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Tomatoes are a lovely plant to grow - there are many varieties available and the fruits are delicious to use either hot or cold in thousands of dishes.
It is really easy to grow tomatoes from seed, and you can pick up many varieties of seed in your local garden centre to suit the kind of soil you have. Tomato seeds are cheap and one packet will often have more than enough seeds for a reasonable sized allotment plot. They are great companion plants for onions.
I would recommend staging your sewing of seeds, planting every two weeks. Start the seeds off indoors before hardening out the plants as it gets warmer. The plants will fruit in late summer.
Tomato plants do reasonably well with little fuss, but if you give them a little extra care and attention they will produce loads of fruit. Remove all non-flowering side shoots to give the fruits a better chance, use stakes or canes to prop up your plants, and be sure to keep all fruits off the wet ground with straw or hay. Otherwise they will mould. Fruiting tomato plants should be fed weekly, and watered well. I have never had too many problems with pests on my tomatoes, but you do need to keep an eye out for blight and mould - getting rid of affected plants quickly.
Tomatoes will grow in the UK outdoors - but you'll need to select a hardy variety for this to work. I would recommend "Money Maker" - a cherry variety. They do much better if grown in a greenhouse and protected from cold weather and wind. Tomatoes can also be grown in pots and containers - I've had lots of success growing them in buckets!
If you have a lot of green toms left at the end of the season, you can always make a green tomato chutney - yummy!
Growing up in semi rural Australia on the edge of my grandfather's 144 acre farm, we had a very large vegetable garden. As a child I spent many hours learning about different vegetables. Of course my favorites were those that were easy to grow, were brightly colored and tasted good.
Tomatoes fit the bill then and continue to do so now, three decades later. I have lived in my current home for nearly six years. One of the features already built in was a raised garden bed with a built-in sprinkler system. A friend advised me to never plant anything in the garden or do anything to the outside grounds of a house in the first year so that you can better understand which plants and flowers appear throughout the year.
And so it came to be that our garden bed had six tomato plants, all seemingly to be the “beef” style, and all incredible producers. They were easy to maintain - watered fairly regularly and lightly fertilized once a month. Ultimately the yield was well over 200 pounds of edible tomatoes, many of which I turned into passata.
Those plants lasted two more years with us, when we received a gift of five different tomato plants, as well as a few other food producers, from a friend who works for a large plant breeder.
Once again, these tomatoes survived well with little guidance or care from us. I did trim back the leafy foliage intermittently as well as ensure I had supportive frames for them.
Highly recommended. These are easy plants for anyone to grow, and they produce a delicious fruit.
We have been growing tomatoes for a few years now and this year's have been the best crop so far. I think we're growing in confidence about how to look after our tom plants and learning a few good tricks to keep them happy.
Many people grow tomatoes outdoors but we have a small greenhouse and have found this really helps to develop more fruit. We've previously grown from seed but find you get too many plants of the same time and it's quicker and easier to buy small plants or plug plants. Ideally, find some friends or neighbours to share plants with so you can set up a greenhouse with a range of different varieties so that you have different sizes and flavours and the crops mature at different times. Grow only one type and you risk to have your entire crop come good at the same time - most likely whilst your on holiday and not home to enjoy them.
We find it helps to give them LOTS of water - in fact my husband stands them in trays of water to give them a good drink. In previous years we've used grow bags but this year we grew in large pots and found it easier to keep those watered than the grow bags. Specific tomato feed also helps to improve crops, as does keeping the greenery under control and not letting all the plant's energy go into making leaves instead of fruit.
We support the lower stems with old plastic coke bottles and spend a lot of time tying the growing plants to various supports to keep them strong and well supported.
In terms of bang for your buck, it's hard to beat tomato plants. If you end up with more than you can eat or give away, I recommend making tomato sauce and freezing it for the winter when you can cheer yourself up with the taste of summer.
Tomatoes are fruits not vegetables and you can grow them easy at home if you put energy into it and take care of the plants.
I have grown tomatoes many times but it is different here in England than it is in Italy because at home I know always how much water to give them but in England we have so much rain that it is harder to tell. You can over water tomatoes and then they can get disease or do not have as much flavour when they are grown.
Tomatoes that you grow yourself have got alot more flavour than most of the tomatoes that you buy in the shop. You will get many tomatoes from each plant as long as you cut them down so new tomatoes can grow, I use tomatoes alot in cooking so do not ever grow too many but there are always uses for tomatoes so you cannot grow too many.
I use tomato feed with my tomatoes and keep them in a green house before the hot sun comes out so that I can give them the best start. When they go outside I put stakes in the ground and let the tomatoes climb up it or attach the stems to them with garden string.
I grow new tomato plants every year and when I have taken off my last tomato I throw most of the plant into my compost bin and take it out when it has rotted and it can be used to fertilise my new plants.
I love to grow tomatoes and I will do it always. I would recommend it to everyone because you will have good quality fresh food and they are fun to grow and watch growing also.
