Tomato varietiesWhile the tomato is actually a biannual, it is mostly grown as an annual. The tomato is also actually fruit, but culinary speaking we treat it as a vegetable. Depending on the variety, tomatoes vary in size, shape (cherry, pear and banana shaped) as well as colour (red, orange, yellow, even white, and of course green). Most tomato plants can reach up to 2 metres tall in the greenhouses of Southern Europe.
There are many varieties of tomato so give some thought to where you are going to plant it and what you want to do with your tomatoes when you have them. Some tomato plants will thrive in pots or hanging baskets (like the cherry tomato) and other varieties will be best grown in the garden to give them more room to grow (like beef tomatoes).
Sowing and planting outTomatoes are easy to grow. Plant them in a sunny spot in moist, fertile soil. Prepare the soil well with a mix of special tomato fertiliser. Giving the tomato plants enough room will keep them healthy, ensuring tasty, juicy tomatoes.
We always advise sowing your tomato seed indoors to bring them on. This will give you an earlier and longer crop. Do harden off your seedlings before planting outdoors. Leave them out in the sun for an hour longer every day for a week and at the end of that week they can stay outdoors all day (although watch out for cold snaps). Do bring back indoors at night during that week but thereafter, they should be fine even at night.
Hold your seedlings by the leaf so you don’t damage the roots when planting out. Plant them in a row, 50 cm apart. Extra rows should be 1 metre off. Plant each seedling slightly deeper than they were. The stem now under soil will also root and keep the plant strongly rooted. Water each plant immediately with 3-4 litres of lukewarm water.
Watering tomato plantsTomatoes need a lot of watering but they do not like to be swimming in it! For the first couple of weeks water daily with a half litre water per plant (at the roots). After that first couple of weeks, mulch them with straw to keep the soil moist for s long as possible and prevent weeds developing.
Tomato plants are prone to wilting on warm summer days – this is because more water evaporates via the foliage than via the root system. As soon as you notice them beginning to wilt, or curl up, it’s a sign that your tomatoes need watering immediately.
Tying in and nippingTomatoes naturally creep but will climb perfectly if supported sufficiently with canes etc. Supported, climbing tomato plants usually have nicer, less damaged tomatoes in the crop. Use sturdy support canes or poles of some sort that are at least 2 metres long. Place it around 5 cm from the plant stem and at least 40 cm into the ground. Tie your plants loosely up the cane, every 30 cm. Repeat at least weekly for new shoots.
Nip out any side shoots on your plants weekly – you will soon spot them. Just use your thumb and forefinger. This will give the plant more energy for producing more fruits. Also remove ugly and brown foliage.
CroppingFrom sowing or planting out, to harvesting your tomatoes takes 40-180 days. Tomatoes are ripe when they feel firm, but not hard. If outdoor temperatures seem to be delaying the ripening process, you can pick them already and ripen them off indoors.
For more information, check out our gardening tips at www.ripe.com.