When we think of summer we’re immediately consumed by memories of balmy days, sultry nights and good times with family and friends. For me, wrapped up in these treasured moments is the smell of growing tomatoes.
It’s only when I started writing this article I realised, this distinct smell has been with me my whole life. My Dad always grew tomatoes, and this smell takes me right back to fond family memories. It was the first plant I learnt how to grow, and I’ve never lost the love for these tasty fruits. Every spring as I sow those precious seeds I convince myself, ‘This will be the season I’ll complete my eternal quest. To grow the sweetest, juiciest tomatoes!’
So, if you’re thinking of growing tomatoes for the first time, it’s still not too late to order your plants online from plant nurseries. But if you were lucky enough to get a head start earlier this year by sowing tomato seeds, what’s the next step for your growing plants?
Over the years the amateur gardener has tended to grow tomatoes indoors. However, with a changing climate there are now countless varieties that will happily grow outside in the ground, containers or hanging baskets. Ensure your plants have been hardened off for several days, and there’s no risk of a late frost before you plant them out. Yet for most, we like to grow our tomatoes in a greenhouse, polytunnel, shed or even a conservatory. Wherever you grow them, it needs to be somewhere warm, bright and with good ventilation.
As we go into early summer, your plant will have outgrown its pot and be ready to go into its final growing position. Most people like to grow their tomatoes in grow bags, or large pots filled with a good compost. It’s also important to know if you’re growing a bush, or cordon variety tomato. If it’s a bush variety, then these won’t need staking, as they grow out rather than up. But a cordon variety does grows up, so it’ll need support. Whether you use a cane, or string tied from the upper structure of your greenhouse, get it ready for when you start planting. Ensure you tie the main stem to the cane, or if using string, wind it round the plant and fix the loose end into the ground with a peg. As the plant grows up, keep tying in or winding round.
From here on you’ll need to establish a regular water regime. Irregular watering can lead to blossom end rot or split fruit. Blossom end rot appears at the bottom of the fruit as a blackened spot that causes the fruit to sink. This occurs when there’s a lack of calcium, and irregular watering can encourage the problem. Therefore, it’s important to water regularly, and never let the soil dry-out. A good time to do this is either first thing in the morning, or at dusk. There’s less chance of water evaporation, so the plant is getting all the benefit. Ensure you water at the base of the plant. Watering over it, can cause the warm sun to scorch your plants.
When flowers begin to form, feed it weekly with a liquid tomato feed. As your cordon plants get taller pinch-out side-shoots; this will transfer the energy into the growing tomatoes. Once your plant has grown several trusses of flowers, remove the tip of the main stem. That way the plant can put its efforts into producing the fruit and not trying to grow taller. Bush variety tomatoes can be left to their own devices.
With tomatoes filling out, remove the lower branches of the plant. Not only will this let the sunlight ripen the fruit, but it will increase ventilation and reduce problems such as tomato leaf mould. If you’re growing outside this method could help reduce tomato blight, especially if there’s a prolonged period of warm, wet weather.
Finally, when the tomato is in full blush it can be harvested. There’s nothing more pleasurable than fresh tomatoes off the vine, it’s the taste of summer.
If you didn’t know, British Tomato Fortnight runs from the 25th May to 7th June. A celebration of the humble British tomato by The British Tomato Growers Associate. From events to mouth-watering recipes, checkout their website for more details.