Growing Your Own Tomato Plants
Believe it or not, home-grown tomato plants bring a lot more flavour to your dinner table. Thus, it is not surprising that it’s one of the most rewarding crops to grow. You’ll also have a variety of sizes, colours, shapes, and flavours when you grow them on your own.
Popular Tomato Plant Types
- Standard – These are medium sized, just the size of those sold in shops. They’re round and smooth, and either red or yellow skinned. It’s the all-purpose tomato.
- Plum – These are the ones used for canning and making pasta sauce. It’s not good for fresh eating, but they cook and freeze well.
- Cherry – These are small and round fruits with excellent flavor.
- Beefsteak – These are the tomatoes best used in sandwiches. They are large, and therefore need a long season to ripen. They are not suitable for outside growing in cooler climates, but it’s worth it to grow in a polytunnel or greenhouse.
Tomato Plant Varieties
Determinate or bush varieties – They can be grown in containers or hanging baskets. This variety doesn’t have a central stem, but has a long-growing and sprawling habit. They’re useful to grow under cloches or mini polytunnels. The side shoots that grow can be left to grow because this variety stops growing once it has achieved its 2ft – 3ft spread. Its fruits are smaller and they ripen early.
Indeterminate or cordon varieties – Tall type plants, they are grown up twine or bamboo supports to help the single long stem. They have large lateral branches that grow side shoots, however, those should be removed to stop the plant from being congested.
Dwarf varieties – Small and compact, grows up to 8in high. This variety is also ideal to grow in containers.
Where to Grow Tomato Plants
Tomatoes need sunlight since they are sub-tropical plants. Positioning them against a wall or fence and still being able to receive sufficient water will give a better chance of success of growing them. They also grow well in raised beds, but never put them in hedges. Tomatoes love moisture without water-logging, so make sure to take good care of them.
If you live in cooler parts of the UK, it’s best to grow them undercover, or they’ll dail to ripen due to poor summers.
Best Soil for Successful Tomato Harvest
Tomatoes need very fertile soil, and if they’re healthy, they can grow up to 2 meters tall. The bed where they’ll be placed should have plenty of well rotted manure. If you’re planning to grow them in pots or growbags, you’ll need to feed them a lot. The pots should be able to hold 40 liters and plant 2 plants in 1 growbad. They should have the best compost and be fed generously with seaweed and poultry manure pellets. They should also receive supplementary liquid feed if you’re planning to grow them in containers and growbags.
When to Plant Tomato Plants
Seeds should be sown indoors in late February to mid March, however you should use a heated propagator or a warm, south facing windowsill. The temperature of your compost is important for seed germination, its temperature should be approximately 22°C.
Young plants should also be kept warm until early Summer, the temperature should be atleast 10°C.
Your seeds can be sown in seed trays or in modular trays. They should be sown 2cm deep in low nutrient seed compost. Once they’re moved, their soil should be rich potting compost. The compost should be kept moist and never allowed to be dried out.
It’s important to achieve a balance with your seedlings. They should have heat and light, if they’re grown with too much heat and not enough light, your seedlings will be tall but weak. So it’s important to check if your seedlings have enough light even if you’re growing them on a windowsill, extra light might be needed. The best tomato seedlings are those who are short and stubby.
Your plants grown in pots need to have spaces to prevent their leaves from touching each other, resulting in overcrowding.
Transplant Tomato Seedlings
Tomato seedlings that are approximately 15cm high are to be transplanted into their final positions, doing so would prevent their roots from becoming restricted or ‘potbound’.
Tomato plants that have been grown undercover but intended to be an outdoor plant should be hardened off for a week or two before moving them outside. Do that by gradually getting used to the temperature outside, leave them out on fine days and back inside at night.
Holes that are 45cm apart for each plant should be dug in the bed that are 5cm deeper than the pot they were in. If you have the cordon varieties, bury a length of twin under the root ball then tie the other end to a support that is above the plant.
Keep the root ball undisturbed as possible then place it in the hole you’ve dug. Make sure that the hole is dug 5cm deeper than the pot, then fill the space around the plant. Having your tomato plants deeper into the soil will encourage them to form additional roots.
If you get Leggy and elongated tomato plants, bury ⅔ of the plant even if it includes the lower set of its leaves. The tomato stems can grow roots if they’re buried, meaning that by doing this, you’ll be able to build a deeper and more extensive root system.
How do you look after Tomato Plants?
The cordon varieties of tomatoes need to have their side shoots pinched out. The side shoots are those that appear at the point where a leaf branch meets the main stem. They can be removed easily with your fingernails but if you let them grow bigger, you’ll have to use a sharp knife. It’s easy to interchange side shoots with new fruit trusses, so if you’re not sure, you may leave them on for a while to see if they grow leaves. Once they grow leaves, cut it, it means they’re side shoots.
You may tap the plant support to encourage the pollen to spread if the fruits are slow. If you’re growing them undercover, make sure to keep your place well ventilated, especially during the hot days to prevent pests and diseases.
Preventing the plant to grow more fruit truss is what ‘stopping’ plants mean. Doing this encourages the fruits that are existing to ripen. When you’re growing them outdoors, 4 to 5 fruit trusses is enough. When you’re growing them in a polytunnel, 7 to 8 fruit trusses can be grown.
Cut the top of the main stem and remove the side shoots.
Watering Tomato Plants
You’ll have to water them well when planting out. Lightly water them until their fruits start to set. As the fruits set, water them well with 12 liters per plant on a weekly basis. You may let the soil dry out between watering to improve the fruits’ flavor, but make sure to be careful with drought conditions. You may bury perforated plastic bottles in between the plants to serve as a watering reservoir. The bottom should be cut and the plastic bottle should be buried upside down with its lid on. You may fill the bottle as you water your crops
Feeding the Plant
The fruits, once set, should be fed weekly with liquid comfrey feed or a seaweed tonic for tomatoes. You’ll have to feed your plant by drenching the soil around it and refrain from using the bottle reservoir you’ve made. This is because the shallow roots are the ones that absorb the nutrients and the deeper roots, which can be accessed through your bottle reservoir, are for transporting water.
Tomatoes should be picked as soon as they’re ripe, and should be eaten as soon as possible for the best flavor. Doing this will encourage more crops to grow. If frost starts to threaten, harvest all fruit immediately and ripen them on a windowsill.
Your tomatoes should be washed and dried before they’re stored. They can be stored in a bowl outside if you’re planning to store them for only over a week. However, if you’re planning to store them longer, it’s best to store them in places with lower temperatures. Don’t store them in your fridge since cooler temperatures reduce its flavor and make them mushy.
Tomato Troubles and their Solution
Fruit Splitting – This is a problem caused by irregular watering. So make sure to have a regular water regime for your plants to solve the problem.
Calcium Deficiency & Blossom End Rot – It’s a dark and rotting area around the base of tomato fruits. Calcium uptake is slowed down during drought, therefore this problem can also be solved with having a regular water regime.
Magnesium Deficiency – yellow leaves with lead veins remaining green. Use ground magnesium limestone as a remedy for the problem.