A home grown tomato has a superior flavour to shop bought and you can grow more unusual tomatoes that can’t easily be bought.  You can try growing interesting varieties such as Mr. Fothergill’s: ‘Black Russian’, ‘Cream Suasage’, ‘Green Zebra’, ‘Tigerella’.

If you don’t have access to a heated propagator or greenhouse to rear healthy tomato plants in the spring it is best to buy ready grown young plants.  Young plants sold at Fairweather’s will have already been ‘hardened off’ that is become accustomed to fluctuations in temperature.

Siting

Tomatoes originated in Mexico.  Bear this in mind and make sure they have a sunny sheltered spot in the garden.  Tomatoes really like high light intensity.  They can be planted directly into the soil or in containers or grow bags.  Locating them against a sunny wall is good.  They are often grown in greenhouses but do not have to be.

Growing in containers

The compost must be moist at all times.  Choose large containers, a minimum of 40cm per plant.  Stand the container in a saucer.  If growing in a grow bag we recommend only two plants per bag rather than three.

Watering

Even watering is essential.  If growing in containers consider installing drip irrigation.  For open grown plants it is effective to apply a mulch around the plants and install a drip line.  Overhead watering can spread blight.

Training

A few tomato varieties are called ‘bush tomatoes’ and are best grown in open ground where they can spread.  But most varieties are best suited to growing as cordons.  A cordon is a straight stem with the side shoots removed.  The stems need to be supported by a strong cane or stake.

The plant will need tying in to the cane frequently.  The side shoots which appear in the leaf nodes are best removed when they are about 2cm long.  This leaves the fruit trusses more room and light to ripen.  As the plants get bigger is a good idea to remove any foliage which is shading the ripening trusses.  In late summer or earlier if the tomatoes have reached their required height, you can remove the growing tip.

Feeding

It is well known that tomatoes love high potash feeds.  After the first truss has set weekly feeding with a product like Tomorite is recommended.  In Patrick’s Patch we have found that weekly feeding was too much for our container grown plants so reduced it to fortnightly.  Over feeding can cause distorted foliage.

Common problems

Blossom end rot

Dark soft spots appear at the end of ripe and unripe fruits and leaves curl.  It is due to calcium deficiency, with the deficiency caused by uneven watering.  The calcium may well be in the soil or compost but if the plant has not had sufficient water it cannot effectively absorb the calcium.

Blight

Irregular brown patches develop quickly on the foliage and fruit, particularly on outdoor grown plants.  It is most likely to occur in late summer.  Avoid overhead watering (water in the morning if you can) and remove infected parts.  A copper or sulphur base fungicide can be tried but generally the crop will come to a natural end.  We have found the variety ‘Ferline’ shows good blight resistance.

Deficiencies

The most common deficiencies are magnesium or nitrogen.  Deficiences can be avoided by regular feeding and watering.

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