5 Dooyoo Hearts.
This F1 hybrid Italian-type 'Roma' will surprise you with a wonderful fruity aroma. To term they remain well cut resistant, rich substance and yet very juicy. Therefore, they are not just for breads, salads and use in divided form for snacks but also particularly well to puree, soups and for cooking, usually in the form of husked. The variety is vigorous and robust, medium matures early and is therefore ideally suited for cultivation in the open and in the greenhouse. Now is high time for the pre-culture of the tomato plants. I pull back before some and have already bought seedlings. So I soon and on the other side for a long time tomatoes from their own garden. It is also possible to plant the tomatoes in a pot or bucket. Roma tomatoes are also called Pomodori what is called golden apples. The tomatoes are always with their elongated shape. They are easy to maintain, grow fast and have a firm flesh. Roma tomatoes are ideal for sauces or salad. Taste one must expect no fireworks, there are slightly sweet, little spectacular tomatoes. The big advantage is the yield. From the tomato's are always supplies and plentiful. Last but not least the variety has proven itself for bruschetta. Never pour Roma tomatoes from above but only from below, ie the leaves are not to be wet: A few basics. That means you have to protect against rain the Plfanzen necessarily. Ausgeizen is unnecessary, Roma tomatoes do not need. A climbing aid is not an absolute must but always offered by me and accepted by the plants. Overall, definitely a recommended variety.
In the last 4 to 5 years I started getting interested in gardening after getting my first garden since childhood. I started getting frustrated with plants dying off in winter and having to start again the following spring. As a result I started looking at grieving veg as then I would maybe get more out of the time and care gardening requires and I would get something back from it in the form of food.
I have attempted to grow many fruit and veg in the garden and I would have t say that I have found tomatoes one if the easiest to grow with very little effort required. I have never grown tomatoes from seeds but have purchased little baby plants from garden centres and sometimes from people selling them from their front gardens.
There are loads of different types of tomatoes but I have always treated them the same. I have potted them in a decent sized pot and put in a cane if it is a tall growing variety to stop it falling over. Water very regularly especially when it is sunny and use tomatoe food to increase your yeld. Last summer was really hot and sunny and so it was great, the more sun your tomatoe plant gets the more tomatoes you get and the quicker you get them.
It doesn't save money growing your own, it's probably 70p per tomatoe plant that produces up to 20 tomatoes and then consider the tomato food and water. It may not make economics sense to grow your own but it's fun and a healthy activity and costs inky a few pounds.
I am not one for gardening due to the main fact that I hate insects but last year my daughter developed a real fascination with 'growing your own' after spending time doing it with the childminder so we decided to grow a few vegetables.
Luckily, I work for an education supplies company so I was able to pick up everything I needed from work, at cost price but looking in shops which sell seeds afterwards, I was amazed at how many different varieties of tomato seeds there are and how much variation in price there is, a pack can cost as little as £1 up to £7.
We planted these back in early spring last year, following the simply instructions on the back of the packet. We originally potted them into small plant pots full of compost and left them in the kitchen window for a couple of months, remembering to water regularly. Within a few months, the plant had started to grow so we removed them carefully from the pots and placed them in larger pots, taking as much of the root out as possible which I must admit, did prove a little tricky at first.
I was surprised a how quickly these then grew when placed outside and within a few weeks, we had to place them in larger pots and even attach the stems to some cane. We made a conscious effort to water the tomato plants and add potash fertiliser on a regular basis.
One thing I didn't realise at first (until my mum told me) was that I needed to trim any branches/side shoots coming off the plant as these will 'steal' the goodness from the actual tomatoes.
After a few months, the tomatoes were ready to go and we are looking forward to planting some this year again. I would recommend giving this a go, my daughter loved it and proved quite educational but most of all, I could definitely tell the different in taste compared to the ones I buy from Asda.
Thanks for reading.
When I started growing my own vegetables a few years ago I was advised by a friend that tomatoes were one of the easiest things to grow. Well, this may be true if you have a greenhouse or can raise your plants on warm indoor windowsills. Otherwise you usually end up with a lot of green tomatoes which while still can be utilised in their unripe form are probably not what you were hoping for.
You can buy packets of tomato seeds in different varieties and from different brands. I've most recently grown Alicante and San Marzano tomatoes. Seeds come in a smaller foil pack inside a paper wrapper. Packets are printed with instructions on how to grow and you should maintain this for the season.
It is advised to sow between January and April. I personally begin my planting in March since I plant most of my plants outdoors and this allows the plant to have grown large enough to be able to plant outdoors when it is warmer in May or June.
Tomato seeds are tiny little flecks so when you sow them you tend to have several seedlings come up. You need to discard any smaller, weaker shoots and then separate the seedlings so that they have their own little pot. Place these in a warm windowsill and water occasionally.
When plants start to grow tall they will need a support pole since their vines are quite soft and can bend easily. This may be a required step before you even plant them outdoors. Plants can be transferred outdoors into individual large pots, growing bags or into the ground direct. You should acclimatise plants first by leaving them out in the day time and bringing indoors at night for a week. Be careful there are no heavy winds or late frosts when you plant.
My tomato plants always grow to at least 3ft and they often need multiple support poles around their structure. They have quite droopy branches. The plants develop small yellow flowers after which the fruit will develop in bunches rather like grapes. The branches can be quite weighty so you may need to tie branches up for support.
An important growing tip is to remove any 'side shoots' and new growth when they appear as they can draw nutrients away from the growing fruit. They can usually be spotted underneath yielding branches.
