Home-grown tomatoes are a staple of summer

Tomatoes planted in the border. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Tomatoes planted in the border. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

Summer gardening would not be the same without fresh, home-grown tomatoes picked from the plant as required, and I always set out with growing them to perfection in mind.

The best time to judge whether this has been achieved is at the height of summer, when five or six trusses have fully formed and the tip of a plant has been removed to stop further growth.

It’s then that the questions are posed: Are all the leaves still in place and deepest green? Would the fruits stand up to scrutiny on a show bench? Unfortunately, I and others tend to come up short in this mission.

But if all you want is the joy of growing and harvesting your own for sandwich or salad, ignoring the odd leaf missing or discoloured, that is much easier to achieve, even without a greenhouse.

I’ve had the pleasure of growing tomatoes in several situations – the house on a sunny windowsill, in the garden, in hanging baskets and other containers. It does work.

Tumbling Tom and related types do best in baskets, but you’d be surprised how well Gardener’s Delight, Alicante, Money Maker, et al perform in a sunny spot outdoors. If you have spare plants left over from sowing, don’t discard, give them a chance.

Gardening outlets are awash with young potted plants. They’re relatively expensive, but sowing seed at this stage of the year would result in playing catch-up.

When selecting, look to the base of a stem for the two original seed leaves (cotyledons). If they’re still intact, it’s a sign the plant has been handled well. Turn the pot and see if any roots are protruding. Too many suggests root-ringing and a pot-bound plant. If you buy such specimens, tease the roots apart before planting.

Tomatoes are vines without clinging tendrils so need tying to a support. I generally use canes for individual plants, but have occasionally switched to a tight string or flexi-tie system. This comprises a strong line running the length of the greenhouse, with a firm offshoot down to each pot. When this remains taut, the tip of each specimen can be twisted around as it grows.

And just to help secure large trusses, when flowers are visible I offer a gentle tap to each support during the daily routine.

Regular inspection is essential. Removing unproductive side shoots is never ending, water is required, sometimes twice daily at the height of summer, and air circulation is necessary to prevent moulds. The latter can be encouraged by removing some lower leaves during the congestion of deepest summer.