Easy to grow yet producing abundant yields, it is unsurprising why tomatoes are often the first crop a gardener has in their allotment. In return for a sunny spot and the odd dose of feed, they will reward you with numerous fruits that can be used for a range of recipes. Primed for beginners and experts alike, read on for a practical guide on growing your own tomatoes.
Determinate and Indeterminate Tomatoes
A tomato plant can either be indeterminate or determinate, and depending on which type they fall into, they will need their own unique care. For example, indeterminate varieties should have their side shoots pruned, while determinate varieties should not. Below we detail key differences that will help you decide which type is best for you:
- Have a vining habit.
- Grow indefinitely.
- Crop until the first frost.
- Require more support.
- Have a compact habit.
- Are good for small gardens.
- Bear fruits that ripen concurrently.
- Need less support.
Do I Need to Support my Tomato Plant?
Typically, determinate tomato plants do not require support. However, once fruits appear, they can become weighed down and this can make them vulnerable to pests and disease. It is hence not a bad idea to tie them to a sturdy stake or enclose them in a tomato cage.
With indeterminate tomatoes, it is important that you provide a good amount of support. This is because their stems can grow considerably longer than a determinate variety’s. We therefore recommend that you drive two stakes into the ground and carefully attach your plant with soft ties.
Growing your Tomatoes
You can either grow tomatoes from seed or start them from young plug plants. Although growing tomatoes from seed requires a little more time, it is best if you wish to grow rarer varieties. Young plants, on the other hand, can be more convenient to grow as they allow you to stagger your growing schedule. This will spare you more time, space, and attention to focus on crops that are growing before spring.
Growing from Seed
- Fill 7.5cm pots with moist compost.
- Apply a layer of vermiculite and provide a watering.
- Cover each pot with cling film, and place in a propagator or sunny windowsill. (Cling film will help retain moisture and heat, which are both important for allowing germination).
- When two small leaves appear, it is safe to assume that germination has occurred.
- Transplant into 9cm pots that have been filled with all-purpose compost.
- Move to a windowsill that receives plenty of sunlight.
- Using increasingly larger pots, repeat these steps as your tomato plants continue to grow.
Growing from Young Plants
Once a truss begins to open, your tomato plants can be planted in your garden. A truss is the stem of a plant in which flowers, and later tomatoes, grow from.
- Plant your seedings out in 23cm pots (approximately), or in your garden’s borders, distanced 45cm to 60cm apart.
- If you are planting in a border, make sure that the site is rich in organic matter.
Caring for your Tomatoes
Watering and Feeding
We advise that you water your tomato plants once a day; making sure that the soil is evenly moist. If you are growing your tomatoes in a container, you can water them twice a day (this rule can be applied to tomatoes growing in borders if the weather is particularly warm). Signs to keep in mind are if the leaves are drooping, you have been under-watering, and if the leaves are yellowing, you have been over-watering.
Once every two weeks, feed your tomato plants with a balanced liquid fertiliser. This will keep the soil’s pH optimal for growing flourishing plants. When the first fruits have appeared, you can then change to a high potash feed.
Your tomato plant will relish warm and sunny conditions, so they should ideally receive between six and eight hours of sun per day. As the season comes to an end, you can remove old leaves to allow more sun to reach your plant.
If you are growing determinate varieties, it is best to pinch out any side shoots that become visible. Unlike the lateral trusses of a tomato plant, these shoots are more vigorous, and as such, will compromise the plant’s energy. By keeping these side shoots at bay, they can put greater energy into fruiting.
Another pruning tip is to remove foliage beneath the lowest truss of fruits. This enables more light to travel through, but also helps ventilation and speeds up ripening. As more trusses develop, you can continue to remove more and more leaves. An added benefit of this approach is that blight or mosaic virus can successfully be treated; simply rescind all of your plant’s leaves.
Harvesting your Tomatoes
When the tomatoes turn fully red, they are ripe enough to be picked. Depending on the conditions outside, you may prefer to harvest your fruits when they are green. To speed up their ripening, we recommend that you store them next to a banana. Bananas release a gas called ethene, and this encourages nearby fruits to soften and have their starches be converted to sugars.