The most delicious summer tomatoes are those that you can pick, sun-ripened, straight from a plant that’s growing outdoors – the flavour and aroma are more intense than shop-bought ones, or even those raised in greenhouses.
Growing your own tomatoes saves you money – half a dozen plants with good yields should keep a family of four stocked with succulent fruit right through the summer season – and it allows you to grow a range of different and unusual varieties. Choose from cherry-sized salad tomatoes, plums (ideal for sauces), large fleshy varieties such as ‘Rouge Marmande’ and even yellow, orange, or striped tomato plants. Outdoor tomato plants generally have fewer pests and diseases than greenhouse grown ones and so are easier to manage. In a tiny garden, you can grow them very successfully in pots or containers in a sunny spot.
Tomatoes grow either as indeterminates – tall, single-stemmed plants, trained to a support and with side shoots and the main growing point nipped out to speed up ripening – or as determinate or bush types. Bush tomatoes grow from 30cm to 75cm tall and sprawl out. They don’t yield as big a crop as indeterminates, but they are easy to grow and don’t need supports. Dwarf varieties of bush types are often no more than 20cm high, and because they trail they are ideal for windowboxes or hanging baskets.
How to Grow Tomatoes
Tomatoes are tender plants, so they shouldn’t be put outdoors while there’s a risk of frost. They need a sunny, sheltered spot to ripen and, when grown in containers or pots, they need to be regularly watered and fed.
Grow tomatoes from seed
• Tomato seeds need a minimum temperature of 16°c to germinate.
• Sow them 6–8 weeks before a last frost is due, either in a seed tray or 2–3 seeds to a 9cm pot or module.
• Once 2–3 leaves have appeared, transplant the seedlings into individual pots in a light, well-ventilated spot.
• harden the seedlings off by leaving them outside for several hours during the day before planting out.
Or buy young tomato plants
• Buy the plants from a grower or your local garden centre.
• Plant in good-quality potting mix when the first cluster of flowers (trusses) are visible. Indeterminates, which can be planted in pots, need canes or sticks at least 1.5m tall to support them.
• As the plants grow, tie the main stems to the supports. Remove any side shoots in mid—late summer, usually when four trusses have formed, and nip off the main growing point.