Whether you buy seeds, save your own seeds from a fresh (or even a tinned) tomatoes, or buy a punnet of seedlings from your local nursery, tomatoes couldn't be easier to grow.
Most tomatoes bought from supermarkets or even the veggie store these days are varieties specially bred for size and ability to travel. They end up looking good in the store but tend to be thick skinned and not too tasty.
If you are going to bother drying your own seeds – make sure you’ve got a good tasty original.
You can dry tomato seeds yourself (on absorbent paper) then plant by tearing the paper and pushing both seed and paper into the ground.
But you'll generally be best buying certified seeds from a reputable brand. They'll be guaranteed disease free and you can experiment with a vast range of varieties from around the world to find which ones you like most and for which purpose.
This Roma variety from French seed brand Vilmorin are probably the best for drying and cooking, making the best tomato sauces. Two of the tastiest varieties for salads are Gardeners Delight or Tiny Tim - both cherry sized tomatoes. And probably the best ever for sandwiches would be Oxheart, Grosse Lisse or Supermarmande which all slice perfectly and have super flavour.
I believe its best to start your seeds in a pot or planter. Push a few seeds per pot into a moist potting mix – one per finger hole about 5cms beneath the surface then cover over, firm down and water well.
You can either make sure you keep the pot well watered every day or secure a plastic bag over the top of the pot and support it (inside) with a stick or bent over coat hanger. This makes a mini greenhouse so that the water that evaporates collects on the inside of the bag and runs back down again keeping the potting mix moist – which is vital for the seeds to germinate.
N.B. you can also cut the top off a 2 litre plastic drink bottle and use that, inverted.
After a week or two you’ll have a few small plants and when they are about 10cms tall you can prick them out and transplant them into individual pots.
Even though they look so delicate, tomatoes are actually quite sturdy little things so don’t worry about damaging them or disturbing the roots too much. I’ve pulled out self seeded tomatoes as weeds sometimes only to recant and re-plant them later – and they grow. It takes a lot to kill a young tomato.
When they are about 20 – 25 cms tall and a bit more sturdy in the stalk you can plant them out in the garden. Choose a reasonably sheltered and sunny spot – up against a warm wall will produce good results.
First dig over your patch of garden, remove weeds, water the soil and dig a hole twice the size of the pot and twice as deep and half fill it with compost. Turn the pot upside down, supporting the soil surface and slide the pot off the rootball.
Place it in the hole and backfill, firm down the soil and make a small raised wall of soil around the plant – this is to help retain moisture when you water it. Next push in a single sturdy stake or three bamboo poles that tie together over the plant – Teepee style.
In warm dry weather you must water every day. Its a good idea to spray the leaves and flowers with a little bit of the water - it helps the flowers to set. Most tomatoes will sprout many new shoot heads - too many of these will weaken the plants ability to make fruit with all the energy going to make foliage. So you need to pinch out some of these new shoots.
N.B. If you let these side shoots grow to about 3 or 4 inches long and then slice them off the parent plant - then dip them into hormone liquid gel and pot them up, you will have another new plant !!
The trick is to keep the plant growing as straight as possible as you train it upwards on the stakes. Always tie the plant loosely and use a soft material – strong/rough string will just cut through the plant’s soft stalks. Strips of soft cotton rags tied loosely are best. Don’t forget you’re not trying to hold the plant up just support it against winds (and later the weight of its own fruit).
To get the best crops its good to give the plant some liquid food whilst the fruit is setting. There are plenty of liquid fertilisers on the market – some specifically for tomatoes but most regular ones will also do well.
If its wet – watch out for slugs and snails – its best to scatter some slug bait around the plant. As the green fruits start to set you may need to cut some leave back so that the fruit gets maximum sunlight. Maybe just cutting a few leaves in half will do ( rather than complete de-foliation !!)
Everyone knows tomatoes taste great in a salad but for me tomatoes are best when you get up early on a summer’s morning and as you are watering the plants you pick off a few young ripe ones, like these Tiny Tims illusrated here, and pop them straight in the mouth.
The best breakfast you can get, full of vitamin C, wonderfully tasty and a great way to start the day.