My tomato plants always develop a lot of fruit but as mentioned if you don't grow in very warm conditions many of the fruit fails to fully ripen and tends to be small. I tend to make a lot of green tomato jam and chutney and also cook fried spicy green tomatoes which are delicious!
I would recommend growing tomatoes to anyone although you will have better results using a greenhouse or large cloche. However, home grown tomatoes taste wonderful and you can really detect the difference between them and shop bought fruits.
Growing tomatoes is relatively easy.
If you want to grow from seeds sow them in February, March or April and place in a greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill. Alternatively you can buy baby tomato plants from the shops and plant in a special tomato-ready grow bag for ease of cultivation. If you plant straight into your garden soil, they will need more regular feeding.
I planted mine in a sunny location, which was near a fence to give them protection from wind.
However you grow them, you must not let the soil/compost dry out. It is important to keep them evenly moist to prevent problems. I used rain water that I had collected in a water butt, but tap water is a lot better that letting them dry out. If I have to use tap water on especially young plants, I think it best to fill a watering can and then let it stand in full sun to warm up a bit, so as not to shock the baby plants with very cold water.
I have grown tomatoes from baby plants, and must say it was nice to go out in the garden and pick produce that I had grown myself.
However, by the time I had spent money on a grow bag, stacks to support them and bought small plants, I don’t think I saved any money by growing them.
A plus was that, while my rabbit would nibble most plants in my garden, he kept well away from these. He obviously didn’t like them.
I didn’t have a greenhouse to bring them on early, so by the time they were ready to eat, they were very cheap in the shops. They were also on special offer if you bought more than one pack, which probably meant the shops had a glut that year too.
I don’t think I will grow them again, but it was fun to do it the once.
My mum used to be a master tomato grower, for years I didn't have to buy a tomato during 'tomato growing months' because she'd arrive at the house on a weekly basis with bags and boxes full of home grown tomatoes as well as the soups/sauces/ketchups she'd already made too much of with her harvest. She knew she was growing too many (she's not even mad on tomatoes herself!) but loved growing the plants so carried on and always found good homes for the deliciously fresh and natural tomatoes.
I've tried myself with varying rates of success, as I don't have a green house or any way of ensuring the plants are kept warm it's a rather hit and miss affair for me but I can see how my mum got so much enjoyment from the hobby as a tomato plant is a super thing to grow (even if, like me, you're pretty rubbish at growing anything else). The way I see it is with tomatoes you get an interesting plant which grows so quickly it's almost visible to the eye, even if you don't end up with a bumper crop of tomatoes it's no big deal really!
I've always bought small tomato plants from the garden centre and nurtered them up to a bigger size rather than go to the faff of growing them all the way from seed, using a seed is easy enough but although tomatoes are quite hardy as long as they're kept in warm conditions I do find it awkward to get a viable plant from a seed - my mum can take ten seeds and get ten plants all of which bear tomatoes, some people are just born with greener fingers!
When you plant them into the ground as they get too large for their pots (or into larger pots) you should bury the tomato plant quite deeply, it's an easy mistake to think you just need to bury the roots but by burying up to the lowest leaf (and sometimes deeper) you're ensuring your tomato plant has protection for the weakest part of the stem - the base. My mum taught me this and since I started burying rather than just transplanting my tomato plants I've noticed an almost 100% improvement in the amount of broken stems I ended up with by the time the tomatoes appeared.
It's a myth that tomatoes need a lot of water to thrive, when first planted out they need a fair bit of warm water but you can reduce this after a few days and after that there's really no need to water them any more than anything else in your garden.
Tomatoes are ready to be picked when they look like, ummm, tomatoes. Enjoy!
The Tomato small, round and red, a fruit most people take for granted, and yet it's one of my favourite plants to grow.
Part of me doesn't really know why as they are cheap enough to buy in the shops, and yet they are something I never really do buy, but every year for about the last 3 I've spent some of my hard earned pennies on tomato seeds. Why? Because I love nothing more than watching them grow from small seedlings into big plants which produce delicious fruit, and knowing I've helped produce them from seed with my own hard work. While I try to treat all my plants the same, my tomatoes are my babies :)
**The Humble Tomato**
First grown in Britain in the 16th century Tomatoes were originally considered poisonous and grown only for ornamental use, and it wasn't until the nineteenth century that commercial growth for edible tomatoes started, they are now the most widely grown "vegetable" in the world.*
Today there are many varieties that the gardener can grow and they come in all different shapes, sizes and even colours. Part of the tomatoes popularity is due to how good they are for you they contain vitamins A, C and E and they have antioxidant properties. They really are a super fruit :)
To get tomatoes as I have had to explain to several people at work, after your plant grows it will flower and the tomato will then grow from this flower. I was surprised as I thought everyone knew they flowered first, but then that's people's connection with food for you.
