Coronoveg #2: Tomatoes

There’s still just about time to start tomatoes. I begin mine in January but there should be enough time to catch up if you get your horticultural skates on. In fact I have just sown some Tumbling Tom, in solidarity.

Tomatoes can be grown anywhere there is going to be lots of sunshine and heat, and no thieving fingers (not that I discovered this the hard way or anything…) A sunny patio, porch or room with French windows, a greenhouse if you’re lucky, or open ground. Some varieties tumble so you can put them in hanging baskets. They’re usually VERY prolific.

There are three main types. ‘Bush’ tomatoes (aka ‘determinate’) don’t require staking or pinching out, but can get very scrambled up.’Cordon’ or ‘indeterminate’ need a little more care but can be kept pretty neat. Trailing or tumbling varieties need to be grown up high.

If you’re growing indoors cordons are probably best. You’ll need to keep them on the floor in a biggish pot and support them with stakes but they’ll crop very well. They will need sun.

Tomatoes are best started indoors and ideally in a heated propagator (they’re quite cheap from garden centres, supermarkets etc) but if you haven’t got one a regular propagator will do or even a bit of clingfilm over the soil on a windowsill above a radiator. Just something to give it a bit of warmth.

You’ll need:

Seed trays. I usually use two half trays with drainage holes inside a propagator or a full size tray with no holes.

Compost. Seed compost is ideal because it is clean and doesn’t have much in the way of nutrients but don’t get too hung up about it.

Seeds. There are dozens of varieties available. If you’re planning to grow them indoors you can go for some of the lovely Mediterranean varieties like ‘marzano’ or even the famous ‘gardener’s delight’ – one of the best-flavoured cherry toms around. The only variety I’d actively avoid is ‘moneymaker’, which in my humble opinion, tastes of absolutely nothing. I have no idea why it’s so popular.

Blight is a problem in wet years so if you’re worried try ‘Ferline F1’ or ‘Crimson Crush’ (Crimson Crush tastes better but Ferline is tougher). I grow both each year.

Half fill the tray without holes with water, then put some compost into the trays with holes. You don’t need much – about 3cm is good. Use the trays to tamp down the soil – not too hard, just enough to even it out.

Put the compost-filled trays into the tray with the water and leave for about 20 mins to soak up the water.

Sow the seeds VERY thinly. Seriously – I put six – eight seeds in a half-tray, evenly spaced. Put the rest away somewhere. They last for years if you keep the packet cool and dry.

Cover VERY lightly with a little more compost or, if you have it, vermiculite (a very light substance). It’s only to stop the seeds getting dislodged so it just needs to be light.

Put the propagator lid on or loosely cover with cling film. Put in a warm, sunny space and wait for Nature to do her thing.

There are two alternatives to the above. The first is just to buy ready-grown small plants from garden centres in April or May. They’re okay but more expensive than the seed and there will be less choice. The second is grafted plants. I’ll talk about them another day as it’s not an urgent ‘do it now’ thing…

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