Hartley Magazine

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Tomatoes are the greenhouse crop most often grown. True in sheltered gardens a few varieties crop outside most summers. But under cover you have more sorts for more of the year with much tastier varieties.

Plum Shaped Italian San Marzano Tomatoes

And what variety, tomatoes come in almost every colour other than blue, even striped ones. Any seed catalogue will bewilder you while specialists offer hundreds more. Of course you can just buy plants down the road but then you seldom get much choice. Even so you’re likely to find such rightly popular ones as Gardener’s Delight long admired for remarkably tasty bite size fruits or a close rival the orange Sungold. Ailsa Craig is larger and well flavoured while Alicante, another long popular variety is a better cropper, St Pierre an old French favourite is of course very flavoursome.

Many of the oldest varieties tend to be small with some only currant sized, most modern toms are bigger and generally perfectly round. Sadly good flavour has often been  exchanged for size, appearance and reliability. Taste is personal anyway, however the size and eating quality of some, especially those known as beefsteaks, can be far more delicious than any you’ve had before. Pink Brandywine has big ribbed fruits that make a gorgeous meal on their own with only bread and salt (though admittedly the plants can be downright miffy).

With beefsteaks you must not be greedy, the bigger the fruit the less the plants can carry so for really huge beefsteaks you need thin drastically reducing the number before they swell. One unusual sort you ought to grow are the plum shaped Italian selections such as San Marzano. These are poor for eating raw but fantastic once cooked making these supreme for frying, sauces and soups.

Growing tomatoes is remarkably easy from seed simplest sown individually in tiny pots of compost and moved up to bigger and bigger ones as they grow. The plants will crop eventually if just fed and watered but  they soon get huge, sprawling and taking up a lot of space and giving more vegetation than crop. So from an early age we train most varieties to a single long stem tied up to a support. All side-shoots are nipped off as soon as they’re seen (these can be rooted and grown on as extra plants).

Tomato flowers usually self pollinate but you can help with a feather. I won’t mention problems as to be honest they are many, but you still usually get a crop anyway. Importantly the bigger the pots or preferably tubs the bigger the crop will be and use a rich potting compost kept generously watered (tomatoes can also be grown in the greenhouse border if it’s well enriched).

Many will expect they need to feed constantly and maybe foliar feed as well to get even bigger crops. Be warned, if you over-feed tomatoes their taste becomes poorer. So keep your plants a tad on the hungry side and simply grow more of them.