Nothing beats the flavour of a freshly picked, home-grown tomato. With every size, shape and colour now available, there’s a tomato for everyone – even balcony gardeners.
Growing Tomato Plants
Tomato see are easy to produce, provided they come from a traditional variety and not from a hybrid. Put the pulp of a ripe tomato into a bowl and add a little water. Soon a whitish film will form on the surface of the liquid.
After 36 hours, add more water and stir – this process separates the seeds from the pulp, and the seeds will sink to the bottom. Strain the liquid through a sieve, rinse the seeds under the cold tap and then leave to dry on a piece of paper towel.
Gemination of tomato seeds requires warmth. Usually the natural warmth of spring is enough, but in cooler climates, gardeners can use a few tricks to get them growing ahead of spring. Sow seeds into small pots or cell trays in late winter in a warm place, such as in a heated propagator, a foam box or even on top of your hot water system.
Seedlings can be planted out once they have produced three or four leaves and all threat of frost is gone. If the spring weather is unpredictable in your area, transplant them into individual pots and keep in a warm, sheltered spot for a few more weeks.
Staking plants is essential as they have a naturally trailing or climbing habit. Training them upwards means they take up less space and escape the adverse effects of damp soil, which promotes the development of diseases. Use tomato stakes 1.5-2m long and push them into the ground near the base of each plant.
As the plants grow, use raffia or string to tie the stems to the stakes. Push stakes into the ground about 600mm apart, so that the plants have enough room to grow. Make a planting hole about 100mm in front of each stake and position the seedlings carefully – angling them towards the stakes slightly. Water plants and then gently pat down the soil around them, being careful not to damage the stems. As the plants grow, you can begin to tie them against the stakes to give them the support they need.
TIP Use new stakes every year, as they can harbour fungus. Instead of round stakes, buy square ones to prevent slippage. Use soft ties, such as old stockings – not string or wire.
are a good way to give tomato plants the regular watering they need. Sink a small flowerpot into the ground near the base of each stake. Pour water into this every day so that it fills up and then slowly drains into the soil near the plants.
Another method is to remove the top from the neck of a two-litre plastic bottle, cut the bottle in half and sink the neck into the ground. Fill it with water every day. During the growing season, tomatoes need regular feeding, so use this water reservoir for applying water-soluble fertiliser. You can also feed the tomatoes with liquid manure made from nettle or comfrey.