly!
One of my favourite jobs is ‘tickling’ the plants. You do this to encourage pollination! When the flowers start appearing you just gently tickle them, then go onto the next and so on. I also find talking to them helps but they don’t like me singing, then again no one does!
That’s it really. Leave the tomatoes on until they redden, this can be as late as the end of September or as early as May. If it does get late you can harvest them when they are green and leave them to ripen on your windowsill.
I know this may seem like a lot of work but it really isn’t and it is so enjoyable and thereputic! Plus you get beautiful sweet tomatoes!
If you are a bit worried, or it’s getting late in the season you can buy tomato plants (or plugs) from garden centres. Just start with 2 or 3 and see how you get on.
Honestly if you are reading this you should give it a try, I refuse to believe that anything tastes better than eating something you have grown yourself!
Please let me know how you get on!