A guide to growing tomatoes at home
It's British tomato fortnight so why not sow some seeds and celebrate this fruit
Welcome to British Tomato Fortnight - yes, it's a thing! The humble tomato is something we often take for granted, its rarely not available when we need it and it can be eaten with just about anything, but have you ever grown them yourself?
They are about the easiest fruit to grow and, if I can do it, anyone can. No, really, I don't even have a garden and I can grow them, there really is no excuse!
Here are some tips how to do get the best out of the nation's favourite salad ingredient.
Choosing which tomato to grow
I'm an absolute novice gardener, so i'm not about to get into the different varieties of tomato you can grow and the benefits and drawbacks of each. Broadly speaking, there is one thing you need to consider, space. You need to think horizontally and vertically as one option is to grow bush tomatoes, which stay short and form a little bush, and the other is a cordon tomato, which grows tall and needs staked, for support. I have a kitchen window sill and that's it, so cordon tomatoes are not an option, but bush tomatoes are fine. It really depends where you want to keep them.
Bush tomatoes are a little less maintenance too, although the only thing a cordon tomato will ask of you, over and above a stake to lean on, is that you pinch the side shoots off so that all the fruit come from the central stalk. Not exactly taxing.
How to get going
Growing from seed is really rewarding, there is nothing better (in gardening terms) than watching the little green stem burst through the soil when you planted a tiny seed a week ago. Frustratingly, given the fact that this is the Tomato Fortnight, it's a little late to plant tomatoes now but if you still want to give it a go, please do, and let us know how you get on.
You can plant from shoots though and now is the perfect time. If you sowed tomato seeds in the last month or two, the time to harden them off and get them out into the garden or pot them on is between the beginning of may and the end of June. That means that you can order some little tomato shoots online, or head to the garden centre and get some, and you're in the same position!
If you are planning to pot or plant them outside and your tomato plant hasn't been outside yet, you'll have to harden them off. This involves taking them outside in the morning and bringing them back in at night, to get used to the outside world. After a week to 10 days, they are ready to move to their new home in the garden! They are very happy in pots or grow bags or planted directly into some well composted soil.
If you are keeping them inside, none of that is needed! You just need to pot them into as big a container as you can manage, with as much drainage as possible, and put them in a sunny spot.
Looking after them
If you have a bush tomato plant, it really looks after itself! If it is indoors, you may want to consider hand pollinating the plant. Outside, the winds and bees will pollinate the plant for you, but inside, this doesn't happen. That said, the flowers of the tomato plant contain both male and female anatomy, so they can self pollinate and should still produce fruit. Hand pollinating them all but guarantees fruit and you will get a bigger harvest than you would have otherwise done.
The good news is - it couldn't be easier. Because male and female parts are in the same flower, you really just need to gently brush the middle of the flower with an artists paint brush or a makeup brush or similar. Job done, although you might want to put on some jazz and light a few candles! Do this as often as you remember, about twice a week is best, while the plant is flowering.
If you have cordon plants, they will want to shoot for the sky and you should accommodate this! If you stab (gently) a stake into the soil, you can loosely tie the main stem of the plant to it, with soft string, as it grows. It will try to send shoots out from the main shoot (these are not the shoots that the leaves appear on, they are like new stems, they will be thicker and easy to recognise) and you should pinch these off. This will allow the plant to put all its energy into the main stem and stop it falling over! Same goes for pollination - if it's outside, you needn't bother, if it's inside, you may want to.
Either variety will thank you for a feed while they are flowering. You can buy tomato feed readily from anywhere that sells plants (it's a pretty universal feed) and this will make sure they have all the nutrients they need to stay strong. Once a week, when you water them, should do the trick.
Caring for the fruit
Congratulations, you have grown food! Keep up the watering with the plant food to keep it going and don't remove the tomatoes till they are as red as you want them. If there are leaves above them blocking out the light, you should remove them so the tomatoes can ripen. With bush varieties, because they grow sideways, you might need to put some support in for the fruit to sit on as it gets heavier. An upturned plant pot is good, but anything you have nearby that they can sit on is perfect.
Harvesting the fruit
When they are as big and red as you expect them to be (there should be a picture of what to expect on the seed packet or the care label if you bought a shoot), you can pick them. Until that point, take care to remove any leaves that are looking a bit past their best, and water and feed weekly.
Do not hesitate to pick one straight from the vine and take a bite straight out of it!