**My love affair with the tomato plant**
I first got back into gardening about 3 years ago, I had been keen in the past but had mostly planted flowers. Thinking back now I think it was seeing one of those window sill starter kits whilst browsing in Wilkinsons that first started my love for growing tomatoes. I think my original plan was to grow them in pots on the kitchen windowsill, but when all 10 seeds grew I decided to invest in one of those blow away green houses (something I'll not be reviewing as it's long since blown away) you can get. Tomatoes can be grown inside or outside, but the further north you get if you want success you really need to grow them inside. My first year wasn't entirely a success, while I did get some red tomatoes most of them were harvested green, a situation that wasn't helped by my greenhouse constantly blowing over, at one stage it was that windy I couldn't put it back up for a week and my poor plants were exposed to the elements all that time. However the good thing about tomatoes is that even when you reach October and realise you are never going to get a glut of red tomatoes all is not lost as you can make green tomato chutney :)
The next year I had a wooden framed greenhouse using the plastic cover from the blow away one. This I think would have been slightly more successful if it hadn't been for the awful cold weather, so once again last October I found myself making green tomato chutney :)
This year I was determined to have more red tomatoes, so when the weather was cold at the start of the year I invested in some seeds for an early variety of tomatoes called Tamina, I also sowed some seeds in a cardboard tomato trough that I bought reduced last year and some minibell cherry tomatoes. With the cold weather these were all sown later then I have in previous years in March and April. My tomato seeds typically take about 2 weeks to start showing as seedlings, although my minibell actually took nearly a month! With the slow start to the year the Tamina and trough tomato** seedlings went quite leggy so when I repotted these into bigger pots I planted them up to the leaves so that they would grow stronger roots, this largely worked and I was left with 3 Tamina plants and 7 of the trough plants, I did lose some plants but I like to think the ones that survived were the strongest. In the first year I planted them in growbags, but this year and last year I have used 10 litre ice cream tubs (see your friendly scoop ice cream man), with holes cut in the bottom for drainage. Tomato plants will grow in small tubs but you will get bigger plants and a better yield the more space they have to grow roots. I used ordinary compost, and fed them with tomato food from the first flowers.
This year I have two small glass greenhouse made for me by my husband, the larger one is rectangular with a plastic sheet roof, the smaller is glass on all sides but only holds 3 plants. I now have 21 plants; 3 tamina, 7 from the trough, 5 mini bell and 6 unknown which were given to me by a friend who sowed too many seeds.
**Looking after my plants**
This year I will admit to being helped by the lovely summer we have had, nothing seems to make the tomato happy like the sun :) Adding to this I water them most days, I would say every day but there are days I've come in from work after 10 and really can't be bothered to trail into my pitch black garden to water them. Tomato plants are thankfully quite forgiven of not being watered every day, but like all fruit and vegetables if you want them juicy they need water :) As well as watering them, even when it rains as they are inside, I feed them with tomato feed every 2 weeks, at first this was a little bit more frequent maybe every 10 days. I also followed some advice from Dooyoo and sprayed them with aspirin, I don't know if this has helped but they all look happy :) When the plants became too tall I staked them up, and tied them to the stake :), so that they would be supported. I also occasionally talk to them, but don't worry they don't talk back :) I'm not sure this last helps but it doesn't hurt, I also talk to my chilli plants, and sometimes my husband, he mostly does talk back :)
**Pests and diseases; the stuff of nightmares**
Touch wood I have been lucky and the most I have suffered with is the odd slug or snail eating my leaves, but there are diseases that growers should be aware of. These include blight, this is largely spread by wet weather and is black or grey spots on leaves followed by the loss of your beloved fruit, if you have late blight. There is also grey leaf spot, which is caused by warm moist conditions. You also need to watch out for mites and small flies.
**To pluck or not to pluck**
Many people seem to advocate that you should cut off the leaves, and side stems of your plants once they have began to fruit. My research into this seems to show that some people do, and some don't. The idea is that the plant with less leaves will put more energy into the fruit. I'm more of a half plucker, I cut anything that is yellow and dying, anything in my way, and anything that is coming between my tomatoes and the sun. I'm not really a fan of bald plants though, so mine are still quite bushy. If you are planning to pluck or half pluck you should use secautaurs, I mostly use my nails as they are long, and did I say I love the smell of tomato plants?
**So do I have red tomatoes?**
I'm pleased to say yes, I got my first green tomato from the early variety back at the begining of July and then spent a long 6 weeks watching it grow bigger, in the mean time the other plants were all happily flowering and also getting small green tomatoes. I had my first red tomato on the 15 August and I'm now getting about 4 to 5 a day, not a lot but enough for a salad for 2. If I do get that glut of red tomatoes this year I plan to make tomato and chilli chutney. My favourite tomato this year naturally comes from the unknown trough, they are small but have a strong flavour.
I love my tomatoes, I find them pretty easy to grow and they bring me pleasure as well as a healthy cheap food. Tomatoes can be used for so many different things, like pasta sauce, pesto, pizzas, sauce basis, as well as fresh in salad, the list of their uses is endless. I can't recommend growing them enough, for me all that time spent sowing, potting and watering really pays of in pleasure and delicious fruit, and to the idiot neighbour*** who keeps telling me mine are small all I can say is good things come in small packages and mine are the best :)
** unfortunately I binned the box without making a note of the variety.
***He lost any credibility he had when he said I should weed around my pumpkins as the leaves were blocking the fruit, and I looked and realised he was talking about the pumpkin leaves.
I plan on writing a lot of vegetable reviews, I will begin with the trusty tomato! I first grew these myself 3 years ago and find it one of the easiest and most profitable and rewarding things to grow. I will try and break down the various steps involved in growing the tomatoes that I have taken personally, obviously how you grow them may differ due to available space and conditions.
