A complete guide on growing tomatoes, covering the various varieties and growing conditions.
TOMATOES ARE ONE OF THE MOST RECOMMENDED CROPS FOR THE HOME GARDENER TO GROW BECAUSE OF THEIR FLAVOUR.
Market-ready tomatoes have been bred to travel well and maintain a nice appearance on the supermarket shelf as long as possible; for as long as possible, they don’t care if they’re tickling your taste buds.
As with commercially grown tomatoes, many “artificial fertiliser solution” grown tomatoes are also picked when they are still green, resulting in “appetising” tomatoes that don’t taste good.
Some research has also shown that the chemical complexity of home-grown tomatoes is greater than commercially grown ones.
Tomatoes grown in the home have higher levels of the pigment “Lycopene,” which means they are healthier.
It has been demonstrated that Lycopene assists in unclogging clogged arteries, and one of the reasons the Mediterranean diet is so healthy is due to that.
Grow your own tomatoes and you’ll enjoy a fantastic variety of tomato size, shape, colour, and flavour.
Think of the potato; they are relatives, of course, with a huge array of different types that are available for larger beefsteak varieties, as well as smaller, sweeter cherry varieties.
In their earlier stages, they are fun to grow and they have a great reward that makes them must-have stars of the home vegetable garden.
Tomato Terms Explained
In order to better assist you in selecting the proper tomato variety for your garden, let’s first discuss some of the terminology you may hear and what it means.
The most popular fruit types include:
Regular – Medium-sized tomatoes that are generally available in grocery stores.
Often red or yellow skinned smooth, round tomatoes are the most popular.
They can be used for just about anything.
Mediterranean-style beef-steak tomatoes make a great addition to both sandwiches and salads (think tomatoes with mozzarella).
Large tomatoes need a long growing season in order to ripen, so these types of tomatoes are only suitable for growing outside in regions with mild winters.
If you have a polytunnel or greenhouse, growing beefsteaks is a good idea, because they have interesting and unusual variations, and excellent flavour.
In Italy, the colour of “plum” symbolises the colour of canning and making pasta sauce.
Not the best for fresh-eating flavour, but it is suitable for cooking and for freezing.
Cherry – A small, round fruit which is typically sweet and delicious.
Varieties that are red and yellow skinned including ‘Sungold’ that you must grow.
Indeterminate and cordon varieties
Traditionally, they are long lengths of twine or bamboo that have a single stem running down the middle.
Side shoots that appear to maintain the required growth habit must be removed because they produce lateral branches that continue to grow.
Lining the secondary lateral branches encourages their proliferation, which results in a crowded plant and lower yields of ripe fruit.
Bush or determinate varieties
Ideal for small containers, hanging baskets, and spaces with limited growing space.
Low growing, sprawling habits are ideal for growing under cloches or mini polytunnels, but bush varieties are not suitable for this use.
As most ‘self-stopping’ bushes grow to around 2-3 feet, it’s unnecessary to remove side shoots.
Fruits generally ripen sooner and have smaller fruit sizes.
All dwarf varieties, as the name indicates, are smaller than normal plants, growing no more than eight inches tall.
Ideal for growing in containers.
If you have a Vegtrug manger planter as part of a covered raised bed, Dwarf varieties are awesome.Where do you see yourself growing?
Tomatoes are plants that thrive in warm climates and need full sunlight.
The availability of sunlight and warmth in the UK and Ireland is often extremely limited even in the middle of summer.
As long as they can get enough water, a position against a wall or fence will improve the chances of success. Avoid hedges, as the soil will be too dry.
In addition to raising beds, tomato plants prefer soil conditions that give them moisture but don’t waterlog the soil.
Tomatoes do best grown under cover in a polytunnel or greenhouse in warmer parts of the UK and Ireland.
Tomatoes of all varieties, even the big ones, can fail to ripen when the weather is poor.
Site and Soil
A tomato plant needs a rich, well-cultivated soil to flourish.
