This concise guide on growing tomatoes is essentially written for beginners, however, some intermediary or advanced gardeners can also find new ideas or some inspiration here.
We’ll include the why, what and how to grow tomatoes in our own climate as well as when and where to grow them. Also, we’ll be talking care, transplanting, pruning tomatoes, and finally harvesting.
Whether you choose to grow tomato plants indoors or outdoors, I can guarantee that you’ll be most certainly rewarded with your efforts.
Why, you asked? Easy. Let me break it down for you.
The prep work is short, fun and the results enjoyable not to mention tasty and nutritious. The only inconvenience (if i can say that) is waiting for the tiny tomato bud to pop through and of course the growing process. But I’m sure, and you’ll all agree that is exciting for sure.
Where do tomatoes come from?
I trust most people know where it comes from, but if you are new to growing your own produce you may not know it.
Tomato has its origins in south American countries.
But you’ll find a multitude of tomato varieties around the globe today. We can see (and enjoy) that tomatoes have evolved into one of the world’s most popular food crops.
Today’s tomatoes began as wild plants in the Andes, growing in parts of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
Note: If you fancy contributing to a global movement of farmers fighting for health, justice, and sustainability
Related: Fun facts, and indian tomato recipe
What does a beginner need to know before starting growing tomatoes?
Well, if you are reading this post and asking yourself that question, then you must really want to get your hands dirty. Or not. Get some garden gloves. You thought, I need to get some tomato seedlings plus a few small pots and we’re done. Humm, it doesn’t quite work that way.
You’ll need some paper, a pen some information and scheduled a bit of time. Let’s go, and don’t get to excited 🙂 … yet.
It’s fairly simple really.
When starting the planning of growing tomato plants the first three things (maybe four) on the top of your list should be:
1) peat plug pellets
2) soil with nutrients (to add later on)
3) quality tomato seedlings
4) small tray (if you don’t have one).
Make sure you buy quality tomato seedlings. This is important and for that reason you will be better off getting them from garden centres or certified reseller outlets. Because you are almost certain to get better quality than those bought in the supermarkets.
Depending on where you are, you can either order them on the Internet, and I am sure you get the seedlings quick enough if you purchase online.
Yeah, you have them. Time to:
- Open the packet and place a few per pellets,
- Organise them within the tray or propagator ( which are great to have by the way).
Being conscious about getting top notch quality seedlings helps going forward. But also, have you ask yourself why should you grow your own instead of buying them from the supermarket?
You don’t know what you are going to get in terms of flavour, let me say that the quality isn’t always there. It is also true that industrially produced tomatoes are mostly grown in poor soil environments or fed with artificial fertilisers, so they can last longer during the transportation and shelve lifecycle.
We are happy to share from a recent study that organic or homegrown tomatoes have a much more complex rich chemistry than the commercially produced fruits.
All six good components (image below) were detected in all organic tomato samples whereas only four of them were found in conventional samples.
If you are happy to read a scientific article or you can download the full article there too.
(figure 2 above) – Shows a complete farming campaign where all bioactive compounds were identified as markers in organic tomato crops by HRAMS
Its worth mentioning that tomatoes are a major source of good compounds (polyphenolic) in the human diet. To get these deep and mouthwatering rich flavours, you are better off planting your own tomato plants.
Homegrown tomatoes are delicious, healthier with higher levels of the pigment ‘Lycopene’. Hint: Lycopene has been recognised to help fight and/or unclog blocked arteries. This also tells us in a way, why the Mediterranean diet is so healthy.
Best time of the year to grow your own tomatoes?
The growing season you asked? You actually need to plan and prep as explained above. You access this date seed calculator online and check the best dates depending where you are.
This allows you to see when to start seedlings before transplanting outside. In general you can start middle January so you will start harvest begin of spring.
J, F, M = Perfect for sowing – May and June: Planting time
What else do I need to start growing tomato plants inside?
From the 3 step above to grow tomatoes and if you after a quick healthy and early crop, you should probably purchase the ‘Money Maker’ tomato. A great easy start, you just need to follow the packet’s instructions.
