How to grow perfect tomatoes amid shortages in the UK

how to grow tomatoes
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Are you wondering how to grow perfect tomatoes this spring? Tomatoes always taste so much better when they have been picked straight from the garden and received some genuine care and affection.

With British supermarkets limiting the sales of tomatoes amid shortages, now is the perfect time to slip on your gardening gloves and grow your own juicy tomatoes from seed. According to Google data, searches for 'tomato shortage' have increased by 238% in the last week, with 'how to grow tomatoes' and 'tomato seeds' also up by 909% and 235%, respectively.

Craig Wilson, a gardening expert from Gardeners Dream, says the best tomatoes are grown early. "You can grow them indoors as early as January, transferring to the garden after two months when the weather is milder," he says. "It takes about five months from seedling to harvest, so they should be ready in time for the summer."

how to grow tomatoes
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How to grow perfect tomatoes

So, if you've wondering how to grow the perfect tomatoes (and care for them like a pro), follow these top tips from gardening experts Stephanie Donaldson and Craig Wilson.

Before you begin, you will need:

  • Starter trays

  • 3-4 inch pots to transfer them into after they begin to grow

  • Rich, fertile soil or peat-free potting compost

  • Gardening gloves

  • A good spot with plenty of sun (around eight hours a day) and shelter

Now it's time to start growing your tomatoes. You can either choose to grow them from seed or pick up a tomato plant at your local garden centre. Keep reading for everything you need to know:

1. Choose the right type of plant for your needs
Bush tomatoes need no staking and are ideal for containers and hanging baskets. Cordon tomatoes are tall plants that will need the support of a cane. Alternatively, tomato moneymaker seeds are great for beginners as they are one of the most reliable varieties of tomatoes.

2. Prepare your patch
"To ensure your tomatoes have the best chance of growing plump and juicy, you need to check your soil is of the highest quality possible with four easy steps," explains Craig.

"Remove any larger weeds and debris. Then, treat soil with weedkiller. Dig over the soil to a depth of at least 12 inches, then rake until the ground is level, which aerates the soil, helping oxygen and moisture reach the roots to encourage growth. Before planting, water the soil and work in a fertiliser."

how to grow tomatoes
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3. How to grow tomatoes
Dig deep enough for the soil to cover about two-thirds of the plant, encouraging strong roots and healthy growth," Craig continues.

"Each plant should be around 20 inches apart in rows, and the spacing of each row should be double that. Make sure to water the plants consistently. When watering, check the soil's moisture; the water should go around ten inches deep. Tomato trellises and support stakes can help your plants to grow. Don’t grow tomatoes near cabbage, fennel, corn, or potatoes, as this will harm the tomatoes' growth."

3. How to look after your chosen plant
• When the roots begin to poke through the bottom of the pot, make sure you repot the plant into a larger and deeper pot to provide them with enough root space to grow happily.

• Be sure to use high quality, peat-free multipurpose compost and plant deeply. To build up a lovely strong plant, you can even bury the bottom layer of leaves.

• Don't neglect your tomatoes! They will need daily watering and will do best in a sunny, sheltered place such as a greenhouse.

• Regularly pinch out the side shoots in order to encourage fruiting.

• You should aim to repot at least once more as the plant matures, ending up with a plant growing in a 25cm pot, or two or three plants in a growbag.

• Before the fruit starts to set on the first flower truss, liquid feed with a general purpose fertiliser. Afterwards, give your tomatoes a liquid tomato feed every five days.

• Once a cordon tomato has 4 trusses of fruit, pinch out the growing tips at the top of the plant. This will encourage the fruit to swell beautifully.

• Remove any yellowing leaves as you go along, and as the fruit starts to ripen you can start to remove the lower leaves of cordon plants to speed up the process, as they take up valuable nutrients as it makes it way up the plant.

how to grow tomatoes
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4. Harvesting
"It is safe to harvest tomatoes in the summer, from July to October," advises Craig. "Tomatoes ripen after picking but wait until they are beginning to change colour before harvesting. They should come off the vine easily. If not quite ripe, keep them in a well-ventilated area at home until they are ready to eat."

So there you have it. Follow these expert tips to enjoy your very own home-grown tomatoes, perfectly sun-ripened and harvested straight from plant to plate.

And once they're ready for your plate, choose from one of our favourite tomato recipes...

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