GROW GUIDE - TOMATOES
Tomatoes are quite possibly the most popular and widely grown fruit in the UK, however that dose not mean their easy to grow well! Tomatoes are well known for being capricious and suffering from many ills. That said they can be truly amazing when grown with attention and fresh picked, they are nothing like what you can get in the supermarket.
Tomatoes are a complex mess of sugars, acids and numerous different tastes that all Intermingle when they are ripe and the cells start softening, this blend of tastes just doesn’t happen with tomatoes that are chilled and harvested before they are fully ripe. (for those interested look up the 'Flavor Savor' tomato a tweaked tomato designed to alter harvesting and with superior taste when sold in the supermarkets)
TYPES OF PLANT
Tomatoes are Mexican natives and perennial in their native country (resulting in truly incredible plants) and has spread across almost the entire world in various forms. In the UK it dose not overwinter unless given heated care and suitable light however due to its quick growth this is often not considered worth the effort. The tomato hybridises very well and there are now several hundreds of cultivars that can be tested but they all fall under two divisions.
Determinate are the bush forms of tomatoes, these cultivars are comparatively small, growing from 1-3ft and have a limited cropping period of about two weeks. After the flower has formed on the end of its stems the plant is unable to continue growing and therefore finishes its crop before dyeing You do not take suckers off a determinate plant as it requires all the energy it can gather. Determinate plants are ideal for containers.
An indeterminate tomato is able to grow, potentially forever as it dose not produce terminal flowers, instead this tomato sets fruit on lateral flowers and continues to grow throughout the season. This means they require a great deal of staking and they can produce vast amounts of fruit. As they live until the frost it is possible to keep these as perennials under glass, however it is not generally considered productive.
TYPES OF FRUIT
It is also possible to categorise tomatoes by the type of fruit they set, there are many different shapes however the main ones are listed here:
Globe: This is the most commonly cultivated tomato shape, the standard round tomato.
Cherry: This small tomato is often used in salads and is typically stronger flavoured than large tomatoes.
Oxheart: These tomatoes are large and multi-lobed looking like the chambers on a heart. Often slightly irregular they are common sauce tomatoes
Pointed: A slightly more unusual shape, these are quite distinguishable but have no other distinguishing features.
The main things to keep in mind when choosing cultivars (apart from a favoured taste) is firstly if it is a shrubby determinate or a sprawling indeterminate, if it is better suited to indoors or outdoors and what you want to do with the fruit (i.e. salads or sauces)
Seed can be sown over a long period of time for tomatoes however it is worth noting most cultivars crop between 60 and 90 days after sowing (although this can be affected by the weather). If you have a warm greenhouse or conservatory and you want to grow them indoors you can start as soon as January however for outside cropping, whilst you still should sow indoors it is wise to wait a bit (March) as tomatoes are tender in the UK. Tomatoes will want to be kept slightly moist and at about 18*c throughout germination if this is problematic then a heated propagator or a clear plastic bag over the pot is beneficial Covering the pot or seed tray with a small layer of vermiculite or multi-purpose compost is a good idea to stop the seed drying out. Seedlings should appear after 5-7 days. It is important to keep a high light level whilst growing tomatoes as they will otherwise tend to become leggy where they will produce an unproductively long stem. If this happens then plant them out slightly deeper as the entire stem of a tomato can produce roots.
After the first pair of leaves are developed then gently prick out the plants holding them by the cotyledons (seed leaves) whilst supporting with a pencil or such and pot into small separate pots.
Sowing directly into the ground is not recommended for many reasons, such as the cold but also when transplanting, the root structure changes from taproot to fibrous and therefore is far more efficient, giving you better young growth.
If you are unable to grow from seed (or just don’t want 30-40 plants) then we sell a range of seedlings ready to pot up and plant out, as they are still young then care should be taken to avoid the last of the frosts if outside and they should be taken care of to ensure they get enough light. Seedlings ready for planting should have stems of approximately pencil thickness, be dark green and not too leggy. Ideally they have short lengths between leaf nodes however some indeterminate cultivars are prone to have long internodal stems.
For the perfectionist, use a fan to shake the stems of mature seedlings as this helps them develop stronger roots.
PREPARING THE SOIL
Tomatoes like warm slightly moist soil and therefore benefit from soil preparation such as laying black membrane or plastic over the ground they will be planted in as this preserves heat and moisture. Tomatoes are remarkably hungry plants and will readily use all and any nutrients you care to add. Increasing the organic matter content of the soil should be done and they can grow well with incredibly rich soil. If using compost use John Innes 3 with 1/3rd multi-purpose for quicker root establishment.
It is possible to plant directly into the pot or grow bag at this point, if you have good weather and good soil then that is a perfectly viable option, however if there is still cold weather about then it would be good to at least allow them to acclimatise and reduce the shock to the plant. It is possible to plant the tomato slightly deeper which stimulates more roots to form and even to plant the tomato in a trench with the tip poking out. This is particularly effective as the roots will be forming in the warm topsoil.