How to Grow Tomatoes


Tomatoes are probably the most widely grown of all vegetables. Even people without a garden often manage to grow a plant or two on a balcony or patio. One reason for this is that tomatoes are relatively easy to grow, but another must surely be that supermarket-bought tomatoes bear little resemblance to what a gardener knows as a tomato – there is very little relationship between the two flavours. Another reason may well be the sheer range of tomatoes that you can now grow. They come in all manner of tastes, sizes and colours, and even some of the old-fashioned varieties that have the best flavours are becoming more readily available. The largest, such as the beefsteak tomatoes, can weigh up to – 450/ 1lb each, while the smallest are not much more than the size of grapes.

Tomatoes can either be grown on cor­dons (upright plants) or as bushes. It is well worth not only growing your own par­ticular favourite varieties each year, but also experimenting with at least one new one. This may well result in a glut of tomatoes, but they are wonderful things to give away.

Tomatoes are a very close relation to the potato. (If you want to try your skill at grafting, graft a young tomato plant onto one of the stems of a potato plant; it is actually possible to get potatoes under­ground and tomatoes above.) Like the potato, the tomato comes from South America, w here it had probably been grow n for centuries before it was bought to Europe in the 16th century. Because they belong to the family Solanaceae, of which deadly nightshade is also a member, they were at first treated with suspicion in Europe and used as ornamental plants. However, once they were accepted, it was the Mediterranean countries that used them most often in their cuisine. They do, of course, make very decorative plants, with their red, yellow or green fruits, and they are a valuable addition to potagers and other ornamental gardens.

Tomatoes are used widely both in raw and cooked dishes. They can even be used in their unripened state, so that any that have not ripened by the time the frosts arrive can still be used.

Tomatoes are half-hardy and can be grown under glass or outside. Earlier and later crops, as well as heavier ones, are obtained under glass, but outside crops often taste better, particularly if the summer has been hot and the fruit has ripened well.

Cultivation

If you are growing under glass, sow the seed in mid-spring in a very gentle heat or an unheated greenhouse. An earlier start can be made in a heated greenhouse to obtain earlier crops. As soon as they are big enough to handle, prick out the seedlings into individual pots. When the plants are large enough, transfer them to growing bags, large pots or a greenhouse border. (The soil will need changing, preferably every year, if tomatoes are planted directly into a border.) Arrange some form of support, such as strings or canes, for the tomatoes to be tied to as they grow. Remove any side shoots as they appear. Keep well watered and feed every ten days with a high-potash liquid fertilizer once the fruits begin to swell. Pinch out the top of the plant when it reaches the glass.

For cordons grown outdoors, the same procedure as above is followed, except that the plants are hardened off before being planted out, which should not be until after the last of the frosts. They should be in an open, sunny position and a fertile soil. Bush forms are treated in the same way, except that there is no need to remove the side shoots. They will also benefit from a straw mulch to keep the fruit off the soil. The end of the season usually comes before all the fruit has ripened. Either use them in recipes that call for unripe tomatoes or dig up the whole cordon or bush and hang it upside down in a greenhouse or frost-free shed so that the last ones ripen. Alternatively, cut down the plant from its support, lay it on a bed of straw and cover with a cloche.

Harvesting

Pick the tomatoes as they ripen, which will usually be when they turn red. At this stage they should come away, bringing a short piece of stem, simply by twisting them.

Storage

Tomatoes are best eaten straight from the-plants, although they will keep for a few days. They can be frozen, but then used only in cooked dishes as they lose their firmness.

Pests and diseases

Tomatoes are cursed with a number of pests and diseases. Fortunately, they are generally not troublesome enough to deter those who grow them. Pests include aphids, potato cyst eelworm, whitefly and red spider mite. Dis­eases include tomato blight, grey mould, potato mosaic virus, greenback, tomato leaf mould and scald. Many problems can be avoided by good ventilation. Cracked fruit is often caused by uneven watering.

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About the Author: Greenery always attracts Arthur Kunkle. He has a big garden where he plants many fruits and vegetables. His passion for gardening motivates him to write and share different tips on gardening.

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