Growing tomatoes: dos and don'ts

Posted: Thursday 11 March 2010
by Kate Bradbury

I once viewed a flat and the prospective landlady pulled out a dead tomato plant that had been growing on her window sill, asking me why it hadn't fruited.

TomatoesMy experience of growing tomatoes has been relatively trouble-free. My outdoor plants often get blight towards the end of the season, but even then it doesn't seem to affect the crop too much. Once my plants refused to grow after I transplanted them. Not for a couple of weeks, as you would expect when plants exhibit a 'check' in growth, but for about two months. I eventually threw them out and replaced them.

I'm something of a tomato counsellor for my friends, whose attempts at growing tomatoes are commendable, if nothing else. There are friends who grow the plants indoors and wonder why they don't fruit (the flowers need pollinating); friends whose plants flower and fruit but the tomatoes rot at the ends (blossom end rot caused by irregular watering); friends whose indoor plants 'got bugs so I threw them in the bin' (I give up) and my poor friend Eli, whose plants flowered and fruited but the tomatoes kept splitting as they ripened (no amount of arguing convinced me she'd been watering them enough).

It's not just my friends, I once viewed a flat and the prospective landlady pulled out a dead tomato plant that had been growing on her window sill, asking me why it hadn't fruited. From what I could tell it was a cordon type and was planted in a 10cm diameter pot. The poor thing didn't have a hope.

So to recap: if you grow tomatoes indoors you will need to pollinate them. This is easy as the male and female parts are contained within each flower. Just give the plant a good shake to dislodge the pollen. Water your plant regularly and feed once a week with diluted tomato fertiliser when flowers appear. This encourages the plants to keep flowering and produce more fruit.

Find out whether your plant is a cordon or bush type. Cordons usually produce regular-sized tomatoes and need staking and growing in large pots or growing bags (three plants per bag). Bush types may be grown in smaller containers and usually produce cherry tomatoes and don't need staking. Popular cordon types are 'Moneymaker' and 'Gardeners' Delight' (which confusingly produces cherry tomatoes), and bush types to try include 'Tumbling Tom', 'Gartenperle' and 'Red Alert'.

Shieldbug eggs on tomato flowerPlease don't worry about 'bugs'. Indoor plants can be misted with water to increase humidity and halt red spider mite infestations. Anyway not all bugs are bad, last year some shieldbugs raised a family on my outdoor tomato plants. This was very cute.

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Gardeners' World Web User 11/03/2010 at 18:39

This is my first year of trying to grow tomatoes - will need to keep this blog and refer back to it. I do love this site, so great to just click the mouse and get so much free info!

Gardeners' World Web User 11/03/2010 at 18:56

Did get blight last year and ruined the plum toms and affected some others but still had a pretty good crop of mixed varieties. The bush toms were completely unaffected.

Gardeners' World Web User 11/03/2010 at 19:16

Haven't grown any toms for a few years but have been inundated with packets of seed, so will just have to grow some this year. Our patio faces South and gets very warm in Summer. Just have to keep up with the watering.

Gardeners' World Web User 11/03/2010 at 20:17

my 1st time 2 years ago i brought 2 tomatoes beefeater and money maker put them in my front garden and my kids ate 1 each on the way to school lovely but last year all mine got blight its luck of the draw weather wise going to try a small net circle to block the cold wind from them this year see how that goes

Gardeners' World Web User 12/03/2010 at 11:38

This will be my third year of growing tomatoes. The first year I grew them inside my greenhouse and outside on my veggie plot, the ones outside got blight and then it was transferred into the greenhouse (probably by me), I lost about 30 plants. So last year after thoroughly disinfecting the greenhouse I only grew them inside in grow bags-12 plants of assorted varieties. I didn't pollinate them myself, but I did grow lots of marigold's with them, to stop whitefly and I left the door and window's open during the day so the bees could do the pollinating for me. I had such a huge crop that I had to give lots away even after making more tomato sauce than my freezer could cope with and having tomatoes with nearly every meal. My husband said he didn't want to look at another tomato, so I promised him I would cut down on the number of plants I grow this year - probably!! I keep telling him how good they are for you, full of cancer fighting Licopene.

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