Tips for Growing Tomatos and Growing Tomato Plants
Growing Tomato Plants
The advent of grow bags has made a great contribution to growing tomatos easily at home, and allows the owner of a small garden to make full use of the main plot for other crops. Another great advance of recent years is the improvement of varieties of bush tomato plants, which need neither staking nor pinching out. Some of these varieties, moreover, are superior in flavour to greenhouse-grown ones.
Growing tomatos in containers, window boxes and large pots is also possible, and some varieties are even recommended for growing in hanging baskets. There is, however, no escaping the fact that your tomatoes will be juicy and fine-flavoured only if they have sufficient heat. It is pointless trying to raise good-quality tomatoes outdoors in cold areas – or even in normally warm southern areas if the summer is colder than usual. The great advantage of grow bags or other containers for growing tomato plants outdoors, is that they can be placed against a south-facing, or preferably south-west-facing, wall, which is invariably the warmest place in the garden and receives the most sunlight.
When growing tomatos, sow the seeds indoors in a box or in peat pots containing John Innes No. 1 compost. The seeds should be sown at a depth of 20-25 mm (¾-1 in). Use only one seed in small peat pots; in boxes the seeds should be 75 mm (3 in) apart. The compost must be kept moist. Put the box and/or rots in a polythene bag and place in a warm, light position. The temperature should be not less than 16°C (63°F) and not more than 25°C (75°F). When the seedlings appear, remove the polythene bag.
Harden the tomato plants off by placing the seedlings outdoors in a sunny, sheltered site under cloches or in a frame; after a week or two, removing the covering on warmer days at first, then continuously until they are completely unprotected. They will then be ready to plant into their growing sites. Stronger plants will be obtained if each of the boxed seedlings is carefully transferred into an individual pot containing John Innes No 2 and allowed to grow on before beginning the hardening off. Before transplanting tomato plants, keep watering to the minimum, but do not allow the compost to dry out.
If you are growing tomatos in the main plot, it must be sheltered and have plenty of direct sunlight throughout the day. The soil should have been well enriched with plenty of compost dug in in the previous autumn. Space staking plants 400 mm (16 in) apart and bush plants 480 mm (19 in) apart; this close spacing helps the crop to ripen earlier. In tubs, window boxes, and grow bags use John Innes No 3, spacing the plants as above; the growing medium should be kept moist. Unless the weather is very dry, tomatoes growing in the main plot will need little watering until the fruit is setting, when plenty should be given.
For tomatoes which need staking, make sure the plants are tied regularly, every 150-200 mm (6-8 in) or so, to keep them firm: they will carry a considerable weight when the trusses of fruit are setting. Bush plants will tend to sag when the trusses are setting; keep the fruits clean by putting straw under the plants. On staked plants, pinch out the side shoots which develop at the angle made between the main stem and leaf stalk. When the first fruit truss has set, cut off the top of the main stem above a leaf to leave 4 or 5 trusses in various stages of development. Do not pinch out side shoots from bush-type tomato plants.
Keep the soil weed-free. Feed the plants with diluted liquid fertiliser formulated for tomatoes at every watering or according to the manufacturers’ instructions.
Regular spraying with water when the trusses are in flower, followed by a tap on the canes or plant stems, will assist pollination.
Avoid growing tomato plants in soil used in the last two or three years for potatoes; tomato plants will become stunted if attacked by potato-cyst eel-worm. The commonest disease to affect outdoor tomatoes is blight, which causes the leaves to develop brownish grey edges and the fruits areas of brownish marbling. Treat blight with a copper, maneb, or zineb fungicide.
Harvest the tomatoes when ripe. Late in the season, ripening may be hastened if you can protect plants with cloches or other transparent cover; alternatively, remove the trusses and store them indoors in a warm place out of direct sunlight.
BUSH: ‘Alfresco’, F1, compact, good crops of good flavour, grows 380-450 mm (15-18 in) high; ‘Pixie’, F1, abundant fruits of good flavour; ‘Roma’, long, oval-fruited continental type; ‘Tiny Tim’, small fruits of good flavour, suitable for pots and window boxes, grows about 380 mm (15 in) high
STAKING: ‘Ailsa Craig’, well-flavoured; ‘Alicante’, good flavour and good cropper; ‘Gardener’s Delight’, small, sweet-flavoured fruit; ‘Golden Sunrise’, excellent-flavoured, yellow fruit; ‘Outdoor Girl’, early fruiting; ‘Sweet 100’, F1, small sweet fruits in abundance, fairly early
- Site: Sunny, sheltered
- Soil: Main plot, enriched with compost; containers, John Innes No 3
- Sow: March to April
- Harvest: From end of July
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