There is nothing more rewarding than standing in the greenhouse on a warm summer’s evening eating the fruits of your labour. Hand picked straight from the vine. But make no mistake, growing the best tasting tomatoes does require daily discipline and commitment, if grown indoors.
Growing from seed couldn’t be easier. Sow the seed via the seed packet instructions and place on a warm windowsill in your home until germination – expensive heated propagators are not needed.
However, this year I’ve cheated a tiny bit; well not intentionally. Every year we sow more than we need, and this year was no exception. So all my plants were started off by my gardener friends and offered to me when they were about 2 inches tall. And since I’d not set any of mine away, at the time. It seemed like such a shame to waste these good quality plants, so I accepted without hesitation.
I continued to grow these on in a heated greenhouse. Repotted them twice, so as not to stunt growth and now they are 25cm tall and ready for their final positions.
The varieties growing are Moneymaker, Alicante ( a super sandwich tomato ) and Yellowstuffers.
I filled, no less than 7.5litre pots, with good quality multi-purpose compost. Making sure any previously used pots were washed and sterilized first. Should the pots be any smaller in size, keeping the compost moist at all times may prove difficult in a greenhouse situation due to the heat.
Tip: I find that a large plastic dust-bin filled with water and a few swigs of disinfectant, makes washing large pots seriously easy. The bins themselves are readily available to purchase in most DIY stores.
A frequently asked question I hear all the time is, “I’ve been told to pinch out the sideshoots, what are these ? ”
This depends on which cultivar you have chosen to grow. The two main growth types are indeterminate (also known as cordon) or determinate (also known as bush). Should you choose to grow a bush variety, any sideshoots should be left on the plant otherwise your crop will be small. However, on a cordon variety these sideshoots are best pinched out, as to leave them on takes much needed energy away from the main plant, resulting in a poorer quality crop. Our aim is to grow a single-stemmed plant. So its great for us that these infamous sideshoots are so easy to spot, as they grow between the leaf and main stem. But remember, these need constant removal because new ones form throughout the growing season.
Ok, now that the plant is cleaned of any sideshoots, it’s time to plant it.
Make a hole deeper than the pot it came from, and slightly off centre. The aim here is to bury the plant up to its first set of leaves, which should have been removed. If not, remove them now. The area below will send out a second lot of roots, known as feeder roots. These are short and look for food, such as high potash feeds which should be applied once a week when the first truss ( flower stem) has set. The main (first) roots are long and search for water. Which takes me to the reason why I planted off centre. I like to sink a small pot beside the root ball, this helps to get more water to those longer, thirstier roots.
Tip: Although the flowers self pollinate, those grown in the greenhouse do benefit from a gentle shake from time to time.
The plant is going to need support, and for this I use canes. Any cane length will do. I ran out of my usual long canes so instead of rushing to the nearest shop. I found a few 4ft lengths in the shed and some string. Being careful not to pierce the rootball I pushed the cane in until it reached the bottom. Cut a length of string and tied it around the top of cane, pulled it taut slightly and secured it to the top of the greenhouse. Then gently tied-in the plant to the cane using a figure of eight and finished by watering in.
Water little and often, compost should be moist at all times. This will help to prevent fruit splitting and blossom end rot. Easier said than done sometimes, I know. As the season progresses do remember to remove any lower leaves around fruit. This helps to ripen fruit, increase air-flow and minimise the risk of disease. And after the 6th truss has set, cut off the top of plant to give the remaining fruit a chance to ripen.
Oh, and don’t forget about companion planting, a part from the aesthetics, I think it’s a very useful way of controlling pests. I’ve decided to grow marigolds and basil alongside the tomatoes. The french marigolds will give off a strong odour which the green and blackfly hate. Whereas, the basil will help to ward off whitefly, which is starting to become a big problem – must be the weather. Don’t forget, it can also help to attract beneficial insects such as ladybirds and lacewings. If it’s something you don’t do, perhaps it’s worth thinking about.
Happy growing !!