The first thing to do is select which variety you want to grow. I grow large beefsteak varieties because the yields are fantastic and because the people I grow the tomatoes for prefer them over a large quantity of smaller tomatoes. (You read correctly, the people I grow them for - I do not like tomatoes! I like them in a soup or puree only but cannot stand the texture of tomatoes, but that doesn't stop me enjoy growing them immensely). Some types grow a large amount of small tomatoes or a medium quantity of medium sized tomatoes or large varieties - the choice is yours.
What I love most about seeds is the cost. I purchased a packet of "Marmade" Johnsons variety from Wilkinsons in a 75% off sale. They are £1.85 for 75 seeds, I got 75% off which made them 46p - 46 pence for 75 seeds!! I have also made these last 2 years.
Tomatoes need heat, space and sunlight. I was fortunate enough to have a greenhouse where I used to live and a greenhouse where I live now - Tomatoes thrive and grow extremely well in a greenhouse but can also do well outdoors but with some risk. The last frost this year was only a few days ago where I live and its nearly mid-June - total madness! A tomato plant outside would be killed in a frost without protection so you must be careful to time everything correctly.
I started these Marmade varieties off in March last year - I planted 12 seeds from my packet of 75 and all germinated. I grew them in John Innes No 1 Seed Compost (I recommend this compost for starting off any seeds as it is very fine and provides a lot of good nutrients to seedlings for several weeks). These were kept in a seed tray with a clear plastic lid on top to retain the heat and moisture and also protect against frost (it can penetrate greenhouses). After about 3-4 weeks they were large enough to transplant and the weather also warmed up to help them survive and grow faster. I transplanted them into small individual pots - in another 4 weeks they were ready for their final position planting.
They don't need oodles of space but the more the better. I grow mine in potato bags which are easy to water, reusable and also easy to move around if plants grow out of control. These are the potato bags that are sold so people can grow potatoes on their patios.
Tomato plants set off my hayfever as they give off a strong scent! This doesn't stop me looking after them. The plants grow very fast once they get going and are helped along with certain fertilisers - I use two - Seaweed fertiliser once a week on the plants to help them grow prior to fruit emerging on the plants and as soon as fruits emerge from the flowers I switch onto Tomorite tomato feed.
The plants do need "restricting" if you want to see the best results. On the main stem shoots will form that produce flowers which turn into the fruits. Between that main stem and the shoots something called "side shoots" will form - these will need to be removed. If you don't remove them then the plant will basically put all its energy into growing the sideshoots on the plant rather than putting energy into producing fruits. I know this for a fact due to an experiment! I left one plant to do its thing, didn't remove shoots or anything and it fruited a lot later than the other plants and also grew to over 7 feet tall!
Once the plant is about 5 feet high it is also advisable to pinch the growing tip to prevent the plant growing any higher - again this is to allow the plant to put its efforts into growing fruit.
They are heavy plants with a heavy fruit crop on and will need good support. I use canes and tie the main stem using garden string - sometimes this wasn't enough and I had to have string all over the place dangling from the roof of the greenhouse to support the plant and its weight.
Tomatoes need a lot of watering - think of how much water is contained in the plant and all its fruits, that comes from somewhere - your watering can. Tomorite can be used once a week or once fortnightly to help the plants develop better fruit.
From late August to mid October I had tomato harvests last year - this is later than they should start because last year was terrible for heat and sunlight and it rained constantly.
The good news is this year I already have flowers which means I could be harvesting at the end of July!
Each plant produced approximately 20-25 juicy beefsteak tomatoes so I had nearly 300 in total... these were distributed amongst various family members, friends, people at work etc!
Top tip - if its getting cold and heading into Autumn/Winter time then you can pick your tomatoes in their green state and use them in various recipes before they are fully ripened - you can also help them along by putting them on a windowsill, they may turn red yet without their plant.
Why Grow Tomatoes:
If you have a square foot or two, thats enough to grow a few plants that can yield you enough tomatoes to last months! I grow them as a hobby and to make the people that get to eat them happy.
One thing I love about growing your own is that with all the effort involved you end up with such a fantastic feeling once you get your reward.
I paid 46 pence for 75 seeds and once all have been used up (keep in mind not all germinate, I have been pretty lucky). I went into the supermarket last week and saw the big juicy tomatoes similar to those I grew last year - they were 85p each. If 60 out of my 75 seeds germinate and each plant harvested 20 tomatoes then that works out at 1200 tomatoes for 46 pence worth of seeds - over £1000 worth at supermarket price - a staggering fact that makes it all worthwhile and opens your eyes to how much money you can save over time on the supermarket shopping bill.
As it's British Tomato Week starting on May 21 st, I thought a review about tomatoes would be timely right now as it would give you enough time and incentive to get some seeds planted so that when May comes, you'll have a stock of healthy plants that will give you their juicy fruits a month or two after that. Tomatoes are ubiquitous in most styles of cooking, and like many great things are often taken for granted so I'll try to big up the little fellows too and inspire you to grow your own.
Tomatoes are in the same family as potatoes, nightshade and peppers. There is a long standing argument about whether or not they are a fruit, but as they contain seeds, they can be classed as a fruit - even though they're not the sort of fruit that you'd put in a trifle or fruit salad! They are thought to originate from South America, and the word tomato comes from an Aztec dialect (Nahuatl) - tomatl, which means "the swelling fruit".
