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Tomatoes are an easy crop for the novice gardener to grow, whether they be bush or upright / vine, greenhouse or outdoors. In this post Martyn Loach shares some tomato growing tips for beginners.
You won’t be stuck for choice – plum, cherry, beefsteak; tomatoes that are orange, yellow, striped or surprisingly black. Well known varieties include Ailsa Craig, Alicante and Gardener’s Delight but there are so many you should really try out different ones each year, discovering which variety best suits your growing conditions and of course your taste buds.
One of your first decisions is whether to grow from seed or buy a young plant. The former is fairly easy starting off on a windowsill, the latter even easier by going to a garden centre or perhaps a car boot sale.
If you sow seed, do this in mid-spring in a warm place using good seed compost, following the instructions on the packet. When the seedlings are large enough to handle, transplant them into 3in pots.
If the plants are to be grown outside, harden them off in a cold frame in late spring.
A cold frame is important, as if you put plants immediately outside from a warm environment their rate of growth will be very much reduced. They need to be gradually acclimatised, and this is referred to as hardening off.
You can build one yourself, basically just a box with a perspex lid. Each day open the lid slightly wider, closing it at night. Then leave it fully open during the day and increasingly open at night, until it is fully open day and night, and the plants will be ready to plant out.
This should be done after the risk of frost, in rich fertile soil that has had organic matter added, or a grow bag, in a location that gets lots of sun.
If you are growing in a greenhouse, hardening off isn’t necessary. You plant in the border after adding organic matter or simpler still in grow bags. Don’t skimp on grow bags, you’ll find that the more expensive ones are well worth the money.
Upright tomatoes need staking using soft string to tie them as soon as they are planted. In a greenhouse you can use string attached from the root ball up to the top of the greenhouse instead of a stake.
Pinch out the side shoots that appear between branches and then pinch out the top when a maximum of five trusses have formed. At the base of the plant, remove leaves that begin to yellow but not any from above a ripening truss.
Bush tomatoes don’t require staking or pinching out, and compact varieties can be grown in hanging baskets. If grown in the earth, you do need to place straw or bark underneath to keep any fruit off the ground.
All tomatoes really like a drink, water well, never let plants dry out and, when the first fruits appear, start applying a liquid tomato feed.
Tomatoes attract their fair share of pests and diseases. If your plants suffer from blossom end rot, resulting from lack of water restricting calcium uptake a great tomato growing tip is to remove and destroy the affected fruits and make sure the compost is consistently moist. With tomato blight, the plants must be removed and burnt. Tomato ghost spot is less serious and the unaffected fruits may be eaten.
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