Tomatoes are the taste of British summertime. Juicy, tangy and sweet, home grown tomatoes have a flavour that is unrivalled by shop bought produce.
Whatever size space you have, there is always enough room to fit in a tomato plant. There are so many varieties available, so have fun growing a few different sorts for a gardening and culinary adventure.
Tomato plants come as tall varieties that will need supporting as they grow, bush varieties that are good for containers and pots, or there are trailing tomato plants for hanging baskets or wall mounted containers.
The good thing about growing tomatoes is that you do not need a greenhouse to get a decent harvest. If you do have a greenhouse, the benefit is that you can start off your tomatoes earlier and get an earlier harvest.
Tomatoes can be grown in garden soil, or they work well in containers and growbags. You can buy them as plants or grow them from seed.
How to Grow Tomatoes from Seed
Sow tomato seeds in March or April. It is possible to sow them earlier, but because of the fewer hours of natural daylight available, they do tend to go leggy.
Fill some 3 inch pots with good quality seed compost and put one or two tomato seeds in each. Cover lightly with a sprinkle of the compost, and gently water.
The seeds need a temperature of 21°C to germinate, so a position on a sunny window sill is ideal.
Once your tomato plants, whether grown from seed or bought seedlings, are approximately 8 inches tall, they are ready to be planted. They do well in a greenhouse, or can go outside if all risk of frost has passed, either into a prepared bed area, container or growbag. You can even grow tomatoes in hanging baskets, a great space saver for small gardens.
If planting tomatoes into a border or raised bed, prepare the soil in advance by digging in some nutrient rich material, such as good garden compost or well-rotted manure.
The tomato plants should be spaced approximately 18 inches apart, and if you are planting in rows, each row should be 30 inches apart to allow the plants room to grow and mature.
Growing Tomatoes in Containers
Tomatoes grow well in pots and containers. It also means that you can grow a tomato plant even if you have little outside space. Make sure that you pot is free-draining, with plenty of holes in the base.
When you have planted your tomato plant into a pot or container, keep an eye on the moisture in the soil. Containers tend to dry out quickly, so water well in hot weather.
The benefit of growing in containers is that you can move them around if you want to. You can put your plants in a sunny position, or bring them inside if it gets chilly.
Tomatoes in Growbags
Growing tomatoes in growbags is a convenient way of getting some plants growing with little effort. Allow two tomato plants per growbag.
Tomatoes in Hanging Baskets
There are trailing varieties of tomato plants that will grow well in hanging baskets or wall containers, however success can be had with planting upright varieties, with their unsupported main stems growing over the sides.
Tomato plants do have large root systems, so smaller growing varieties are best.
Hanging baskets tend to dry out even quicker than containers, so keep a careful eye on the watering.
Caring for Tomato Plants
As they grow, side shoots will appear. These grow between the leaf stems and the trunk on the plant. Pick off any side shoots you see, so the plant can put its energy into producing fruiting trusses. Side shoots do have the possibility of growing into fruiting trusses, but in the UK we have a shorter tomato growing season, so removal is recommended to get the most out of your harvest.
As tomato plants grow, they will need supporting. You can use garden canes or a ready made support.
If you have added plenty of organic compost or rotted mature to the soil, tomato plants will have all the nutrient they need to grow and develop foliage. Growbags will also contain enough food to get the plants growing.
Once your tomato plants are developing fruit, they benefit from being fed. There are liquid fertilisers available for tomatoes, such as Tomorite. Feed little and often for best results.
Once the green fruits get larger, they turn to an orange, red or yellow as they ripen. This is usually in July to October. They taste delicious straight off the plant!
Once picked, tomatoes will keep fresh for a few days. If you have a glut, why not experiment with tomato chutney, homemade soups or pasta sauces? There are many ways you can enjoy the taste of a summer tomato, right throughout the summer and into the winter.
Want to grow more produce? See A-Z Growing Guide