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GROWING TOMATOES FROM SEED

Alicnte       Variety Alicante. The pride of my kitchen garden during summer are the ripening trussses of glowing red fruits on my tomato plants, all grown from an early spring indoor sowing.

Varieties
In the UK the popular varieties Moneymaker, Ailsa Craig and Alicante are excellent for the greenhouse, and in a good summer outdoors. The varieties Gemini and Outdoor Girl will ripen outdoors even in a bad summer. There are also the sweet small cherry varieties such as sweet100 and Gardeners' Delight. Any tomatoes that are slow to ripen outdoors can be brought indoors and placed somewhere warm to ripen quicker.
Click here to see a wide selection of tomato plants and seeds, and garden materials.

 

Indoors
January to April is the time to start off Greenhouse varieties. They can be staggered so that they can be cropped at different times. Also, late plants may be used to replace early ones which may be too tall for the greenhouse later in the year.

Outdoors
For outdoor tomatoes the plants need to be started off early to ensure them sufficient time to flower, develop fruits and ripen them. Late January to early February is my favourite time to start off outdoor varieties. I get earlier tomatoes and the fact that some plants may be a bit leggy to start with does not really do any harm. In fact, it means that the first truss of the plant is higher off the ground and the fruit does not touch the soil. Also I can plant that much deeper to get the roots down further in the ground.

If the ground is watered well before and after transplanting there should be no difficulty in planting out tomatoes even with fruit on. I have done this with plants which grew exceptionally well during the spring.

Sowing seeds for plants to give indoors and outdoor crops
Start by filling a seed tray or flower pot with John Innes No. 1 potting compost or an equal parts mixture of peat and sharp sand. Sow the seeds one inch (13 mm) apart in rows spaced one inch apart. Spread a thin layer of compost over the seeds and firm down. Cover the tray or pot with a propagator top or sheet of cardboard to retain a moist atmosphere for germination. Place it in a temperature of at least 18 degrees C. on a sunny window ledge in a warm room, in an airing cupboard, or, best of all, on a heated propagating tray. Especially if the seed tray is in a heated propagator, check that they compost does not dry out.

 
 

How to buy and sow tomato seeds.
1. Sow in John Innes
compost. Space seeds
one inch apart.

How to cover tomato seeds, for sale.
2. Cover the seeds with a
    thin layer of compost.

How to firm in tomato seeds.
3. Firm the surface, then
     cover to retain moisture.
    

 

Germination will take up to a fortnight. As soon as the seedlings appear remove the cover to give them plenty of ventilation. Also be sure they are now placed in a well lit position.

When the seed leaves are well developed and the next pair of leaves can be seen, transplant the seedlings into individual 3 or 3 and a half inch pots. Fill each pot with John Innes No. 1 potting compost and make a hole for the roots of the seedling.

Hold the seedling by a seed leaf and, using a thin, flat piece of wood or a plastic label, scoop the roots and some surrounding compost out of the seed tray or pot. Don't hold the seedling by its stem as this could bruise and damage it. Finally plant the seedling in the hole in the compost and firm it in.

The plants can now be grown on in their individual pots on the windowsill or greenhouse staging. Keep them moist at all times. On sunny days it is surprising how quickly the growing plants will consume water.

 
 

Transplant young tomato plant.
4. Transplant the seedling
    when the first true
    leaves appear.

Hold tomato seedling.
5. Carefully hold each
    seedling by its leaves to
    avoid stem damage.

Firm in young tomato plant.
6. Firm the compost,
    keeping the surface level.
    

 
 

Greenhouse plants
If the tomatoes are to be grown in the greenhouse border, they can be planted there when the roots have filled their pots. Alternatively, for a greenhouse or standing out on a patio, a 10in. pot is ideal for final potting. Use John Innes potting compost No.2. A cane can be inserted in the middle of the pot at the same time as potting up the plant. Alternatively the plants can be planted into growbags laid out on the greenhouse border. As soon as the first flower truss has set with small fruits, fed the plants every ten days with a liquid tomato feed until the end of September. Never let the soil dry out. In the greenhouse white fly may be a problem. Buy the yellow stickly strips that are used to trap them as they fly about. Wash them off the leaves with soapy water.

Outdoor plants
If the plants have filled the first pots before the end of May, move them on to 5in. containers. Towards the end of May the plants should be hardened off, otherwise they will receive a setback from which they will take a long time to recover.

Start hardening off the plants by putting them out during the day in a sheltered position such as a patio and taking them in at night. After a week, providing the weather hasn't suddenly turned cold or frost is forecast, they can be left out all night in a sheltered position. The plants should be left in this position for at least a week, preferably a fortnight. Alternatively the plants can be harden off in a garden frame.

 
 

Pot up growing tomato plant.
7. Pot up when the first
    pot is filled with roots.
    

Variety of tomato plant, outdoor girl.
8. A sturdy specimen of
    Outdoor Girl in a 5in.
    

Grow tomato plants in greenhouse or under cloche.
9. Plants can be grown outdoors under cloches
     until they are too big for them.
    

 
 

When there is no longer any danger of frost, the plants can be set out. In the South of England this is usually the end of May, in the North, the beginning of June in an average year.

Outdoor tomatoes must have the sunniest position in the garden. One of the best places is a border running alongside a south-facing fence or wall. Several weeks before planting out dig the ground over and incorporate plenty of compost and well rotted manure.

Standard varieties should be trained up canes. Side shoots form at the joint between the main stem and every leaf. They should be removed carefully when still small, using thumb and finger, so that the plant is trained up the cane with a single main stem and trusses of fruit and main leaves growing from it. As the fruit sets and swells remove the leaves below the bottom truss to allow the air to circulate. To remove a lower leaf use a sharp knife and cut the leaf off flush with the stem.

Bush varieties of tomatoes don't need any support or sideshooting.

When the first truss has set with small fuits, feed the plant with a liquid tomato or seaweed fertiliser every ten days, until the end of August.

It is unlikely that an outdoor plant will produce more than four trusses of fruit that will ripen successfully outdoors. The plants should be stopped at four trusses by pinching out the top of the plant one or two leaves above the final truss. The top should be pinched out when the fourth truss shows its flowers.

 
 

Pinch out sideshoots of tomato plant.
10. Pinch out sideshoots
    when they appear, using
thumb and finger.

Pinch out top of grown tomato plant to buy.
11. Pinch out top shoot when
the plant has four trusses
of fruit.

Tomatoes on tomato plant grown outdoors for sale.
12. Harvesting the tomatoes.
    
    


 
 

Gardeners Guide to Tomatoes.
Tomatoes - Gardener's Guide
Click here for
UK or USA

The Big Red Book of Tomatoes.
The Big Red Book
Click here for
UK or USA

100 Greatest Recipes for Tomatoes.
100 Greatest Recipes
Click here for
UK or USA



Click here to see a wide selection of tomato plants and seeds and garden materials.
 

 

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Harvesting Tomatoes

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All rights reserved. (c) Written and photographed by B V & T M Wood.

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