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Tomatoes are the mainstay of sandwich fillers, healthy salads and the starting point for many popular dishes. The trouble is that the tomatoes you buy in the supermarkets are grown to a set of standards - none of which include flavour! So don't be surprised when you cut open your shop bought tomato and find that it is watery and tastless! You don't think so? Then try eating a naturaly produced tomato that has been grown in soil rather than scientifically produced in inert rockwool and fed on drip irrigation!
To make the most of your new seasons tomato crop you can start off your seeds early indoors or in a heated greenhouse – usually about six to eight weeks before the last frosts are anticipated. In Great Britain this would usually be around May. If you are not sure when would be a safe time to put them out where you live a good guideline would beto put your tomato plants out when average day temperatures are reaching over 20 degrees Celsius and nights aren’t dropping below 10 degrees Celsius. Be careful though, because if you start too early your seedlings can outgrow their pots resulting in weak, "leggy" plants. If they end up being planted outdoors in this condition then valuable time is wasted while the plants devote energy to recovering their health, rather than to normal growth and flower production.
Sowing the Seed
Tomato seed is quite easy to handle and is best germinated using a standard seed tray filled with John Innes 'Seed and Cutting' compost. Space the seed evenly and then cover with about 1.5mm of compost. Tomato seedlings will ususally germinate in about 7 to 14 days at a temperature of around 21C . For the best sowing times, see the recommendations listed in 'greenhouse' or 'outdoor' cultivation below. Pot tomato seedlings on when they are large enough to handle without the need to touch the stem.
Just by handling the leaves, transplant them carefully into 3inch pots using John Innes No.1 potting compost. If only a few plants are required, sow two seeds into a 3 inch pot and after germination remove the smaller plant. Take care not to let the plant and seedlings get cold as frost, cold winds and draughts will cause the plants to turn bluish and in most cases die. If you live in a cold area wait a few extra weeks until the air temperature has risen. Check the compost at all stages for dryness. This is vital in the intitial stages of germination as drought can cause poor germination or failure to germinate at all. If this is the case, add a little clean water from below, being careful not to over water. Too much water can kill seedlings just as easily, as it can spread water borne fungal diseases such as 'damping off'
For greenhouse tomatoes first pick a recommended variety such as 'Santa', 'Matador', 'Sungold', 'Money Maker' or 'Supersteak' and sow as directed on the individual seed packet. This will generally be from late December/early January onwards and straight into 3 inch pots.
Plant the young plants when they are about 6-8 inches tall and the flowers of the first truss are just beginning to open. If you are planting into your greenhouse border make sure you have dug in plenty of organic compost during the winter.
If you have used the border before for tomatoes, it is better to change the soil or sterilise it before using it for tomatoes again. This will help avoid soil pests and root diseases becoming a problem. Just before planting, rake in a general purpose fertiliser. If you are going to use a growbag or pot just remember they will require a lot more watering and care. Plant approximately 45cm (18in) between the plants and 75cm (30in) between the rows. In a growbag, generally plant no more then two plants per bag.
For growing tomatoes outside, first pick a recommended variety such as 'Gardeners Delight', 'Sungold', 'Money Maker' or 'Sweet 100' or try 'Tumbler' in a flower pouch or hanging basket.
Wait until approximately 6-8 weeks before the last frost is forecast and sow as directed on the individual seed packet in 7.5cm (3in) pots.
When all risk of frost has past and when the plants are about 15-20cm (6-8in) tall and the flowers of the first truss are just beginning to open, you can plant them out. If you are planting into your border make sure you have dug in plenty of garden compost or peat during the winter. Just before planting, rake in a general purpose fertiliser. If you are going to use a growbag or pot remember they will require a lot more watering and care. Plant approximately 45cm (18 in) between the plants and 75cm (30in) between the rows. In a growbag, generally plant no more than two plants per bag
How to train or when to pick your fruit will depend on the varieties and types of tomatoes grown. Cordon (indeterminate) varieties will need their side shoots removed, determinate varieties may stop flower production after several trusses, but upward growth can be carried on by training up the topmost side shoot.
Bush varieties will remain low and will not need their side shoots removal. Tomatoes require a lot of water and feed to get the best fruit. Water little and often for the best results. Feed with a general liquid feed until the first truss is formed then alternate with a high potash feed. This will encourage more flowers and fruit.
For more information click onto:
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Common Tomato Pests and Diseases
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How to Avoid E.Coli when Preparing Salads
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The 'Garden of Eaden' Seed Shop
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Article courtesy of Thompson and Morgan
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