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How To Grow Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a must have vegetable - easy to grow, juicy and delicious. Grow them outdoors or in, and harvest from July to October. There’s a wide diversity of varieties available, so choose according to taste, intended use, the space you have to grow the plants, and the shape of fruit required – from plum tomatoes to beefsteak, from cherry to yellow. Here’s our specially prepared tomato care guide.

When and Where to Plant
To grow from seed, plant out in late February or early March. Plug plants should be planted out in late April to mid-May. All that tomatoes require is a warm spot out of the wind. Many people grow them in containers on their patio, or in a bed in a greenhouse. Each plant requires a small space, as you are looking for a single stem upwards unless you’ve chosen a bush or tumbling variety. For the longest summer harvest, grow your tomatoes in the greenhouse, though outdoor ripening will carry its own flavour.

How to Plant
When your plug plants arrive, carefully unpack them from their transit boxes. Water the root ball if necessary and leave to drain for 24 hours in a shaded place. Then plant in their final growing position in your garden pots, greenhouse or a sheltered, warm location. Ensure they are well fed and watered and train any trailing varieties against a support cane. One option is to plant your tomatoes into growing bags. It’s important to do this at the right time – not straight away but when the first truss of flowers has grown. Knead the growing bag and form it into a mounded shape. Puncture drainage holes into the bottom, and cut out planting squares at the top. Make holes for the roots balls to be planted deep enough to be lightly covered. Then water and firm in. Use growing bag frames, and don’t forget the support cane for each plant, secured to the frame.

If you are planting out your tomato seed in late February, fill a small 7 to 8 cm pot with compost. Firm this lightly down and water. Scatter a thin sowing of seeds, then leave on a windowsill to germinate. If growing several varieties don’t forget to label each pot! Seedlings will grow up within around 14 days, and in two months it will be time to pot on. This should be done gently and carefully, potting one plant into a 7 to 8 cm pot. It is time to plant on again when you spot the roots expanding out from the drainage holes. When you observe this, pot each plant on into a larger 12 to 13 cm pot.

There’s nothing like the taste of tomatoes which have ripened on the vine. For the optimum flavour, pick either at or just before the height of redness – the fruit of some varieties will tend to crack at the point of maximum ripeness. Store on a windowsill or kitchen counter. Storage in the fridge will reduce flavour and cause the texture of the fruit to become mushy.

Through the Year
To ensure the growth of a single-stemmed tomato plant, snap out any shoots which grow in leaf joints. When a plant has grown four or five sets of flowering trusses, pinch out the growing tip. Ideally, you want the plant’s energy to go into producing fruit. Use a specialist tomato fertiliser every week after the plants have begun to flower.

Handy Tips
Towards the end of the growing season you may end up with a lot of green tomatoes which just aren’t going to ripen outside – there are lots of tips for redeeming these, one method being to put a handful away in a paper bag with a banana. Ripening apples and bananas give off ethylene gas which speeds up the ripening process. A larger number of green tomatoes can be ripened in a box, or single tomatoes in jars, all kept covered in a cool, humid environment.

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