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It may have taken us 300 years between discovering tomatoes and plucking up the courage to take a bite, but now we have, we can't get enough of them. From planting to watering - here's how to grow tomatoes.
The good news is that whether you're a beginner or a keen gardener, growing tomatoes is fairly easy. You don't even need a garden: grow-bags, patio tubs, even hanging baskets work well. Any soil will do as long as it's deep and well-fed; as well as any climate that is warm, bright and frost-free.
Seedling plants take the uncertainty out of the germination process - plus you can grow one of each variety, rather than twenty of the same! If you want to grow from seeds however, sow them indoors, in pots, around mid-March.
Once all frosts are passed, you can plant up your seedlings. Tomatoes outdoors, not undercover, will suffer less from pests. Disease-resistant varieties are also more robust. If you like companion planting, try a tub of French marigolds, to deter whitefly. About eight to twelve weeks after planting up, you'll have tomatoes.
There are just three failsafe rules to follow: plant deep, pinch out, and water regularly.
When you plant up your seedlings, bury the stem deep - up to the first pair of leaves from the ground. This helps the plant form extra roots for stability and feeding. To encourage more fruit, pinch out the tiny side shoots between the main stem and side branches. Water often – more than you might think. In dry weather, that's about one standard-size watering-can a week per plant. Erratic watering means split tomatoes – still edible, but less pretty.
Children may not always approach the ground work with much enthusiasm - but they're guaranteed to love picking the fruits of their hard labour! You just can't beat the sweet taste and charmingly mismatched colours and sizes of homegrown tomatoes.
Tomatoes are hungry plants, especially if they're in containers. Tomato food is (unsurprisingly) ideal feed for them – high in potash, it encourages flowers and fruits to form. Plus it has all the instructions on the pack, which takes out the guesswork.
Tie tall tomatoes to a cane, so they don't flop over. In August, snip off the top of the main stem, two leaves above the highest side shoot. This puts the plant's energy into ripening the fruit, not growing further. Short tomatoes – "bush" or "dwarf" – don't need supporting or snipping.
If autumn comes and there are green tomatoes still on the plant, either find a recipe for chutney, or put them in a bowl with a red tomato or a banana to help them ripen. If you are very lucky and have a glut of tomatoes, remember they freeze well, whole or pureed.
One of the ways to use up ripened tomatoes at the end of summer is to make homemade tomato sauce in bulk and store for wintertime. This may sound like a big project, but with a little help from our knowledgeable gransnetters, we've got a few recipes to get you going.
Prep time: 5 minutes Cook time: 60 minutes Serves: 6-10
Prep time: 5 minutes Cook time: 35 minutes Serves: 2-3
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