Hartley Magazine

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

Tomatoes ‘need careful maintenance’

Tomatoes are a familiar feature in most kitchens and any meal. Whether appearing in their native form in a salad, or turned into a puree, soup or ketchup, the fruit is a easy to take for granted.

But rather than always heading down the shops to buy them, many people might be keen to grow their own. It is a fruit that grows naturally in hot countries – it was only introduced to Europe by Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez in the 1520s. This means that using a greenhouse or conservatory could be a good idea – particularly if growing them in winter.

The name tomato – Solanum lycopersicum in Latin – refers both to the fruit and the plant. The later can grow to anything from three to ten ft in height, so anyone planning to have one in their greenhouse must have enough room if they get a big one.

However, with the warmer weather coming, it is possible to get started now and move them outside to flourish later.

Writing in UK national newspaper the Daily Telegraph, celebrity gardener and former presenter of the Gardener's World television show Sarah Raven said the way to get started is to get a packet of seeds and put them in compost rows in a seed tray. They should be poked in, but not covered. When watered, however, there should be a very light sprinkling of compost on top.

Gardeners must be careful not to water them too much, however, while the temperature needs to be monitored – it needs to be 15 degrees C to germinate.

These methods – used and recommended by David Blake of Worton Organic Garden in Oxfordshire – should help establish a number of seedlings, from which the strongest can be selected after three weeks. About two inches high, they can be potted individually. Come the middle of May, it will be possible to plant them outside and, with luck and decent weather, in around 50 days they should be producing fruit. Each one should be planted under cover, deeply rooted and be 18 inches away from its neighbour.

If it is wet, it may be wise to introduce some extra pollen with a rabbit tail, to tackle the comparative lack of pollinating insects. This will be unnecessary if it is sunny – but if these methods are followed, gardeners should find some lovely red fruit emerging this year, providing something nice, juicy and produced with a minimal carbon footprint.