There is nothing quite like living off the land; putting in months of hard work and tasting the literal fruits of your labor. Homegrown tomatoes are well known for their exquisite taste and succulence, making them an accessible crop for the would-be domestic farmer.
However, growing tomatoes is not as simple as throwing seeds in the soil and watching your future salad rise from the ground, instead of requiring a careful understanding of timing and a bunch of other factors. Well, lucky for you, we have all the information you need to get growing.
Types of Tomato Plant
Tomato plants come in two main types; bush (determinate) and cordon (intermediate). The difference can be important when planning out how tomatoes will fit in with your garden, with bush tomatoes being more suited to small spaces and cordon tomatoes requiring vertical space due to the amount they climb and a need for physical stability support.
When to Sow your Seeds
Timing for your tomatoes really depends on what conditions they will be planted in. Tomato season is generally between February and April, depending on how to plan on growing them.
Those planning on growing them in a greenhouse should look to do so between February and the middle of March. Those growing outside should consider planting sometime between March and the end of April.
How to Sow your Tomato Seeds
It’s essential to keep in mind that growing tomato plants can require that a multitude of precautions are met.
First of all, ensure that you are planting your seeds in small pots or a propagator indoors, with a temperature of 18°c, keeping them lightly watered in the process. You can also cover them with cling film or clear, plastic shopping bags if you don’t have a propagator.
Once you see it start to germinate, producing two, true leaves, it is time to move them to their own pots. Removing them from the pot can be a delicate process, so grab them lightly by the leaves and slowly tease the roots out of the ground. Be careful not to grab from the stem or roots whilst they are in this delicate form.
Growing your Tomato Plants
As your tomato plants start to flower and the truss is starting to open, it is time to move your plants to a larger plant pot or growing bag, spacing the plants around 20-24 inches apart.
Make sure you prepare these first by hardening your tomatoes if you are planning to grow them outside. This is best done around the end of May when the temperature rises and they are less prone to frost exposure.
Those choosing to grow cordon tomatoes will need to support their plants, this can be done with a stick or a bamboo cane, using string to secure the main stem. With bush tomatoes, you are fine to leave them to grow in their basket or planting apparatus, although it is recommended that any obtrusive leaves are cut to ensure the plant is receiving appropriate sun exposure.
Keep compost moist and plants consistently watered, as well as feeding them with a liquid fertilizer every 10-14 days. Potash should be used instead of fertilizer once the fruits start to grow. Make sure to click here to see our list of fertilizers that you should be using on your tomatoes.
When to Harvest Tomatoes
Tomato plants don’t take long to grow and produce fruit, usually somewhere between 40 – 60 days depending on conditions. You can harvest your tomatoes as soon as they look ripe and at full color. If you see any tomatoes that aren’t ripe by the end of the season, then you can simply ripen them somewhere dark and warm, or under cloches if applicable.
Suitable Pairings for Tomatoes
It’s unlikely that you will only grow tomatoes in your garden, and some plants pair excellently with tomatoes making them easier to grow and not obstructing them in any way. Tomatoes pair excellently with asparagus, parsley, basil, carrots, and mint to name a few, but you can check out our full guide here. Not only will a good pairing make your garden look fantastic, but it will also aid in keeping your tomato resistant to disease.
Tomatoes, like other plants, are susceptible to various diseases that will hurt your crop yield or spread to other plants.
Tomato blight is commonly seen on tomato plants that have been left out in constant wet weather, and can be seen as rot on the leaves and the fruit. If you are anticipating constant wet weather, it may be worth moving the fruit into a greenhouse or indoors. You may wish to select resistant cultivars and using them onwards.
Tomato leaf mold is another disease that is preventable by ensuring that your greenhouse ventilation is ample enough for your plants. Tomato leaf mold can be identified by yellow spots on the leaves and a grey mold underneath.
This can all be prevented by keeping a close eye on your plants throughout the season, as well as maintaining them as mentioned in this article.
Overall, tomatoes aren’t a difficult plant to grow but do take planning and routine care to ensure you get the best yield. They’re a plant that can be well suited to a fledgling gardener or hobbyist that is looking to expand their horticultural repertoire. If you’re generally looking for tips on building a new garden, why not check out this guide for the best time to plant a whole host of other plants.