Here are the some of other materials and tools needed to sow & flourish tomatoes indoors:
a) Propagators – help pre-germination stage (If you don’t have plastic trays, I recommend egg carton- keep the lid open during the day until they are out.)
b) LED grow light – If no much sun – Tip: To grow healthy tomatoes you’ll need a suitable artificial light source with temperatures at 75°F to 80°F – is 23.89°c (Celsius) and a [plant] variety that will stay short,
c) Heat mat – (It’s technically optional, if you have a propagator.)
d) A sunny window – or spot in your house for a large pot or container (Make sure it has good drainage.)
e) Water (of course)
You’ll then (finally) reach the stage where the newly grown plants have reached about 16-20 cm (6-8 inches) tall with flowers coming out of the first truss. You are ready to repot the tomato plant into larger pots or move it into your greenhouse. You wanna be sure you add plenty of multi-compost, and do remember to rake in a good fertiliser before planting outside.
How and Why growing tomatoes from seeds?
The obvious reason to grow tomatoes (that sprung to mind) is that you’ll soon discover the first shoot poke through the soil. A tiny tomato plant is born. You might feel even more excited, when you come back the next day, to find out that a few more are sprouting along.
Happy times, isn’t it, as all your efforts have been rewarded leaving you enjoy that big sense of achievement.
Secondly, if you got children of your own, it helps them understand where their food comes from and perhaps they will be more tempted to want to eat it – if they are fussy eaters – we all know one right? And if you teach them the process, it could be a great fun too.
Thirdly but not last, it’s a great way to save money on grocery shopping.
What motivates many people to start growing tomatoes from seed at home (the same applies for me) is that it offers little effort especially when they have a hefty selection of varieties to choose from. You can find tomatoes that are unlikely to be found at our local supermarket. Only a few garden centres or plant nurseries will have them. You normally can buy a packet of about 20-25 seeds for for less than £1 or $0.99.
So, it’s up to you to figure out what type of tomatoes you will be harvesting. See below to select which type you be picking. Whether you’re looking to eat raw or add them to a summer, spring salad, oven baked pizza, tomato sauce, we know that there’s an array of possibilities to choose from before you start seeding the tomatoes of your choice.
How many tomato varieties can we find?
Above we quickly talked about dozens of tomato varieties. I don’t about you but I didn’t know all of them. I did a search and we discover (now) that there are more than 10,000 types. But, if you have the exact number please share the link in the comments box below.
- Beefmaster (popular hybrid beefsteak)
- Big Beef
- Brandywine (a pink heirloom variety)
- Bucking Bronco
- Roma – The traditional Italian perfect for canning and making pasta sauce. Not the best for fresh eating flavour but cook and freeze well.
Where and When to grow tomatoes
Tomato plants require lots of sunlight and in the winter (minimum 4-5 hours) full sun exposure. This is especially true if you leave in the UK and/or some nordic countries.
Sweden for example, has become a nordic leader in terms of growing tomatoes sustainably all year round thanks to renewable energy. If you live in those parts, remember that tomatoes don’t thrive in cool conditions and they are better off kept inside a polytunnel or greenhouse.
South of Europe where sunlight and warmth is largely abundant, the tomato plant will prosper much quicker, however, you will want to water it minimum twice a day and shade it if too hot.
When should you start harvest tomatoes?
The best way to find out when your tomatoes are ready to pick – is to feel with your hand if the fruits are fully ripen but also if they’ve full red colour. Look out for the end of the summer season where the frost could arrive without warning. Tomatoes can be frozen if you like or why not make it into a purée.
Tomato plants grow from seedlings, these tiny little things will germinate from warm temperatures, soil and water. That is special don’t you think? Especially if this is your first time. If you are not a seasonal gardner yet, your best option is – seedling and start with small quantities. This works a treat.
Always remember to water your plants, but don’t over do it. Pruning suckers of determinate tomatoes can improve harvesting later on. Also be aware that plants don’t like too much direct sunlight as it can also be bad for your crop.
Tomatoes need high light intensity to grow well, but too hot or too much can cause blotches, scalds or spots on the growing fruit. ‘Greenback’ is a common problem caused by too much sunlight, leaving the ripe fruit with a hard green area on its ‘shoulder’.
Good luck with your seedlings.
Please share in the comments how you are fairing along. 🙂
Credit tomato image by Alexas 🎄