Tomatoes are the nation’s favourite patio fruit and they’re so easy. Helen Billiald explains how to get them started
As a nation we’ve taken tomatoes to our hearts. From tomato ketchup and pasta sauces to the cherry tomatoes that grace every summer salad, we love the sweet and sharp flavour combination of this juicy fruit.
When you’re choosing a cultivar, ask yourself what you like to eat and how you intend to grow it. Are you after a beefsteak for slicing with mozzarella, fleshy plum tomatoes for a rich sauce, or perhaps you’re after juicy little cherry tomatoes to pop into your mouth straight from the plant?
How you grow your plant will depend on whether it’s a cordon or bush cultivar. Cordon (sometimes called ‘indeterminate’) tomatoes are grown as a tall main stem, removing any side shoots as it grows. These are ideal for greenhouse growing, or sheltered sites where you can set up supports.
Alternatively, grow bush (determinate) tomatoes. These are lower-growing, branching types where you don’t need to pinch out the side shoots. They’re often earlier to crop although may not crop for as long. They suit patio containers and hanging baskets where their branches will tumble over the side.
Q. Why didn’t my tomatoes ripen?
A. Tomatoes originate from South America and it can be hard to give them a long enough growing season with enough sunlight and warmth. Choose an early fruiting cultivar; bush cultivars tend to fruit earlier than cordons. Try ‘Latah’ a super early bush salad tomato (£3.27 for 20 seeds from Real Seeds www.realseeds.co.uk).
Q. Have they got tomato blight or are they just too dry?
A. Look out for brown patches on leaves and stems, ultimately spreading on to the fruit, which then swiftly rot. Outdoor plants are more prone to blight because there’s more chance of them being exposed to wind-blown spores. There are some excellent blight resistant cultivars now on the market (see panel).
Q. Why did my tomatoes split?
A. Cracked fruit is a sign of erratic watering. Outdoor fruit is prone when downpours follow dry weather, in the greenhouse it’s up to you to keep things constant.
Q. What’s blossom end rot?
A. Fruit develops black circles at their tip. This isn’t blight, it’s ‘blossom end rot’ a sign of calcium deficiency caused by too little water, most commonly seen in greenhouse plants. Set up an automatic drip irrigation system if you can’t water daily.
Q. How can I get the tastiest fruit?
A. Cultivar choice has a huge influence on taste but a second factor is how you grow your plant. Fruit from heavily watered plants seems more insipid than plants grown a little ‘harder’ where flavours appears more concentrated.
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