Just sow: Growing from seed is not always easy, but it's hard to go wrong with tomatoes

By Emma Townshend
Sunday 23 October 2011 06:21

Sometimes it feels as if life is too short to grow things from seed. It's horticultural heresy to say this, but fiddling around with seed trays and getting composty water all over clean windowsills, for some of us at least, lacks appeal.

There's one exception always worth making, though: tomatoes. Firstly, you can avoid the bog-standard Moneymaker. And tomatoes are piss easy to grow, excuse the expression, as evidenced by the fact that you'll occasionally find yourself stuck in a seven-mile pile-up on a motorway staring out the window of the car at some little tomato plant that's managed to grow itself right in the central reservation, just on the basis of being spat out of a sandwich.

Don't grow your tomatoes in the middle of the M40, and there are great rewards to be had. Right now is the perfect time to sow them, as day lengths will ensure the little plants don't get all "leggy" and unhealthy. Plants need to start off indoors, in full sunshine on a protected windowsill, or best of all in a greenhouse. You don't need to sow many seeds: almost all will germinate. Put some moist compost in little flowerpots and sow seeds individually or in pairs, depending on how brave you are about uprooting anything you've grown later on. Then cover each pot in a polythene bag to keep them moist, securing with one of those useful Post Office red rubber bands (see, you knew they'd come in useful one day).

Once your little seedlings are flourishing, think about where they are going to grow in the long term. Next month, you will transplant them outside to grow in large containers full of fertile soil. You can use buckets from the 99p shop with holes drilled in the bottom, grow-bags tipped on their end for a deeper root run, or splash out on tasteful Burgon & Ball wicker "Hide Those Ugly Grow Bags" surrounds (£11.95 each, burgonandball.com).

Tomatoes will produce better, more shapely crops that are easier to look after if you are strict about following cultivation rules – especially pinching out the side shoots. But if you can't even get your head round the definition of a side shoot, it's far more important to focus simply on getting the watering and feeding right.

Tomatoes need daily watering to produce really good crops, but don't feed the tomatoes until the first fruits have formed. Sarah Wain, vegetable supremo at West Dean Gardens in Sussex, feeds her plants daily to get them just right for the Totally Tomato Show (4-5 September).

Last summer I used B&Q's own brand organic tomato food (£2.98), or check out the Organic Gardening Catalogue's Chase Tomato Feed, (£7.95, organiccatalogue.com).

And don't panic if you miss out on growing from seed. Supermarkets last year had cottoned on to the grow-your-own business, and the big chains were selling a range of varieties by April. Look out also for local horticultural societies, which often have plant sales in spring where you can purchase surplus plants from better-organised gardeners. And make sure to try something new – with so many varieties to choose from, why stick to Moneymaker?

Three unusual varieties


This little orangey-yellow tom is a favourite of Alex Mitchell, author of A Girl's Guide to Growing Your Own (New Holland, £12.99). It's a "cordon" tomato, which means it grows in beautiful neat rowed bunches called "trusses" which look gloriously professional when picked. 10 seeds, £2.99, unwins.co.uk


A gorgeously stripey fast- growing little fruit, with a super-sweet taste that children will love. 50 seeds, 99p. thompson-morgan.com

Super Marmande

A massive juicy steak tomato. Grew well for me last year as a sort of tumbling bush, right by my front door, producing plates of juicy fruit for a good few weeks. 100 seeds, £1.89, thompson-morgan.com

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