Tomatoes are perhaps the most versatile crop to grow in your home and garden. These juicy fruits are used fresh in salads, grilled on toast, made into soups, sauces and pickles. They combine sweet, bitter and umami (savoury) flavours and although a fruit are used more as a vegetable.
The tomato originated in South America, and when brought back to Europe by the Spanish, the fruit were not an instant hit because in many countries and for many years, they were assumed to be poisonous. Once this misconception was overcome, the tomato rapidly spread across Europe and to the rest of the world, and now is an essential part of many cuisines.
There are a vast variety of tomato cultivars and there is one or more to suit your home or garden. There are plants that produce fruits of a range of size from the large beef tomatoes to the small cherry tomatoes, and in a range of colours from deep dark red, the traditional vibrant scarlet, to yellow and green. Flavours also vary depending on cultivar and ripeness. There are tomato varieties that produce large plants suitable for growing outdoors and dwarf varieties suitable for pots and hanging baskets.
Tomatoes picked fresh from your own tomato plants have a fresher more intense flavour than shop bought, which have often been ripened in storage or transport.
How to Sow Your Tomatoes
It is best to sow tomato seeds in trays and then transplant the seedlings into well prepared seedbeds once frosts have passed. However, seeds can be planted directly in seedbeds in warmer months when there is still 3 months of warm sunny conditions in the season.
Sow your seeds in pots or trays of free-draining compost. Check the pack for recommended spacing and depth. Place the trays in a warm sunny location in your house or in a glasshouse. Keep the compost moist and germination will take 7-14 days. Provide the seedlings with a little McGregor’s Fruit Max Fertiliser after 2-3 weeks. After 4-5 weeks the seedlings will be ready to plant out in your seedbed, pot, hanging basket, etc.
Choose a seedbed location that gets plenty of sun and has shelter but good airflow. Don’t use a location where tomatoes were grown last year, particularly if they suffered from a disease.
In the seedbeds, seedlings should be spaced about 0.8-1.0 m apart and can be planted deeply so that a little soil is up against their stems for support; but not cover the leaves. Canes can be used to give each seedling support as they grow. Choose canes suitable for the height of the variety. As the plants grow, tie them to their cane with a soft tie.
Protect the seedlings from slugs and snails with McGregor’s Slug & Snail Pellets and one to two weeks after planting out give the seedlings a boost with McGregor’s Fruit Max Fertiliser.
Water seedling tomatoes well to make sure soil is moist and ideal for growing. Water gently around the plant and try to avoid wetting the leaves. Early in the growing season, water plants daily in the morning, but as temperatures rise, you might need to water plants twice a day.
Lateral leaf bearing shoots that develop on the main stem should be pinched out whenever they appear, as the flower heads/trusses appear straight from the main stem. After you have pinched out 4-5 lateral shoots, pinch out the top shoot to encourage the plant to put its energy into fruit production.
Ensure there is good airflow around the tomato plants to help prevent disease such as mildew. If mildew appears, pick off affected leaves and spray with a copper spray.
If any insect pests appear (thrips, whitefly or aphids) quickly apply McGregor’s Pyrethrum, this is best applied late in the day and every few days until control is achieved.
Harvest your tomatoes when, or just before, they reach the level of ripeness you prefer. When picked before fully ripe they will continue to ripen. You can accelerate ripening by placing them in a box or bag with a banana.
Twist the ripe fruit so that they come away from the stems easily. At the end of the season, if there are any remaining fruit on the plants, when the tomato foliage starts to curl, cut the plants at the base and hang them upside down under cover. The remaining fruit will finish ripening.
Tomatoes will last a long time stored in a fridge. However, take them out and let them reach room temperature before used fresh in salads, this will intensify the flavour and aroma.05 August 2020