Tomatoes are the most popular choice of home grown produce and with many varieties available there is always something new to try for gardeners of all experience levels.
You can start your tomato seeds early by sowing them indoors in Jiffy® Peat Pots or Pellets, or in seed raising trays, from as early as July. A Jiffy® Windowsill Greenhouse will also provide a perfect seed raising environment on a sunny windowsill.
Cover the seeds lightly with fine soil and water gently so they are not disturbed. To aid germination, keep the pots or trays at approx. 15-20°C, and cover with glass, polythene or a propagator lid to help keep the compost moist. Remove the cover when seedlings appear. Alternatively tomato seeds can be sown direct into a garden bed or container as soon as the risk of frost has passed.
Transplant the seedlings into the garden when they are large enough to handle, and when danger of frost has passed – usually before the end of September. Always hold seedlings by a leaf to avoid crushing the stem. If you have grown your tomatoes in Jiffy® Peat Pots or Pellets, you can transplant the seedling with pot and all, thus avoiding transplantation shock. Before transplanting young plants, acclimatise them to outside conditions by placing in a sheltered location for a few hours during the day, gradually increasing the time over a two week period. Then sow into their final growing position at the spacing indicated on the packet.
Mulch the ground around the plants once the soil has fully warmed up. This will help to conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Feed the plants every two weeks with organic fertiliser, such as Seaweed solution or manure, and apply a high-potash fertiliser when the flowers start to form fruit.
Tall growing varieties will need support, either with canes or string tied to an overhead A frame. Side shoots also need pinching out regularly. These appear between a leaf node and the main stem, just below the flower stem. The growing tip of the plant also needs to be removed when 6-7 sets of flowers have set.
The physical characteristics of the fruits are categorised in various ways
‘Cherry’ tomatoes are small, generally round fruits which typically have a wonderfully sweet flavour – great for simple snacks and salads or roasting.
‘Standard’ tomatoes are somewhat larger, medium sized fruits, often beautifully aromatic with a well-balanced acid-sweet flavour – perfect for salads, sandwiches and sauces.
‘Beefsteak’ tomatoes are the largest type with meaty flesh that usually has a more mellow flavour. Perfect for cooking and slicing for burgers or sandwiches.
Other categories include ‘Plum/Egg’ tomatoes, a traditional cooking type that is often used for Italian sauces and comes in various sizes, and ‘Grape’ tomatoes that bear very sweet, slightly smaller and more elongated fruits than a cherry tomato.
Hints and Tips
- Water plants regularly to prevent the skins from splitting.
- When transplanting young tomato plants, bury them deeper than their original position. The level of the compost can come almost up to the first set of leaves. The stems will then develop new roots helping to secure and feed the growing plants.
- If you are staking the plants, do it immediately after transplanting to minimise the risk of damaging new roots.
- Remove lower leaves as they discolour or die off to prevent disease. They are best put into the bin rather than composted.
- Use surplus fruit to make chutney or freeze as sauces, tomato juice or as whole fruit.
- Mixing tomato plants with French marigolds may help to deter pests such as whitefly. Other good companion plants are basil, chives, onions and nasturtiums.