I LOVE growing tomatoes –they’re the first plants I was given at the age of eight.
However, having one in a pot on your bedroom windowsill is a bit different to cultivating a conservatory full (I have no greenhouse), with four varieties on the go.
It’s a bit like having babies or pets. You can’t just go off on holiday and leave them – someone has to come in and water them every day, unless you shell out a fortune for a complicated self-watering system.
Yes, they’re a pain and not the easiest things to grow, but once you’re in the swing of it, home-grown tomatoes are worlds apart from the waterless mush you buy in supermarkets. And they’ll save you a fortune.
I only grow indoor cordon (intermediate) varieties. This is because my conservatory is 30ft long and only 6ft wide – I wouldn’t be able to walk past bush ones.
I also live in the world’s windiest place, so outdoor varieties would be battered to bits and any pop-up tomato houses I’ve had in the past have quite literally blown away.
When you’re working out how many plant you’ve room for, don’t be tempted to pack too many in.
I made this mistake last year, with tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, the latter of which were heavily attacked by greenfly, which I’d never had under glass before.
This has since been an ongoing problem, so I’m concentrating on more space, so any infected plants can be easily isolated.
When using growing bags, buy the biggest capacity you can get, preferably with moisture-retentive granules. “Value” bags dry out quickly and there’s not enough room for the roots, leading to blossom end rot in the fruit or flowers failing to set.
As well as grow bags, I use ring culture pots (basically bottomless plant pots) screwed into the soil. This gives a much bigger root run, as they are filled with compost.
You need three plants per bag and plant them deep – up to the first set of true leaves, as they’ll root from the stem. While planting, make sure they’re well staked, as high as your greenhouse roof, and tie them in regularly. These are big plants! For cordon varieties, you need to nip out any side shoots – there is only one main stem.
Fruits are borne in trusses, which can hold several tomatoes in large beefsteak varieties, to literally hundreds in mini cherries.
Depending on what you grow, the weather conditions and how high your roof is, plants will need to be “stopped” (have the main shoot cut out) after four-six trusses.
Later in summer, remove some of the lower leaves and any that are shading developing tomatoes.
Once they get going, they need watering every day, but use your judgment. If the soil is wet, leave it be. Irratic watering is harmful.
Start feeding with a high-potash product such as Tomorite when the first truss has set, or make your own liquid feed with comfrey – but it stinks!