Growing your own tomatoes couldn’t be more satisfying. They are fairly easy to grow and nothing beats the taste of organically home-grown tomatoes.
Another benefit of growing your own tomatoes is that you get a wide choice of varieties of tomatoes to grow from seeds. The choice is much wider than the tomatoes which you can find in supermarkets and the varieties are also adapted for growing in the UK.
How to get started
At this time of year you have a few options: you can either purchase a plug plant from a garden centre or order your plants online. Make sure that the plant is watered sufficiently and do not plant the tomato outdoors until all risk of frost has finished.
Potting tomato plants
Alternatively you could try growing tomatoes from seeds, which is my preferred option. All you need is a pot or tray of fine compost where you will place a few tomato seeds that need to be covered with a little compost. Place the tray on a sunny window sill and keep the soil moist (you may want to cover the tray with a plastic bag to keep the moisture in until the seeds have germinated). Within 2 weeks you should start to see some seedlings emerging from the compost.
Once the seedlings are big enough to handle i.e. once they have at least an additional pair of leaves to their original leaves (called true leaf) you can transplant them in their own individual pots to grow on in a sunny area. Once all risk of frost has passed and the weather is warmer you will be able to plant your tomatoes outside. If like me you have a greenhouse, you can move the plants earlier in the greenhouse and either grow them in big pots or grow bags. Grow bags are handy because they take little space and can be disposed of easily at the end of the season. I simply put 3 plants per grow bag of either tomatoes or peppers.
My favourite tomato varieties
I recommend Gardeners Delight which is easy to grow and ripens quickly. Also another favourite of mine is Tigeretta – a middle sized tomato with little yellow stripes, which is tasty and proved to be very disease resistant when we had the really wet summer two years ago and blight and rot was killing most plants.
I tend to use the Roma variety to make tomato sauce or for cooking. I have also grown Alicante tomatoes which are bigger than the above mentioned varieties and therefore take longer to ripen in my personal experience. I normally prefer to grow cherry tomatoes because they ripen quicker than big tomato varieties and produce vigourous bushes full of fruits. Additionally for cherry tomatoes I recommend Sun gold and Black Cherry (although some people find that the colour is a bit off- putting).
You can get some varieties which are specifically adapted to baskets so they are worth giving a go too. This year I will also try the Marmande variety (my friend has given me a few plants that he grew from seeds) which usually produces big beefsteak tomatoes.
Caring for your tomatoes
You will need to feed your tomato plants as soon as they have flowers. I recommend using an organic tomato feed which you can find easily online or even in DIY shops. This will ensure that you get a bounty of juicy and tasty tomatoes.
Some tomato plants need to have their side shoots removed for plentiful crops; it’s best to follow the instructions on your packet of seeds. As the plants grow, they will also need staking to alleviate the plant from the weight of the fruits and branches. I personally use bamboo canes and some garden twine. Also, I have always been advised by my peers that you should avoid getting the tomato leaves wet as tomato plants don’t like the damp and can get diseases.
Don’t worry if you get it wrong, you should still get some tomatoes as long as you give them a little care every so often. And harvesting couldn’t be more fun!
My top tip: marigolds are a perfect companion plant to tomatoes, i.e. they repel the pests which are likely to damage your tomato plant. I always grow marigold every year and I plant them along the path which is near the tomatoes so it does not only looks good but it’s beneficial to my vegetables too.