If you have a greenhouse and at least 6 hours of sunshine a day, then you can grow tomatoes from seed to fruit each summer. With so many wonderful types available, from tiny cherry tomatoes to heirloom varieties, growing tomatoes has never been easier. Here’s our ultimate guide to growing the best tomatoes you’ve ever tasted.
Tomatoes are a heat loving perennial which are grown as annuals in climates like the UK. They require at least 6 hours of sunlight a day and a nutrient rich soil. They’re hungry plants, so be prepared to provide additional compost or organic feed. You can either grow from seed – a greenhouse is ideal – or buy short and bushy plants from the garden centre. Check them thoroughly, to make sure they don’t have any flowers or any pests.
Sowing tomato seeds
Sow seeds in sterile potting compost indoors or in the greenhouse about 6 weeks before the expected final frost. Sow twice as many seeds as you want plants and select the strongest and healthiest plants once they germinate.
The ideal temperature for germination is 16-30°C but seeds will sprout at around 10°C. Give them plenty of direct sunlight (or use a strong white lightbulb) and keep the young seedlings at 18°C. Snip out unwanted seedlings before potting on.
Transplant your seedlings
After about 6 weeks, your seedlings will be ready to be potted on, and you’ll need to do this with care in order not to damage the roots. First, fill 4 inch pots with potting compost and then gently grasp the leaves with a finger and thumb, while loosening the roots with a pencil or chopstick.
Place gently in the pot and water in. Don’t firm or tamp the soil as this will damage the root system.
Once your plants are around 9 inches tallm they’ll be ready to be planted outside or transferred to 9 inch pots or growbags in the greenhouse. Plant them deep (above the first pair of leaves) which will encourage a better root system. Stake large plants and generously mulch the roots once the soil is warm.
Tomato plant care
Once your plants are established, they’ll need very little care except for an occasional feed and water. Keep the compost or soil evenly moist, and water deeply and less often in preference to watering shallowly and more frequently when the weather is hot.
Remove sideshoots regularly, as they’ll develop into non fruiting branches that suck nutrients from the rest of the plant. Feed every 15 days with a balanced liquid feed, then use a high potash feed when the fruit has set. You can use chopped banana peels and crushed eggshells as an organic mulch providing potassium and calcium. Irregular watering and a lack of calcium can lead to blossom end rot, which turns the bottom of the tomato black.
Once the tomato plants reach the top of the greenhouse, or have set 7 trusses of leaves indoors or 4 outdoors, pinch out the growing point of the plant above the top truss. Then wait for the fruit to ripen and enjoy the fruits of your labours!