Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables (or should that be fruit?) to grow in your own garden. Rewarding you with a bounty of tasty crops that are much better tasting than the bland commercially grown varieties bought in supermarkets, growing tomatoes from seed is much easier than you might think. With a wide range of tomato seeds to choose from, ranging from small sweet, cherry varieties to large beefsteak ones, we will show you how to grow tomatoes and get the best results.
Sowing Tomato Seeds:
Seeds can be sown from January to March. Using a multipurpose soilless compost or a good quality seed compost, fill seed trays or 7.5cm (3″) pots, leaving a ½” gap at the top. Sow the seeds thinly in the trays or singularly in the pots. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of compost and water. Place into a propagator or cover with cling film and stand on a warm, sunny windowsill.
Temperature for germination should be approximately 20o-25oC (68o-78oF), but check the seed packets for individual varieties. Too high a temperature in the early stages leads to spindly growth and unhealthy plants.
Once the seeds have germinated, usually 7-14 days from sowing, remove the cling film, or take them out of the propagator and return them to the windowsill. If growing in trays, the seedlings should be transplanted into 7.5cm (3″) pots when they are 2-3 cm tall, using a multipurpose compost. Keep the compost moist by watering with a fine rose, preferably in the morning.
Keep potting on as required until the plants are ready to plant out.
At the end of May or early June, when all danger of frost has passed, the plants will be ready to plant out in their final positions. Select an open sunny position or plant into 30cm pots. Beds for the plants should be prepared well in advance, incorporating well-rotted manure or garden compost if possible, and a general fertilizer, at the recommended rate of application.
Plant firmly, placing the ball of roots and soil about 25mm (1″) below the surface of the fresh compost. In beds or border, space the plants about 45cm (18″) apart, with rather wider spacing between the rows. Plants in pots will eventually need more water than those in the border, but the soil must never become waterlogged.
Immediately after planting, it is an advantage to give some protection at night, either by using cloches or fleece.
Once flowers begin to appear, the plants should be fed with a liquid tomato fertilizer at the recommended rate weekly. The growing point should be removed when five or six trusses have formed, as this will encourage the fruits to swell more rapidly and mature more quickly.
Keep the plants well-watered, especially when the fruits have started to set. Wide fluctuations in moisture supply may lead to irregular fruit growth, cracking of the skin, and dropping of the fruits.
Some tomatoes are described as bush varieties, and these are essentially outdoor types of early maturity and producing really prolific crops. This type of plant do not require staking , pinching-out or the removal of side shoots. These plants generally reach a height of about 38cm (15″) and are indeed relatively compact though they have a spreading habit are suitable for growing in the vegetable garden or in containers.
Plant about 60cm (24″) apart depending on the variety being grown.
Growing Tomatoes in Compost Bags:
To secure best results the plants should be quite well developed and with the first flower beginning to open when they are planted in the bag.
Where the bags are to be used in a heated greenhouse having a minimum temperature of not less than 13ºC (55oF) they may be planted up in mid-March, but in unheated houses mid-April will probably be early enough, although much will depend upon the precise local climatic conditions.
If headroom restricts the final height of the plant to 1.5m (5′) or less, (allowing 5 or 6 trusses), no more than 3 plants should be put into each bag.
Outdoor planting must be governed in some measure by local weather conditions, and late May or June will usually prove most suitable unless the situation is very warm. No more than 3 plants should be placed in each bag.
It is recommended that a minimum space of 37cm (15″) be left between the “ends” with a 23cm (9″) spacing between double rows.