Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Tomato Feast – Part 18

Nothing surpasses the flavour of home grown tomatoes, and with hundreds of different varieties available to grow from seed, you can indulge a desire to grow just about any type you fancy.

Greenhouse tomatoes can be sown as early as January but to do this you need to provide warmth and keep them totally frost free over what can be some of the coldest months of the year.

You can still sow greenhouse tomatoes now, but they will fruit later. Simply follow the instructions below. One of the major benefits of growing greenhouse tomatoes is that they are less susceptible to fungal diseases such as tomato blight, because they are protected by the confines of the greenhouse. March and April are a great time to sow outdoor tomato varieties which will mature and be ready to plant out as the last frosts of the season finish.

How to Cheat

To catch up with greenhouse tomatoes, simply wait until your local garden centre has healthy plants of good indoor varieties on sale and buy what you need. Alternatively order plug plants from a mail order specialist such as Suttons Seeds (www.suttons.co.uk).

How to sow

Unless you want to grow masses of tomatoes, sow the seeds into small pots. If space is short choose square pots as they fit more easily into limited space than round pots.

Fill the pots to the top with a fresh batch of quality seed compost. I like Westland John Innes Seed Sowing Compost with Sure Start, it’s a loam based, gritty compost that ensures good contact with the seed. Firm the compost gently so that it is about 12mm (1/2in) below the rim of the pot. Water the compost with tepid water and allow to drain. Make a series of shallow holes using a dibber and sow the seeds into these. As a rough guide you can sow 3 or 4 per pot. Cover over with a light layer of finely crumbled compost or a thin layer of vermiculite.

Label well and place into a heated propagator at 60-65F. Check daily and water sparingly when required. When the seedlings emerge after five to 10 days, move them into a warm (60-65F), light place to develop.

Pricking out

If you have sown several tomato seeds to a pot, it is essential to give them space to grow on. Prick them out into individual pots to grow on, or if you’ve sown two to a pot, simply remove the weaker seedling and allow the stronger one to develop.

  • To prick out, fill suitable, clean pots with compost. Hold the seedling by the seed leaves (the first pair of leaves that emerge when the seedling germinates and using a dibber or seedling tool, lift the root ball from the compost carefully.
  • Make a hole in the new compost and by holding the seed leaves, lower the root ball into the hole and firm in gently. Water with tepid water.


In the early stages of growth the compost that you use will provide sufficient nutrients for the developing plants. If plants are looking a bit pale after 3-4 weeks of growth then feed them with a general plant food.

Feed with a dedicated tomato food when the first truss of fruit has set, this will deliver all the necessary nutrients and trace elements to encourage strong healthy plants and a good crop of fruit.

Flowers and trusses

Tomato plants carry short side stems of flowers; these are called trusses. The flowers need to be pollinated either by insects, or if they are in a greenhouse, you may need to pollinate the early flowers with a paintbrush; brushing pollen from one flower and transferring it to the next. The truss has set when you can see tiny green balls of immature tomatoes in place of the flowers.

Allow up to five trusses to set on outdoor tomatoes; anymore are unlikely to ripen outside before the first frosts.