Also, take into consideration that an edible plant can grow to over two metres in height and produce hundreds of fruits while utilising only a small amount of space (as compared to a cabbage, which takes up more room and produces only a single head).
As much as a full wheelbarrow of well-rotted manure for each 3-square-meter bed should be added at planting time.
Tomatoes can also be grown in pots and growbags, but they will require an increased feeding regime as they are confined to their pot’s root space.
These conditions are not ideal, but for a city garden or a balcony, you should at least aim for 40-liter pots that only hold two plants.
Use the best compost you can and give supplementary liquid feed with a moderate amount of seaweed and poultry manure pellets when planting out.
When should you start growing tomatoes?
Sow seed indoors in late February to mid March, either in a heated propagator or by placing a warm, South-facing windowsill near an East- or South-facing window.
In order for seeds to germinate, the compost must have a temperature of approximately 22°C. In addition, young plants must be kept warm until early summer, when the soil temperature reaches at least 10°C.
Instead of sowing tomatoes in modular trays and potting on to a larger 10cm pot, I recommend sowing them in modular trays and then potting once the third leaf has appeared.
In order to germinate seeds successfully, they should be planted 2 centimetres or 3/4 inches deep in a low-nutrient seed compost and potted into a richer potting compost.
Currently, we are maintaining the temperature of our seedlings artificially. This happens when the amount of light available decreases at a time of year when it is not enough to keep the plants warm naturally.
Without adequate heat and light, seedlings grow tall and weak, making them vulnerable to adverse weather conditions and attacks from pests and disease. As a result, we should lower the temperature of the area to 10 degrees and place the seedlings in an area as bright as possible.
In the case of growing indoors on a windowsill, you will need to use a growlamp if you are lacking adequate natural sunlight.
When their leaves touch each other, potted plants require enough space for good root development, which enables plants to stay healthy and avoid becoming “leggy”.
The best tomato seedlings are short and stubby rather than tall and thin.
Keep the compost moist, and do not allow it to dry out.
Before the roots are restricted by the pot, tomato seedlings should be transplanted into their final positions when they are approximately 15cm (6in of) high.
When you intend to plant tomatoes outside, remember to “harden” them off for a week or two first.
Hardening off involves leaving them outdoors on sunny days and bringing them in at night to initiate acclimation to outdoor temperatures.
If all the danger of frost has passed, leave them out overnight.
May and June can often be cool and windy, which means that this is especially important in the UK.
A hole should be dug for each plant that is placed in the bed with a gap of approximately 5cm / 2in between each of the planted pots.
You will have to provide support for determinate or cordon-type plants if you want to grow them.
This is an excellent method when doing so in a polytunnel, where you can tie the other end of the twine to a crop support bar.
There are a wide range of tomato supports available for use when planting in the open.
To do this, carefully loosen the tomato plant from the pot without disturbing the root ball.
Dig a hole in the soil, then place the plant in the hole and fill around it with soil.
The soil should be 2in / 5cm (as originally positioned in the pot) higher than it was previously.
Planting tomato plants deeper in the soil encourages additional root development.
If conditions are dry, water the well.
Planting tomatoes deeper than normal will help combat their “leggy” and elongated appearance, and you can bury up to two-thirds of the plant, including the lower sets of leaves.
Tomato stems are capable of growing roots from stems you bury, increasing the depth and breadth of your root system.
You should pinch out any side shoots that form to prevent energy-sapping lateral branches from developing.
If allowed to grow larger, the side shoots appear where a leaf branch meets the main stem and can be cut with a sharp knife or secateurs.
To help the new tomato growers who may have difficulty spotting these shoots, leave them for a few days if you’re not sure. If the shoot begins to produce leaves, off with its head!
You will soon realise that a side shoot is always found in the space between the branch and the main stem, and you will wonder why you had any trouble finding it in the first place.
