Tomatoes are one of the easiest, tastiest and most versatile vegetables to grow. The can be grown indoors or outdoors; in pots on the windowsill, on the patio in grow bags or hanging baskets off the shed. They can be cooked and made into wonderful sauces for pasta, eaten raw in a salad or even treated like a piece of fruit and eaten straight from the fruit bowl!
They are from the Solanaceae family which includes potatoes as well as the deadly nightshade plant!
Tomatoes are generally categorized into the following groups according to fruit size:
Cordon varieties, also known as indeterminate, are grown vertically along one main stem. They can grow very tall, often over 7ft high unless you restrict the growth. This can be done by pinching out the main growing stem when the desired height is reached. Although these types of plant can grow very tall, they actually take up less space than the bush varieties. They will need some form of support, generally with the use of a cane tied at various intervals as the plant grows. Cordon varieties can be a lot of work to look after but you will be rewarded with a cast amount of fruit.
Side shoots grow in the space between the main stem and a leaf. These must be removed at the earliest stage. It is important not to confuse the side shoot with the fruit trusses. If side shoots are left to grow on and get too large, they will overcrowd the plant and restrict fruit growth and development.
Bush varieties, known as determinate, are designed to reach a certain height and then not get any taller. These are ideal varieties to grow in the borders of your garden or in pots or hanging baskets. Generally, most varieties of bush tomatoes do not require any staking but some may need a little support. There is no need to remove the side shoots from bush varieties. The fruits from these plants tend to ripen all at once so it is worthwhile growing a few cordon types too.
Sowing and Spacing
Sow a few seeds in a 3″ or 4″ pot with multipurpose compost in mid February or early March. When the true leaves appear, (the second set of leaves) separate each individual plant into its’ own 3″ pot. The transplants can be planted much deeper than they were originally planted, encouraging new roots to appear from the stem making the plant stronger.
The transplants must be kept undercover and not planted out until all risks of frost have passed. Certain varieties may only be suitable for growing indoors as they prefer the heat and humidity.
Tomatoes are harvested when they are red and juicy although other varieties can produce yellow, orange or even stripy fruits. Unripe green fruits that fail to ripen can be cooked or used in their unripe state, or you can help the ripening process. Unripe fruit can be placed inside a brown paper bag with a ripe tomato and positioned in a warm place. The heat will help to ripen the fruit slowly. You can also either hang a ripe banana up with the unripe tomatoes or place them inside a shoebox in a warm place for a few weeks. Bananas produce a gas called Ethylene and these gases help to ripen the fruit. It is worthwhile checking them on a regular basis though as any fruit that is beyond its’ best will quickly spread and ruin the remaining crops.
Pests, problems and diseases
Tomatoes suffer from similar diseases to potatoes. Blight can considerably destroy a crop in a few weeks, but often those grown under cover are less susceptible. Blight is identified by dark brown blotches on the fruit and stems. When blight attacks, it is best to destroy the plant by burning it as the blight spores can very easily spread.
Blossom end rot is caused by erratic watering and the tell tale signs are brown patches on the underside of the fruit. Regular watering can help to alleviate this problem.
Stem rot is caused by a fungus that will infect the plants above soil level. The plant will normally wilt and then die so the only option would be to remove it. If it isn’t badly infected, you may be able to try some chemical solutions that my help.
An extensive list of the possible viral diseases and pests can be found here.
Beefsteak varieties are the giants of the tomato world. Popular varieties include Marmande, Brandywine and Cuore Di Bue.
Globe tomatoes are the most popular types grown in the UK. Moneymaker, Alicante and Shirley are all really reliable croppers, growing medium-sized round fruit.
Cherry tomatoes cans be grown successfully in hanging baskets or pots. Gardeners Delight is a firm favourite along with Tumbling Toms and Garden Pearl.
Plum tomatoes are a favourite in Italian cooking as they produce wonderful oval shaped fruits which make fantastic tomato sauces. Varieties include Roma and San Marzano,