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Published: 04th December 2016
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There is nothing better than being able to pick fresh, sweet and flavoursome tomatoes from your own garden. From the big beefsteak varieties down to the tiny cherry tomatoes, there is one to suit most tastes and even the smallest garden can accommodate a tomato plant or two. Tomatoes can be grown in pots, borders, hanging baskets, grow bags or the greenhouse and it is very easy to do.

How to Sow Tomato Seeds

Tomato seeds need to be sown about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost, normally March/April unless they are for greenhouse cultivation, in which case they can be sown earlier.

Using a good quality seed compost sow the tomato seeds thinly on the surface then cover with roughly 1.5mm of the compost and water lightly with a fine rose watering can. If you are only intending to grow a few plants then sow a couple of seeds only in 3in pots and place on a windowsill to germinate.
It takes about seven to fourteen days for the seeds to germinate at a temperature of about 21C. The compost needs to be kept moist but do not over water as this can cause moulds and diseases to develop and in particular damping off disease.

How to Care For Tomato Seedlings

Once the tomato seedlings are big enough to handle, roughly eight weeks, they will then be large enough to be moved into their own separate pots. So as not to damage the stem, very carefully hold the seedlings by their leaves and very gently using a dibber lever upwards to remove and transplant them into 3in pots. The pots should, of course, be filled with compost with holes already made to carefully lower the tomato seedlings into. Very gently firm in, make sure the roots are covered and then water. Care needs to be taken to protect the delicate seedlings from cold winds, draughts or frost.

To obtain the best fruit, tomatoes need plenty of water and feed, with watering little and often giving the best results. Until the first truss (branch) has formed use a general liquid feed after which alternate with a high potash feed as this will help more fruit and flowers to develop.

How to Grow and Plant Outside

Once the flowers of the first truss are starting to open and the plants are about 6-8in tall, provided all risk of frost has passed, the tomatoes can be planted out.

If you are planting in your garden borders you will have needed to prepare the soil over the winter in readiness by digging in plenty of manure of or compost. Tomatoes like plenty of food so such before planting a general purpose fertiliser should be raked in. The tomatoes will need space to grow and ideal planting would be 18in between the plants and then 30in between the rows. Water in well.

If you are using a grow bag, give the bag a good kneading and shaking to break up any compacted compost and make some holes in the base for drainage, then remove some of the compost before planting the tomatoes, ideally two per bag. Make sure the root ball is beneath the top of the bag and using the earlier removed compost, cover lightly and then firm in and water. A growing bag frame will then need to be placed over the bag with a cane next to the individual plants, secure to the frame. As the tomato plant grows, tie to the cane about every 4in.

Plants grown in grow bags or pots etc will need a lot more water than those planted in borders.

How to Train Your Tomato Plants

Training your tomato plants depends on which variety you have chosen to grow, with varieties called cordon, indeterminate or determinate.
Indeterminate - are the most common varieties and grown as cordons, these are single stemmed plants which have the side shoots removed, growing very tall, especially in warm conditions.

Bush/Determinate - are bush or dwarf varieties which are suitable for hanging baskets and do not require any pruning or training. This variety also stops growing sooner than the indeterminate and has a stem that ends in a fruit truss.

Semi-determinate - these are also grown as cordons and are similar to the indeterminate varieties but a shorter plant is produced.

With the cordon varieties the aim is to have a single stemmed plant. Regularly pinch out the side shoots that grow in the leaf joints and when the cordon reaches the top of its support, pinch out the growing tip. Doing this makes all the plants energy go into producing fruit. To ensure you have the best quality fruit it is advisable to let no more than four fruit trusses form on the tomato plant. If by late summer the tomato plant has still not reached the top of its growing support, to ensure the remaining fruits have time to ripen, cut the main tip out.

Any leaves that have turned yellow below developing fruit trusses, remove. Water regularly making sure to keep the soil / compost evenly moist and do not allow to dry out.

How to Harvest your Tomatoes

Start picking your tomatoes as soon as they are fully coloured and ripe.

Any green fruit that is left at the end of the growing season, place in a drawer next to a banana to help them ripen.


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