The plant support should be tapped to encourage the pollen to spread early in the summer if fruit is slow to set.
It is especially important to be able to move about and get plenty of fresh air when you are cultivating in a greenhouse or polytunnel. Doing so helps prevent the buildup of pests and disease.
Stopping the plants growth
The practise of cutting the main fruit stem to prevent new truss formation and allow existing fruits to ripen is referred to as “stopping.”
In years when the growing season is short, you’ll normally harvest the trusses that have set four or five trusses deep. In years when the growing season is long, wait until the trusses that have set three trusses deep have been harvested.
In northerly gardens or in a cold year, polytunnel growth requires seven or eight trusses.
If you’ve cut off the plant’s main stem, go on to remove additional side shoots until the top of the plant is completely cut off.
To prepare the soil for planting, water the area, and then lightly sprinkle until the fruit starts to set.
Fruit which has water set properly once a week will produce 12 litres (2 gallons) of juice per plant.
Flowering between waterings has been shown to increase the taste of fruit, but it is important to ensure that the plants don’t have a growth spurt and split fruit as a result.
Watering will take some practise, but there is a noticeable benefit to keeping the plants slightly on the dry side.
Plastic bottles with holes drilled in them can be buried in the soil and serve as a reservoir for watering plans.
You can easily create many small perforations in the sides of a 2.5 litre bottle by cutting the bottom out and then sawing the bottom half of the bottle in half.
When you are watering, place the bottle upside down and bury it with the lid on. Then fill it when the water has seeped through the bottle walls and watered the soil.
The plant must be fed with a liquid comfrey feed or a seaweed tonic that is formulated for tomatoes each week until it is fully ripe.
One must always bear in mind that tomatoes have two different kinds of root systems: those used for transporting water throughout the plant, and those used for absorbing nutrients.
Rather than using the bottle reservoir above, it is better to drench the soil around the plant with a feed solution.
Blight rarely affects tomatoes because they do not like wet or cold weather.
Foliage that is reddish, purple, or veined with mottled colours typically indicates a deficiency in nutrients, particularly ones that are commonly found in the soil, as the result of low temperatures.
When the temperature is cold, roots are unable to absorb nutrients
Blossom end rot may also be due to this.
Irregular watering with some varieties of tomatoes causes the splitting of tomato fruit.
For this problem, a more consistent watering regime should do the trick.
Blossom end rot is a dark and sometimes rotting area near the base of tomato fruits, and this occurs due to a lack of calcium.
Water uptake could be inhibited in dry conditions, which could lead to problems.
Regular watering should address this issue.
Magnesium deficiency. Symptoms include leaves turning yellow and veins staying green; symptoms are typically more severe in older leaves.
In order to solve the problem, mix some ground magnesium limestone together.
Whiteflies are the tomato pest that is most likely to impact your crop.
In the spring, tiny moths emerge from eggs laid by adult flies (which resemble miniature moths).
This creates a sticky secretion, attracting diseases to the eggs as they grow.
If you see the eggs, spray them with water to remove them and to help you get rid of the others by hand.
The best flavour will be had when the fruit is ripe, so eat it as soon as possible.
This has the additional benefit of stimulating the production of more fruit.
Harvest the fruit as soon as there is a threat of frost in October or November, and place the fruit on a sunny window sill to ripen.
With upright varieties, you can support the plants with sturdy supports and cover them with a lightweight cover, like fleece, to protect them from frost.
Storing of tomatoes
Thoroughly wash and dry your tomatoes before you store them.
A window sill, countertop, or bowl will work fine for storing tomatoes for one to two weeks.
To extend the life of fruit, allow it to cool at room temperature.
Fridges should not be used to store food, as the lower temperatures will lead to decreased flavour and mushiness.
When it comes to your fresh-picked tomatoes, you’ll get longer shelf life if you leave them on the kitchen counter rather than purchasing them at the supermarket, which have probably been sitting around for a few days when you get them.
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