They are now grown all over the world, and in temperate climates like the UK they are commonly grown in greenhouses, although there are some hardier outdoors varieties available for growing in the frozen wastelands of Lancashire and the rest of "oop North".
Thanks to years of experimentation by commercial growers and seed producers, tomatoes come in many different shapes, sizes and plant types. You can get small cherry types that are white in colour and form a small compact bush, and contrastingly you can get huge beef type tomatoes that are striped and grow up from a vine that needs support. You can even get tomatoes that have been bred to taste like tinned tomatoes, with that metallic tang that is common to all tinned types.
GROWING YOUR OWN
Tomatoes are slightly more demanding to grow than say, a sage plant grown from seed or onion sets which can pretty much be left to their own devices once the seeds start to grow. Don't be put off though, you don't need a greenhouse or have to be out for hours every day lovingly tending to your tomato plants to have success and produce your own crop of tomatoes. First, choose a type you want to grow, taking into account your garden conditions - absence of a greenhouse, space etc. Late winter / early spring is the ideal time to plant seeds indoors for a good crop of tomatoes in the summer. My northern frozen wasteland of a backyard gives a good enough home for Gardeners' Delight (a small red cherry red tomato - and it gives us loads per plant) and Moneymaker (bigger than cherry tomatoes but not as big as beef type tomatoes and gives quite a good crop). Most seed packets will tell you if that particular type tomato is best suited to growing outdoors or in a greenhouse.
Place one seed into a 3 inch pot that has been filled with compost and watered beforehand. Keep these pots indoors on a sunny window sill or in a greenhouse, if you're lucky enough to have one. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of fine grit (vermiculite works well) or compost, then sit back and wait about a fortnight for the first green shoot to pop up through the layer of grit. During this time, keep the compost moist but not sodden or the seeds will rot.
About six weeks after you see the first seedlings appear, they will be big enough to handle and transplant to larger pots to allow the roots space to grow. As we'll still be in late spring by this point and therefore cannot safely say that the danger of outside frosts will have passed, these larger pots should still be kept indoors in the warmth. By late May, most areas of the UK are out of the frost danger zone, so they can be transplanted outside into their growing positions - the back of the seed packet will tell you how far apart to space them.
The soil should always be kept moist - infrequent watering will make the fruits split and crack, which will allow diseases to enter and ruin your crop. Before the first fruits appear, the plant should be fed with a liquid feed that is high in nitrogen to promote lots of healthy foliage. However, too much foliage will mean that the plant's energy doesn't go into growing fruit. Therefore, side shoots should be nipped out to divert the plant's efforts only into those vines that will bear flowers then subsequently fruits. Side shoots grow at a 45 degree angle away from where a horizontal stem branches off from the main vertical growing stem and can be easily removed by pinching them off with a thumb and finger. When the first fruits start to appear (after the little yellow flowers have died off) the plants will need feeding with a liquid feed that is high in potash - this helps the fruits grow. Also, vine type tomatoes will need support as the fruits start to swell and gain weight - I use one bamboo cane per plant pushed into the soil next to the plant and tie the fruit bearing vines and / or the main stem to it with a figure of eight loop of garden string. The figure of eight method gives enough room for movement in the wind without being too tight and snapping off your vines - never tie a plant directly to the support cane.
For best yields, I never allow more than 4 vines on one plant and remove any others that grow higher up the plant - we simply don't get enough warmth and sunshine to sustain more fruit growth in Lancashire. If you're lucky enough to live "darn sarf", you could leave 5 vines on for the midlands area, and try for 6 vines per plant if you're really lucky and live in Devon or Cornwall.
When you start to pick the tomatoes as they ripen, you'll notice that they ripen from the bottom fruit (furthest away from the plant) up towards the plant's main stem. If you haven't got the patience to wait for them all to ripen, green tomatoes can be removed and "forced" to ripen by placing them in a dark drawer with a banana - bananas give off a gas called ethylene as they ripen and this gas encourages other fruits to ripen too. Top tip - if you've got a fruit bowl, keep bananas separate or they will shorten the life of your apples and pears!
PESTS AND DISEASES
The two most common pests and diseases that most people might encounter when growing tomatoes are whiteflies and the dreaded blight. Whiteflies are exactly what they sound like, tiny white flies that look like white greenflies - these lay eggs on the underside of the leaves and their resulting offspring will eat your plant. You can treat with chemical sprays, but I prefer to wipe the eggs off with a damp cloth, it's much more eco-friendly and you won't make polar bears cry or poison anyone that eats your tomatoes.
Blight strikes fear into most tomato growers' hearts. It is a fungus which will initially rot the leaves then start to rot the fruits too. You can tell if you've got blight as the leaves will turn brown and start to die. Unfortunately, there's no cure for it, and any affected plants will have to be ripped up and burned to kill any blight fungus spores and therefore prevent it spreading further. The only thing you can do really to prevent blight is remember that it's spread by water and wind - so be very careful when you water your tomatoes not to wet the leaves as this will knock off any blight spores onto the soil and activate them - always water very slowly onto the soil around the plant so it doesn't kick up any spores or knock them off the leaves. Good luck with that!
