Hartley Magazine

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

Tomato tricks and tips


Anyone that follows my features in the Hartley magazine, knows that I don’t usually encourage new gardeners to grow tomatoes.
And that’s because they are precocious little madams that demand constant attention and care. Now I don’t mind mollycoddling plants to ensure that they perform to their full potential, but there are a few booby traps that can catch you out when you grow tomatoes. This year there are other complications. Some tomato seed has been destroyed at the UK border, which could manifest in higher costs and availability issues for UK gardeners.
So, if you want to grow tomatoes from seed and you haven’t got your seed yet, get a wriggle on.

Buy tomato plants

Tomato cuttings.

If you’ve never grown tomatoes before then buy some ready grown plants. You will be restricted to what types are available, but it’s a good way to get started. Look out for grafted tomato plants. These are worth the extra cost because they are a clever combination of a really good tomato variety grafted onto a healthy, vigorous rootstock, so you get the powerhouse of a healthy root system turbo charging a tasty tomato on top. They also fruit earlier which is good for many reasons and might even avoid the ravages of blight.
For low maintenance tomato plants, that won’t need tying in, or pinching out, consider growing basket tomatoes. These are tumbling tomatoes that will fill a basket, overflow and hang down with the fruit easily accessible. Look out for currant tomatoes which produce hundreds of tiny currant-like fruits on bushy plants.

Take Cuttings

Rooted Tomato Cutting.

If you’ve got one or two good strong tomato plants, you can make more very easily. Carefully remove the side shoots and push them into pots of seed and cutting compost, they will root very quickly and grow into new plants. It’s a great way to stagger the crop because these will fruit later. I grow them on in little modules and then pot them up.

The dreaded tomato blight
One of the unseen booby traps of growing tomatoes is that they can and do succumb to all sorts of diseases, problems and nutrient deficiencies. The first weapon in your health strategy is to grow your tomatoes in quality compost. I’ve had great results with the Dalefoot Super Strength Wool Compost for Tomatoes. It’s a rich blend with comfrey so it’s preloaded with the nutrients that you tomato plants need. And it’s organic.

Wool Compost Tomatoes.

The wool helps to hold moisture in the compost, which stops it drying out too quickly, this helps prevent some problems, like blossom end rot. Plus, it contains natural micro-nutrients to support healthy plant growth.

By choosing blight resistant tomato varieties you reduce the risk of this debilitating disease affecting your plants. It’s spread by spores so growing in a greenhouse also helps delay, reduce and prevent tomato blight affecting your plants.


Pollination secrets

Buzz Pollination.

To get tomatoes you need some pollinating pals! And when it comes to tomatoes, well … they need bumblebees. Commercial tomato growers buy bumblebee nests for their glasshouses to ensure good pollination of their tomatoes. The reason is that these little creatures perform a special action to release the pollen called ‘Buzz Pollination’. Bumblebees have perfected this technique. They detach their wing muscles and vibrate their body at a higher frequency and emit a high-pitched buzz that releases the pollen. They get covered in pollen in the process and move this from flower to flower as they work the crop for protein rich pollen for their babies. Unless bumblebees actually get trapped inside your greenhouse, or they have good access and exit windows, most greenhouses don’t have bumblebees visiting the flowers and so the tomato pollination can be poor. You can hand pollinate your tomato flowers by transferring pollen from flower to flower by rolling the centre of the flower between your thumb and forefinger, this releases the pollen. It is time consuming, but early in the season it ensures your plants are pollinated.
Is it worth growing tomatoes?

Pollinating Tomato Flower.

Yes, it is worth growing tomatoes if you are prepared to care for them properly. They will reward you with the most amazing tasting fruit that can be picked fresh from the vine and if you grow from seed or have access to interesting varieties you really can grow something very different, that you can’t buy at the supermarket. It’s worth it, if you are an experienced gardener or a tomato aficionado or just a little bit obsessive in your gardening methods. It’s very rewarding if you are home all summer and can hand-water, or grow in the soil and pick the fresh tasty fruit all summer long. It’s fun to amaze your friends and family with your black, stripy or orange tomato fruits. It’s also really worth it if you can truly grow organic and know that every fruit you grow is free from toxins.

MRM Sowing Tomato.

And if you can grow them in a greenhouse and be safe in the knowledge that they are protected (a bit) from the ravages of blight, or if you can invest in blight resistant varieties that may survive this fungal abhorrence, it’s definitely worth the effort.
Read my – Don’t grow tomatoes article here!