Tomatoes are relatively simple to grow once you know what you are doing, but they can be daunting for beginners.
This simple step-by-step guide will teach you all the basics, and before you know it, you will be tucking into your homegrown harvest. And trust me, there is nothing quite like homegrown tomatoes!
Outdoor vs Indoor
The first question you will have to answer is: do you want to grow your tomatoes indoors/in a greenhouse or outdoors?
Most of us in the UK tend to grow tomatoes in a greenhouse, although they can be grown outside with success.
If you are in America, you will probably be growing them outdoors, depending on your climate.
Tomatoes like sun and heat and are vulnerable to late spring and early autumn frosts.
The early autumn frost is the main reason I grow my tomatoes in a greenhouse. Otherwise, you risk losing many plants before you have had time to harvest them fully.
Most people will be best of sowing their
When you sow them depends on the setup you have.
I have heated seed mats and grow lights in my house, so I like to start my seeds really early. It’s February when I am writing this, and I have already started them!
If you are sowing in a greenhouse, you should not start them until much further into spring, usually around April in the UK.
I start my seeds early as this means I have larger plants to move out into the greenhouse when the time comes.
This helps you achieve a bigger harvest, but it isn’t essential if you don’t have the space to start your seeds inside.
Training & Pruning
Whether or not you train your tomatoes comes down to one thing, are they vining or bush tomatoes?
This question is answered by knowing if they are determinate or indeterminate tomatoes.
It will usually tell you on the seed packet, but if you are unsure, then a quick google of your variety name should give you the answer.
Determinate tomatoes grow to a set size, flower all at once and set all their tomatoes around the same time.
Indeterminate tomatoes are vining tomatoes and continue to grow throughout the season until being killed by the first frost. It is these tomatoes that you need to prune.
Removing tomato suckers is the most basic level of pruning on a tomato plant.
The suckers are the side shoots you can see in the above photo.
They come out from the main stem just above a leaf.
These will grow into an entirely new stem if left to their own devices. We remove them because otherwise, the plant grows large and bushy and doesn’t produce as many tomatoes.
So instead, we remove these side shoots and force the plant to grow vertically rather than outwards.
Removing Lower Leaves
As the plants grow ever skywards, it is advised to remove the lower leaves, leaving the stem bare as in the photo above.
This is not essential, but it does help the plant in a few ways.
Firstly these older leaves are not doing much anymore. Almost all of the photosynthesis will take place in the young leaves at the top.
What they are doing, though, is taking up water and energy to maintain.
Also, removing the lower leaves frees up a lot of space for air to flow, reducing the chances of fungal diseases affecting your toms.
Topping your tomato plants is simply the act of removing the growing tip of the plant once it has reached a certain size.
This stops the plant from growing any taller and instead focuses all its energy on developing its remaining fruit.
It is generally recommended to do this once the plant has four of five trusses on it.
I, however, do not top my tomatoes and instead keep them growing until the frost gets them.
Whether this works to your advantage depends on the weather that year and how early the first frosts arrive, but I like to live on the wild side and risk an early frost to get a few extra toms.
If you don’t top your plants, you often end up with some green tomatoes that don’t have time to ripen. This isn’t a problem for me, though, as I love green tomato chutney.
You will also want to train your tomatoes to a support as they grow.
This can be anything you want, but they need something to hold them up. Otherwise, they are prone to flopping over.
I like to use the string method. This is by far the simplest way of training a tomato plant I have found so far.
Simply support a string and dangle it down to the base of your plant. As your tomato grows, twist it around the string.
Feeding & Watering
Keeping your tomatoes well-fed and watered is essential to maximising your harvest.
You will be watering them regularly during the summer, often once a day. This is important if you are growing your tomatoes in grow bags as they dry out quickly.
You can always use a collar (see below) to help with this.
- Specially designed pot for growing in growbags
- Set of 6, measuring 26 centimetres across, so three fit neatly on a growbag
- The inner and outer watering troughs make feeding and watering easy
You will also want to feed regularly with a high potash feed to promote flowering and fruit development.
This is simple enough as there are lots of dedicated tomato feeds on the market.
Tomatoes are best picked when fully ripened and have turned a nice dark red.
They can be picked early and will still ripen if placed on a sunny windowsill, but getting them when they are fully ripe is best.
I like to use my fruit-picking shears and snip full trusses off the plant at once.
There are tonnes of tomato varieties to choose from. This year I am experimenting and growing about ten different types to find the ones I like.
Why not sign up to my newsletter to keep up to date with lots of experiments like this?
If you want an excellent place to start, then tumbling tom is a great cherry tomato to grow, and moneymaker is a tremendous standard-sized tomato.