Blight also affects potatoes, so if you see it occurring first on one but not the other, it's only a matter of time before it will spread to both your spuds and tomatoes. Some people will preventatively spray their tomato plants with a copper sulphate solution - this has fungicidal properties and may kill off any spores before they develop. To be honest though, from what I gather in the course of my research for this review it's not massively effective and you would be better off keeping a wary eye out for blight and removing any affected plants quickly before it spreads round and destroys all of your plants.
There is another fairly common disease called "blossom end rot" - caused by irregular watering of the plant. The bottom end of the fruit will go black and mushy, rotting away and ruining your crop. It's caused when the soil dries out and prevents calcium from the soil's nutrients getting to the growing fruits through the plant's roots. Dead easy to prevent this - keep your soil moist and never allow it to dry out.
This is the bit where all your efforts are rewarded in the form of the tasty fruits you should have copious amounts of. Tomatoes have a range of culinary uses - eaten raw in salads, cooked and turned into a sauce, they can be stuffed, oven roasted, grilled, pureed (pasata), or bottled. I use a very good recipe from the Monty Don book, "Fork to Fork" which makes a very tasty tomato sauce which then gets used as the base for all sorts of dishes - from curries to pasta sauces. In a nutshell, the tomatoes get roasted in the oven with herbs and garlic then blitzed in a blender. Delicious.
If you're interested in bottling tomatoes (or canning as our American friends call it - two nations divided by a common language and all that), then please read up on it before you do so as there are some very important safety precautions which require your attention so as to prevent botulism from spoiling your day.
If you cook the tomatoes in a pan to make a pasta sauce, but don't want the little shrivelled up skins that inevitably appear, then you can dunk the tomatoes in boiling water for a few seconds before hand and the skins will peel off very easily. Also, unripe green tomatoes are excellent to use in chutneys - a preservative mixture of vinegar, spices and vegetables, a bit like a savoury jam.
Tomatoes are a good source of vitamins A, C and E. Also, they are jam packed full of anti-oxidants, which are basically good at preventing types of cancers. It's no coincidence that there are villagers in rural Italy (who's diet includes lots of tomatoes) that live till very old ages - there's been a few books written about the positive health benefits of the "Mediterranean diet" which is largely tomato based. However, they are part of the nightshade family, which is a well known poison - the toxins in tomato plants stay in the leaves and not the fruits, so DON'T EAT THE LEAVES!
A very versatile cooking ingredient with proven health benefits, grow your own and live longer!
Key to the humble BLT, perfect with a pasta sauce, and great in a salad. The tomato is so versatile, tasty and actually rather beautiful. On top of that they are quite rewarding to grow. A pack of seeds cost a couple of quid, and you get so many different varieties, from cherry, to plum, to giant stuffers, and in some pretty incredible colours. You can plant them straight in the ground in April, but I prefer to do it in small 9cm pots in late February and keep them inside until April (giving them a head start in life, and meaning you get a crop quicker). Just pop 2-3 seeds per hole, about 13mm deep. If doing them in the ground, they should be about 50cm apart. As soon as the plant is about 10cm tall pop a cane in the ground (check what height your tomatoes grow to and add an extra 60cm) and tie the plant to it. As the plant grows make sure you pull of the side shoots, to make sure that it grows upwards. That pretty much all your need to do.
One of the first things I remember about my young childhood was sneaking into one of my grandmothers massive greenhouses and feasting on the tiny baby tomatoes literally between 5p piece and 10p piece size which had ripened but not grown. They were deliciously sweet and seemed like a treat not a fruit (which is what they are, not a vegetable, as I'm sure you know). My nan was a brilliant gardener and could grow anything, the smell of the greenhouses which were turned over entirely to tomatoes in the summer, with a little patch of mint at the entrance, was one that will stay with me till the day I die.
Many years later I wanted to try and recreate the memory of the best tomatoes I've ever tasted in my own garden. One thing my nan had that I didn't was massive greenhouse space and fairly sunny summers. In my opinion a good old fashioned tomato in this country really does need to be grown under glass, they come from America and need warm climate to thrive. The 'glass' could be a sunny conservatory or windowsill if you are thinking small, or any kind of greenhouse, but unless you live right down in the south of England or Cornwall or Devon then you don't have much chance of growing a really tasty ripe tomato in your garden. Having said that where my parents live seems to have a bit of a micro climate, right on the 'cusp' of Gower, and they have sometimes been able to grow little salad tomatoes in tubs outside.
The seeds can be sown around about March to early April and brought on on a windowsill, or in clotches, or in a heated greenhouse...unless there is a heatwave, in which case forget the heating. They can be planted out under glass in mid May, and late may (unless there are unseasonal frosts) with no glass cover.
There are tomato varieties recommended for outside growing but even these need quite a temperate spot, if you have a nice south facing wall, or can move them about in tubs to chase the sun this will probably enhance your chances of growing successfully outside. Tub grown tomatoes will need even closer monitoring for moisture levels of the soil and feed than would ground planted or greenhouse plants.
