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Tomatoes
Learn how to grow tomatoes and why doing so will be good for your health.

“Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes

"What would life be like without homegrown tomatoes

"Only two things that money can't buy

"That's true love and homegrown tomatoes.”

So sang country singer John Denver and if you’ve ever tasted a homegrown tomato, you’ll know why he was moved to song.

If you haven’t grown your own, our guide will show you how.

Tomatoes are good sources of Vitamins A, C and E and have minerals such as potassium which help reduce blood pressure.

Lypocene is a pigment that gives tomatoes their red colour and is believed to have antioxidant properties that been linked to protecting against heart disease and reducing cholesterol.

Paul and toms

Tomatoes repay us richly for the effort we put into growing them. Not only is the process of nurturing them positive, engaging and satisfying, their exquisite taste is a reward to be savoured.

They can also be shared with family, friends and neighbours, building relationships by giving to others and breaking down social barriers.

Looking after the tomatoes by regular watering and feeding provides purpose and routine, allowing us to engage instinctive desires to see things grow and develop.

Being outside gives opportunities to appreciate nature, the changing seasons and, importantly for these times, enjoy respite from the pressures of daily life.

Growing tomatoes is an ideal activity for children and can help them understand how food is produced and the value of growing your own. Harvesting and eating tomatoes will be a highlight that can help get children hooked on gardening, providing wellbeing benefits that could last a lifetime.

If you have a disability and are restricted to sitting, or find reaching above shoulder height difficult, bush varieties grown in containers will be at a more accessible level. They will also require less pinching out and therefore can be better for those living with more limited finger, wrist or hand usage and dexterity limitations.

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Tomatoes can be grown indoors or outdoors and your choice of setting will impact how and when you grow them and which varieties you can use.

There are cordon or bush types of tomato. Cordon, also known as vine types, grow as an upright stem which needs support that can be provided by canes or, if being grown in a greenhouse, alternatively with string. Bush varieties need less management.

It takes about 12 weeks from seeds being sown before you will have plants that can be placed in their final growing space.

Seed sowing

Take a small pot or seed tray and fill with multipurpose compost. Place seeds on the surface and cover with a thin layer of compost, then water gently.

The seeds will need warmth to germinate.

Put the container in a polythene bag and place it somewhere warm, like an airing cupboard. When seedlings emerge, move to a light and warm place. Alternatively, heated propagators can start them off.

Tomato seedlings

When the seedlings have a couple of leaves, put them uncovered into 8cm pots with compost that should be kept moist.

Alternatively, if time is not on your side to grow from seed, buy young plants from a garden centre.

Growing in containers

If you are new to tomatoes, growing them in containers is an easy way to start.

Bush tomato varieties such as ‘Red Alert’ ‘Sleaford Abundance’ and ‘Tumbler’ work well in containers on patios or balconies.

These compact varieties are easy to maintain and will produce a bountiful crop in late summer.

Containers should be at least 25cm in diameter and at least 30cm deep. Fill to within 5cms of the top with multipurpose compost, place seeds on surface and then cover with a thin layer of compost. Initial watering should aim to keep the compost moist but not sodden.

Alternatively, growbags can be used. To create more growing space, cut the base off an old pot and turn the pot into the soil until secure. Add extra compost into the pot and plant the tomatoes within it, adding an extra 9-15cm of depth for the roots.

Growing outdoors

Whatever size garden you have, there will be a tomato you can grow.

Growing instructions will vary depending on the tomato variety, so always read the seed packet instructions.

Plants will need a sunny position that is sheltered from the wind where the soil is well-drained. The soil also needs to be fertile, for example by adding well-rotted organic matter or manure. Growing in cold spots where light is poor will badly affect plant growth.

Tomatoes don’t like frost, so start them off indoors or in a greenhouse.

When early summer arrives, and the plants have grown to 15-20cms high, they can be planted outside. Vine tomatoes will need to be supported as they grow taller to prevent them flopping over and support can be provided by attaching them to canes or string.

Growing in a greenhouse

Greenhouses offer a long growing season and by April it should be fine to move your plants into an unheated one.

Cordon or vine tomatoes will need canes or string to grow up to support the plant as it develops and these should be put in place before planting.

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Plant care

For cordon tomatoes, side shoots which grow between the main stem and branches need to be removed by pinching or carefully cutting. This will help promote growth in the main body of the plant and fruit production.

Corden plants will develop clusters (otherwise known as trusses) of small stems where flowers and tomatoes will develop. For indoor plants, limit the trusses to six and four for outdoor ones.

Also, you will need to manage the height of your plant according to growing space size by pinching out the top growth.

Overall bush types require less maintenance but might benefit from some trusses being removed and from staking to stop them flopping untidily.

Tomatoes require regular watering and feeding, particularly if grown indoors.

At the flowering and fruiting stage each plant will need somewhere between 7 and 14ltrs of water a week dependent on the size of plant. Too much water and tomatoes can split their skins; not enough and the fruit won’t grow so well. If growing in containers and grow-bags, watering may be needed throughout the growing season if rain is infrequent.

Giving your plants a specialist tomato feed will benefit production – follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Blight can affect outdoor tomatoes, turning them black and killing the plant. At first sign of infection, remove blighted leaves.

If growing inside, keep your greenhouse well ventilated and during hot spells damp it down to prevent pests.

Whitefly and red spider mite can attack tomatoes in greenhouses. Planting marigolds among tomato plants is said to help deter them.

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There are hundreds but some of our favourites are:

  • ‘Sungold’ – an orange vine cherry tomato with sweet taste
  • ‘Tumbler’ – compact bush variety producing a good cropping cherry tomato that can be grown in containers
  • ‘Marmande’ – a juicy beefsteak tomato that sweetens any salad

Plum, beefsteak, cherry, oxheart – just as tomatoes come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colours, they are also tremendously versatile in the kitchen.

Homegrown tomatoes in salads, soups and salsas offer so much more taste than typically found in shop-bought counterparts. Spaghetti Bolognese, lasagne and many other Italian family favourite meals depend on tomatoes for their sauces, while beefsteak varieties can be turned into delicious stuffed dishes.

Discover a variety of tasty recipes for tomatoes here

  • Tomatoes originate from South America and the first cultivated ones were yellow.
  • The debate over whether tomatoes are fruit or vegetables has taxed many people, even judges at the USA’s Supreme Court (they went with fruit).
  • Tomatoes have been grown as far south as the Falkland Islands and as far north as Iceland.
  • The UK’s largest tomato greenhouse is the size of 25 international football pitches.

Remembering 'real gentleman' John

Staff at Thrive Birmingham pay tribute to client gardener John Rutter – 'a real gentleman'.

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