Bring me fun, bring me sunshine, bring me tomatoes

Tue, 07/02/2017 - 16:32 -- Nic Wilson
Growing tomatoes

If, like me, your diet is mainly based around seasonal fruit and vegetables, tomatoes are just a distant memory throughout the winter and spring months.

So when seed sowing begins in February, I long for fresh tomato, basil and mozzarella salads, fingers coated in yellow dust from tomato foliage and my kids popping in and out of the greenhouse on cherry tomato hunts.

Last year we grew ‘Green Zebra’ (came top in the children’s taste test), ‘Golden Sunrise’ (sweet, medium sized tomatoes), ‘Black Krim’ (deep purple beefsteak variety), ‘Indigo Rose’ (almost black with flashes of red under the calyx and a really meaty taste), alongside ‘Gardener’s Delight’ (sweet and prolific), ‘Gartenperle’ (my favourite hanging basket variety) and a centiflor variety called ‘Millefleur’ (huge numbers of fruit on each truss, but a disappointing taste). This year we’re keeping our sweetest tasting varieties: ‘Golden Sunrise’ and ‘Gardener’s Delight’, plus tangy ‘Green Zebra’ and adding ‘Tigarella’, chosen for its yellow stripes and sweet flavour. We’ll also be growing tomatillos again. These piquant fruits, also called Mexican husk tomatoes (Physalis philadelphica), are members of the nightshade family and are closely related to Cape Gooseberries. Popular in Mexican salsa, guacamole and sauces, tomatillos are a great addition to a kitchen garden. They are an undemanding, prolific crop and require similar growing conditions to tomatoes.

Most tomatoes and tomatillos are best sown indoors from late February to early April and they are ready to plant out around 8 weeks after sowing. They can be planted in the greenhouse in April/May or outdoors from the end of May, after the last frosts.

  • Before sowing, ensure all equipment is clean
  • Use fresh compost in a seed tray, modules or pots, or a windowsill propagator with peat-free growing pockets
  • Sow seed thinly, label and cover with a polythene bag (if not using a propagator)
  • Place in a warm place or propagator at around 18-20°C and keep the surface of the compost moist
  • Once germination occurs (usually 7-14 days), place in a warm, well-lit place
  • Prick out into an 8cm pot once the seedling has 4 leaves
  • Grow the seedlings on indoors until ready to plant out in the greenhouse or garden

To avoid the seedlings becoming leggy, ensure plants have enough space and light. If plants are on the windowsill, you could try using a homemade silver foil grow box (half a cardboard box lined with silver foil to reflect sunlight onto the back of the plant) which I’ve found successful in the past. Alternatively, turn pots by 180° once or twice a day to encourage strong, straight plant growth.

You could also try lightly running your fingers over the seedlings each day to stimulate strong plant growth. The theory is that seedlings in a natural environment would be exposed to weather conditions which would rock the plant, encouraging it to develop strong roots and a sturdy stem. Last year I enjoyed the daily ritual of tickling my seedlings and they certainly grew into strong, healthy plants, so I’ll be cultivating a close relationship with this year’s seedlings too.