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Gardeners Advice

Sowing tomatoes for a tasty summer treat

Sowing tomatoes for a tasty summer treat

Posted By: rocket veg Category: Growing Veg, Seasonal Advice

Tomato plants are surprisingly easy to grow and home-grown tomatoes taste wonderful! If you follow a few basic rules, the seeds germinate readily and in no time at all you should have a collection of seedlings which can be brought on and lovingly nurtured until it’s time to plant them out in early summer. Tomatoes need rich soil, lots of water, regular feeding and warmth. They generally do better in a greenhouse, polytunnel or similar structure but will also thrive in a sheltered spot in full sun – a corner of the patio maybe. Indoors or outside, the ideal container for tomato plants is the ubiquitous ‘growing bag’ which not only contains the right mix of compost, but also retains much needed moisture and nutrients around the roots of the tomato plant.

How to sow tomato seed

If you intend to grow your tomato plants from seed, the time to make a start is approaching, the aim being to have strong and healthy plants ready to plant outside or ‘under glass’ as soon as the risk of frost has passed. Over the years, I have tried various containers in which to sow tomato seed and have found that what works best for me is a 9cm pot for each variety, filled with good moist seed compost (peat-free of course!). Tomato seeds are small and therefore tricky to handle, so here’s a handy tip: put the seeds onto a saucer, then damp the end of a discarded match stick and use this to pick a single seed up and place it on the surface of the compost. I then gently push the seed a short way into the compost and aim to sow eight or nine seeds in a pot of this size. Once done, sprinkle vermiculite or a layer of fine compost over the surface and water gently to avoid dislodging the seeds.

This year I have sown Sweet Baby (sweet cherry fruits with great flavour), Cuor di Bue (‘heart of ox’ – big, pointed fruits); Tigerella (‘Mr Stripy’ which fruit early); and Rosella, a new variety for me. I try to keep a record of how well each variety performs so that I know which work best for me.

Germination tips

At this stage, having a heated germination tray is helpful. Simply put the pot/s of tomato seed in, switch on, and the first tiny seedlings will appear in a matter of a few days. As soon as this happens, remove the pot/s from the germinator. Left in, the seedlings will quickly become leggy with thin, weak stems. If you don’t have a germinator, simply pop each pot on a saucer inside a polythene bag with the open end tucked underneath and place the whole thing in a warm place – an airing cupboard is the ideal spot. In general, tomato seeds germinate in three to five days depending on variety. Once the tiny pale green shoots appear, remove the pots and stand them in a saucer in a cool but bright spot so that they can put on steady growth. Too much warmth and the seedlings will become leggy and weak

Potting up tomato seedlings

Put the pots containing your tiny seedlings in a well-lit spot (a sunny windowsill is perfect) and treat them with great care, avoiding letting the compost dry out and turning each pot so that the seedlings grow as straight as possible. Once each seedling has developed a pair of true leaves (you’ll know them when you see them) they are ready to transplant into their own 9cm pots. Gently ease each from the pot – a small table fork makes the job simple. At this point, make a deep hole with a suitable dibber and sink each seedling with its delicate roots low in the compost to encourage more roots to develop higher up the stem. Water well, allowing surplus water to drain away.

Next steps

As with all plants which are grown ‘to do their stuff’ in a single season, timing is important. Keep the tiny plants in a warm, well-lit place and ensure the compost stays reasonably moist but don’t allow the seedlings to stand in water. Tomato plants are frost tender, so the trick is to have them ready for transferring into their final growing place – growbag or large pot on a sunny patio or in a greenhouse – when the risk of cold nights has completely. If you prefer to buy tomato plants, these are normally available from April onwards, but don’t be in a rush to plant them out as a spell of cold weather will prove fatal.

If you have never grown your own tomatoes from seed, do give it a go this year. It is surprisingly easy and provided certain conditions - a good amount of sunshine, copious watering and regular feeding - are in place, you will be rewarded with a crop of delicious fruits. See our blog 'How to grow successful tomatoes' for the next steps (April).

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Riverside Garden Centre, Clift House Road
Southville, Bristol BS3 1RX
Get in touch! 0117 966 7535 Mon-Sat: 9.30-5.30 Sun: 10.30-4.30

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