How to Grow Tomatoes in the UK
My growing diary of tomatoes in the UK 2019.
Growing tomatoes in gardens and on the patio over recent years has seen up and down results in the past for me. Planting from seed, sticking them in a patio pot and hoping for yummy tomatoes without rhyme or reason doesn’t work… Not well anyway.
This year I have taken this task seriously, and after being jealous of many neighbours tomatoes in greenhouses I decided this was the way to go.
Purchasing a greenhouse at home, and clearing out another on our second plot of land (Nursling Plot) I endeavoured to put some real time in to studying and understanding the best ways to grow tomatoes.
My first act was to seed some different strands of tomatoes:
– Mr Fothergills Red Cherry Tomatoes
– Shirley Tomatoes (Lavendar Farm)
Both were planted up in to trays and pots and put on a sunny windowsill in our house in April. (Next growing season to ensure earlier production I will look to put in a heated sunny room or greenhouse earlier in the year).
Each day I would check moisture and water accordingly by pushing my finger in to the soil and checking moisture around 1 inch in to the soil. I would also rotate daily so that seedlings didn’t just grow sideways towards the light.
When they were ready they were potted on to bigger pots solo with a potting compost from John Innes, and then finally in to large troughs that were in each greenhouse.
I went on to study pruning methods online and learnt a lot about the growth of tomatoes and how to help them along to produce plentiful and tasty fruits. The first image that really helped was this:
Learning the different sections of the tomato plant is invaluable as you start to be able to identify exactly what parts of the plant are doing what for it, and then what to prune.
The main sections include the axil, which is your main growing stem. Leaves obviously are the energy cells that photosynthesise and help the plant to turn sunlight in to “growing power”.
The flower cluster is going to be your favourite as this is your fruit… the yummy tomatoes.
The section to pay particularly close attention to though are the “suckers”. These little growth happen in between the leaf arms and the axil.. and are number one pruning priority.
If you do not prune out your suckers, they will likely split off and start another growing axil. Which at first sounds great… even more growing room and more tomatoes right?!
Actually, no…. this is where I have gone wrong in the past… the thought of more plant therefore more fruit isn’t necessarily true and you end up with a lot of very small sized fruit that isn’t particularly tasty as it hasn’t developed fully.
So plucker our those suckers as early as you see them, was my number one learning for this year… and the second learning was that they can develop super quickly in warm weather and catch you out. Even knowing about them and having intention to remove the suckers has resulted in me missing some and having a plant or two that has now essentially got two axils.. doh! (Next year pruning tomatoes will be in the crop diary so it cannot be missed).
In the years talking to those growing tomato plants well, I had heard… only allow 5 trusses… or if indoors up to 8 trusses max etc… again this seemed strange initially… pruning out fruit flowers to get more and better fruit seems odd to someone who hadn’t thought about it…
I began to do some research and actually found that pruning other sections of the plant could give even bigger and tastier tomato yields… This video was particularly interesting: Curtis Stone – Pruning, Tying and Cloning Tomatoes.
I will talk about cloning tomatoes in another blog post as this inspired me to clone / take cuttings too.
However the tying up method was really interesting to me, and the pruning Curtis does is effectively what he calls “hard pruning”. I did some more digging and decided to try this as an experiment on my own tomato plants.
Early planted up tomato seedlings in the two different greenhouses.
Hard pruning in my research refers to pruning all leaves, suckers and anything but the axil that develops below the first flower cluster. The thought being that this means more energy is put in to growing the part of the plant that produces the fruit.
It’s important to note this can only be done when sufficient growth has happened to and above the flower cluster. Doing this from a young age will shock and kill the plant, especially removing all of its photosynthesising leaves too early on.
However the idea for me, especially seen as I have strung my tomato plants to the roof, works well. I always want to apply the theory myself however and so I have pruned every other tomato plant in this way. The idea behind doing every other tomato plant, is that this means two plants in the same trough and therefore in the same conditions have one with hard pruning and one without.
At the time of writing this, we are seeing a definite flourish in the plants hard pruned i.e. they have more flower stems. However I haven’t had fruit yet so I will update with further results in the future on this blog post below.
Happy tomato plants in early July 2019.
Key learnings from 2019 tomato growth season:
- Plant tomato seedlings earlier in controlled environment for earlier production.
- Buy indeterminate tomato seeds.
- Plant up to the ground in greenhouse / poly tunnel rather than troughs or pots.
- Diarise pruning of suckers and inspections, hot days and regular watering can catch you out.
- Remove all suckers and early on look to use as cuttings / cloning.
- String up tomato plants as soon as they are looking like needed a cane or support.
- Always use greenhouses for tomatoes in the UK.
I will continue to add to this list over the coming months, so watch back here.
Want to see more of my growing diaries and how to grow blogs / videos? Check these out:
How to grow Salanova Lettuce in the UK Part1 – https://fanfield.farm/how-to-grow-salanova-lettuce-pt1/
Fanfield Farm Blog – https://fanfield.farm/#blogs