My family have been sharing seeds, seedlings and cutting since time immemorial so when I told my Mam that I was going to embark on a Nana conjuring tomato journey, she informed me that 'Uncle John' or 'Compo' as he's known in the family had some seedlings descended from Nan;s plants that I could have; (if anyone remembers last of the Summer wine they'll know the 'Compo' look, my uncle's called this because of the physical resemblance caused by 18 hour shifts in the garden and a complete diregard for grooming). The second thing she said was you'll need lots of manure. She was indeed right, because tomatoes are very greedy little plants and love a rich but well draining soil. My nan would lay 'mature' (partially rotted) manure in the holes before planting, and watered throughout the season with rainwater collected in a barrel which was regularly topped up with sheep and sometimes horse poo (plenty of that around here).
Because of this tendency to swap seedlings etc I'm afraid I don't know the type of tomato I grow, but they are averagely sized, not small salad ones, nor big beefy ones, the skin is fine and deep red not an orangy red when properly ripe, and can sometimes tend to slight thickness of the skin, but not dramatically so. They grow on classic woody but soft stems, which do need staking to prevent the stalks snapping or bending with the weight of the crop. There are many plant varieties some may suit certain soils and locations better than others. .
You can buy lots of different specialist tomato feeds in most garden centres, supermarkets or DIY centres. Something like 'Miracle Grow' is not ideal for tomatoes as it is high in nitrogen, which is great for leaf growth and plant size but not quite so good for flowers and fruit.. A high potash/potassium fertilizer is good too. I tend to feed between once and three times a week once the first truss has 'set' and tiny tomatoes can be seen.
Tomatoes like most plants can suffer from blight and once it gets hold it's ruthless in its spread from plant to plant. If you catch the very first attack you stand a chance of saving the other plants or at least getting some ripe tomatoes from them. You need to get rid of any affected vegetation or even whole affected plant, and take it away from the plants to burn. Don't leave any fallen bits on the ground. You can also buy fungicidal spray preparations (those containing copper are best for blight) to aid in protecting the remaining plants, this will need to be used often. The soil will need to be replaced and glass thoroughly cleaned with hot soapy water before another crop is grown in the same place. Blight is less likely to attack in a well maintained greenhouse, which is kept ventilated and not allowed to become too damp. There are other 'diseases' which tomatoes can succumb to but they seem a comparatively healthy and easy to grow crop compared to some things.
Tomatoes are also big green black and whitefly draws, some people recommend planting marigolds in the spaces between tomato plants as they emit a strong scent which repels the insects, it's a technique known as companion planting, you could also introduce plenty of Lady Birds to your greenhouse if you're using one. My nan would also spray the plants with a mild solution of fairly liquid and water, it didn't seem to harm the plants but the aphids didn't last long. These are methods I also use quite successfully and rarely resort to commercial insecticides.
There are benefits to growing your tomatoes in grow bags, and my parents have done this successfully from time to time. You can buy some which are specifically aimed at growing tomatoes and provide a high proportion of the nutrients required, but large general compost bags work too. Also if disaster should strike (such as blight) you only have to get rid of the bags and not have to spend ages, and make a huge mess digging earth from your greenhouse or garden.
Tomatoes are also thirsty little devils, so you need to ensure they don't dry out for maximum juiciness, however if they swell too fast they can split on the vine so a practised eye is needed to gauge how moist to keep the soil. In my opinion it should never form a dry crust or get dusty, but remain 'crumbly' and moist but not sticky between the fingers, (of course the soil will look very wet immediately after watering, best to judge the water level a few hours after watering). In hot weather you will need to water most days. In very hot weather if you are growing in a greenhouse you will need to ventilate the greenhouse, leaving the door open, and perhaps opening some of the panes too, to allow a healthy through draft. Watch out for birdies coming in though, the times I've had to rescue a Thrush, or some other garden bird is nobody's business.
Your tomatoes should if the weather permits ripen all through the summer, and continue to do so as long as the weather remains good up until early to mid autumn. The last few years though the summer has been so rotten that my tomatoes have started to ripen late in the season, and just as they are reaching full crop, with a good size the damn sun disappears completely leaving me with a glut of green tomatoes. You can ripen tomatoes that have started to 'turn' inside. I lay them on newspaper in a drawer in a warm spot and check them every day, it's worth doing if you have a large crop of tomatoes that have started to ripen, but not worth it if they are completely green. It's lucky that our family love green tomato chutney, even more than the sort made from ripe tomatoes.
A tip my uncle gave me about ripening late tomatoes is to put over ripe bananas or their skins in with the tomatoes, as the bananas emit a 'gas?' during decomposition which accelerates ripening. I have to admit I haven't tried this myself yet so can't vouch for it personally.
I hope my little nostalgic trip has been readable, it's not so much a how to guide as a tale of my family and tomatoes. Unless you can grow your plants outside or in tubs, and you eat an awful lot of tomatoes it's probably not a money saving exercise. For me it's done for the love of gardening and the memories the smell of a warm greenhouse and a really ripe juicy tomato straight from the vine conjures, and the satisfaction of knowing that the food on the plate has come straight from the garden. I consider each one a posthumous gift from my Nan.
A medium sized tomato has about 22 calories, and is stuffed full of wonderful vitamins and minerals from Potassium to vitamin A. They are high in lycopene which is thought to play a big part in helping to protect from cancers and problems associated with oxidants and free radicals. The common consensus is that lycopene works best when the tomatoes are cooked, but is still present and useable in raw fruits too. For a fullish list of vitamins etc one of the many sites that provide such info is www.healthalternatives2000.com/fruit-nutrition-chart.html