Tomatoes are popular to grow as they can be cultivated in greenhouses, vegetable gardens, balconies and even kitchen windowsills.
Native to Central and South America, the tomato was first grown for food by the indigenous people of Mexico and later the Aztecs.
When the Spanish conquered the Aztec empire they brought the tomato plant to Europe and the name ‘tomato’ comes from its Spanish name ‘tomate’. Tomato plants are vines and the tomatoes are its berries so botanically, tomatoes are fruit but are usually referred to as a ‘culinary vegetable’.
There are many different varieties of tomato to grow, ranging from the small cherry tomato to the large beef tomato. Tomatoes are grown as annuals and are popular with amateur gardeners of all ages as they are easy to cultivate and the prize is a plentiful supply of tomatoes for the kitchen!
How to grow tomatoes?
- Tomato plants can be grown from seed or bought as young plants from a garden centre.
- Sow tomato seeds between early February-early April. Sow the seeds in pots of moist compost, water gently, cover the pots with kitchen film and stand on a sunny windowsill.
- When the seeds have germinated and the first shoots have appeared, remove the kitchen film. When the seedlings are about 3-4cm tall, transplant them into individual flowerpots (5cm pots are good) with moist multi-purpose compost. Keep the pots on the sunny windowsill and as the plants grow support them with canes.
- You can move your tomato plants outside in May, after the last frost in May. Tomato plants love well drained soil in a sunny position. Alternatively, you can re-pot them into large flowerpots (30cm) or you can plant them in grow bags which is ideal if you are living in a flat with a balcony.
- Watch your tomatoes regularly. Once yellow flowers appear, feed the plants every week with tomato food. If the tomato plant is very bushy, you can thin out the foliage so that the sun can get to the tomatoes.
- As the tomatoes form, the thin branches will need to be well supported. Tomato plants often grown more than a metre in height – depending on the variety.
Some extra tips when growing tomatoes
- Do not harvest the tomatoes until they are a good red colour – if you pick them too early, they will not have such a good flavour.
- If the weather remains good, the tomato plant will keep producing fruit. If the weather suddenly turns cold, move the plants indoors to ripen.
- Tomatoes are at their best, eaten as soon as they are picked. They will keep at room temperature for 4-5 days. Tomatoes do not taste as good if they are refrigerated and cannot be frozen whole. If you have a glut of tomatoes, cook a batch of tomato sauce to freeze in two portion containers..
How to use tomatoes when cooking?
Tomatoes can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in soups, sauces and a variety of savoury dishes.
Not only do tomatoes taste good, they are nutritious too. Their color is produced by lycopene, which is a powerful antioxidant. Tomatoes are full of vitamin C and vitamin A, which is good for the immune system and vision and vitamin K which is good for bones. Tomatoes also contain potassium.