My first experience of growing tomatoes by Sue Ryan

Growing your own tomatoes at home is easier than you think!

 

In 2000, Sue Ryan had her first go at growing her own tomatoes at home and found that it was a lot easier than she'd imagined, and she also saved money and provided fresh food for her family.

 

The first experience I had of growing tomatoes was back in the year 2000.

 

I bought six young tomato plants and two grow bags from a local garden centre and planted three of the plants in each.  One of the growbags was placed on the patio area against the house and the other was placed in full sun on the patio.

A bamboo cane was put behind each plant and as the plants grew, I used pieces of string to tie the plants to the canes for support. The plants were watered frequently and once the first fruits had set, they were also given a weekly feed with tomato food. Very soon we had some lovely tomatoes and as there were far too many for us, we gave them away to family and friends.

I wasn't the only one to water the plants though - we had a male dog at the time and he watered the plants that were in full sun - and he watered them several times a day. It was these tomatoes that performed better than the others and needless to say, it was those ones which we gave away, but we didn't tell the grateful recipients what they had been watered with and we were thanked very much for the tasty tomatoes. It was only in recent years that I found out that urine is high in nitrogen and the plants were benefiting from it.

After finding how easy it was to grow tomatoes, I was so happy with my first attempt at growing something to eat that has not traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to get here that the following year I started growing them from seed myself. I find it so much more rewarding growing from seed rather than buying plants that have already been started.  I now save my own seed using the same method as a friend recommended to me (Saving Tomato Seeds) and the germination rate is very near to 100%.

How to grow tomatoes from seed

 

Here in the southern part of the UK, I grow most of my tomatoes in the greenhouse and sow the seeds around the third week of February. For those of you who live in the more northern parts of the UK, or if your tomatoes will be finally planted outside, it would be best to delay sowing until the middle to end of March. The seed is sown just under the surface of damp compost (I use multi-purpose compost for everything at all stages), I place a propagator lid over the top of the tray and leave them in the heated greenhouse (heated at 20C).  If you do not have the use of a heated greenhouse, you can use an electric propagator instead, or you can place the tray of seeds on a warm windowsill.  

Once the seeds germinate, the propagator lid is removed for the seedlings to grow and when the seedlings are large enough to handle, they are potted up individually into 3 inch (approx 7.5cm) pots and watered. The heater in the greenhouse is reduced at this stage to around 15C). After this, the compost is kept just moist, never too wet or allowed to dry out.  

The seedlings are left to grow into nice strong plants and when the roots have filled the pot, they are ready to be planted into their final planting position. I plant mine into 12 inch (approx 30cm) pots with the bottoms cut off and they are placed on a tray of gravel. When I plant them into the tubs I plant them quite deep so that the first set of leaves is just above the compost - this allows the plants to develop a strong root system. I also put a four foot cane in the pot to tie the plant to as it grows.  

Any plants that are going to be planted outside will need hardening off first - this is to get the plants used to the change of the lower temperature outside and is done by placing the plants outside for a couple of hours during the day and they are taken back into the greenhouse at night. The length of time outside can gradually be increased until they are ready to be planted out after any frost risks for your area are over (here it is about the end of May). During this time, once the night-time temperatures begin reaching a minimum of 10C, the heater in the greenhouse can safely be switched off.

I water the gravel in the tray, which gets sucked up by the strong growing roots and as the plants grow, they are tied to the canes for support. Once the plants reach the top of the cane, I pinch out the growing tip and this encourages the plants to branch out. It is recommended for certain types of tomato to remove side-shoots that form and although I tried it one year, I didn't find any difference in the performance of any of the plants, so now I do not bother to remove the side-shoots.

The plants will need room for air to circulate properly around them. Throughout the summer, I leave the greenhouse doors open during the day to allow the air and pollinating insects in, the doors are left open on hot nights too.

The plants will not need supplementary feeding until the first tomatoes have begun to appear. I use a homemade comfrey feed and if I run out of that, I use an organic tomato feed, but any tomato food can be used. The plants are fed once a week to begin with and when the plants begin to get covered in tomatoes, they are fed twice a week. When I feed, it is watered into the top of the pot where the feeding roots are.

The tomatoes here usually begin to start ripening in July, depending on how decent a summer we get and carry on cropping and ripening until September/October. As the natural light levels tend to dwindle around the beginning of September, I remove some of the leaves off the plants to allow the light to get to the fruits.  

Ripe Tigerella tomato

  Copyright Sue Ryan 2009