If you are new to growing your own food, tomatoes are a great place to start. Not only are they ridiculously easy to grow, but they will also taste wildly different from those that you can purchase at the supermarket.
In order than your supermarket bought tomatoes arrive fresh and ripe to store, they are picked when green, and artificial encouraged to ripen off with the addition of ethylene gas. There are some concerns over the use of ethylene gas and the side effects it may cause, but predominately it means that the tomatoes aren’t the best they could be. Compare that with a sun-ripened, homegrown tomato and, well, there is no comparison.
Here is a guide on what you are going to need if you are planning to grow tomatoes in containers, on balconies, roof terraces or patios.
When to sow –
Tomato seeds can be sewn roughly 6 weeks before the last frost date (around March). If they are going to live in a greenhouse or a bright warm window ledge, you can pop them in a little earlier around the middle of February.
What the soil needs –
Tomatoes enjoy a well-drained, slightly acidic soil (around pH 6.8). But if that is too technical. Opt for an organic, well-rotted compost from your local source and you’ll be fine.
What type of sun –
Tomatoes like full sun positions. Try to avoid the plants drying out. You can do that by watering regularly, using a self-watering planter or by putting bark chipping on the top of the soil which will help with surface evaporation.
What size pots –
Tomatoes have an extensive root system and can become ‘pot-bound’ in smaller pots. You want to start them off small, in a seed tray, however, once they have their second set of leaves, transfer them to a 10cm pot. Then, again, move them gradually up to a 30cm, with a couple of stages along the way so as not to shock them. Some tumbling varieties also enjoy life in a hanging basket, so if you have the room consider that too.
Tomatoes, unfortunately, can succumb to a lot of pests. They are susceptible to aphids, cutworms and flea beetles, as well as whitefly, caterpillars and a whole host of plant diseases. Keep pests away by companion planting with marigolds, and encouraging more nature into your garden (birds will love to pick plants clean of caterpillars for example). For more specific issues, refer here.
Use an organic liquid plant feed, rich in both nitrogen and phosphorus. It is true that tomatoes love nitrogen-rich soil, but if you feed them only this, you’ll end up with a massive green plant, but with very little fruit on it.
Pick the fruits when they are bright in color and firm to the touch.
Anything else –
Saving the seeds from tomatoes is incredibly easy, and means that next year you’ll have an abundance of plants without the expense. Consider also attending a local seed-swap to pass on your varieties, or if you don’t have one why not join Reddit’s seed-swap.
There are over 10,000 varieties of tomatoes worldwide, and the colors available range from reds, through to greens, yellows, oranges, and even black tomatoes. Flavour, juiciness, and size can vary wildly, so head over to a reputable (and preferably organic) seed supplier before picking the variety that is best for you. Or better still, grow lots and enjoy them all!
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This year I am growing a mutant variety that self-seeded under a paving slab, as well as Tigerella, Giolice, Supersweet 100, and a couple of other random loose seeds from the bottom of the seed box.
What are you planning to grow? Leave a comment below or come and hang out with me on Twitter.