While it’s too late to sow tomato seeds, it’s not too late to buy plants. Although the plant varieties on offer may not overwhelmingly exciting compared to the vast choice that seeds offer, you will not have to endure the tasteless ones in the shops. You can enjoy fresh homegrown tomatoes full of flavour with minimum effort and maximum pride.

Planting

Whether you choose a tall, bushy or trailing variety, tomatoes need masses of sunshine and plenty of water to grow best.

While tomatoes do love greenhouses, you can get a good harvest without one, you just need to wait a little longer. Tomatoes grow excellently in containers and growbags in sunny corners, on window sills and trailing varieties do well in hanging baskets so there is every opportunity for you to grow your own delicious ones packed with fresh flavour, no matter how little space you may have.

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To give them the best start to their new home, bed them into soil enriched with compost about 45cm/18in apart with 75cm/ 30in between rows and plant their supports at the same time. Doing this limits root damage and enables the supports to sooner become less noticeable as new growth covers them. You may prefer to use beanpoles, string or a cage or a combination.

If you’re planting in containers make sure that there is good drainage and come September wrap plants with fleece if frost is imminent.

What to plant

Mixing types and varieties of tomatoes can give you an extended season.

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Determinate tomatoes are bush types. They grow two to three feet high and buds at the end of their branches form flowers rather than leaves. After flowering all at one they set, ripen and die.

Indeterminate tomatoes are vine types. They can grow between eight and ten feet but need support from cages, stakes or twine. They set flowers later and then fruit more bountifully than bush types on lateral shoots but continue to grow before dying off.

Planting determinates and early indeterminates in spring will provide early summer tomatoes and you can enjoy big beefsteak and tasty summer salad varieties from the middle of summer.

Growing

As they grow you’ll find sideshoots appearing diagonally between the main stem and leaf stems. Pinch these out to ensure that the flowers then fruit receive maximum energy.

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Once the plants start flowering begin regularly feeding with a liquid feed.

Harvesting

Once the fruit turns red it’s ready to eat. As the weather begins to get colder ripening takes longer and you will find that you have a number of green tomatoes. There’s no doubt that green tomato chutney is delicious, but you may hanker for just a few more ripe tomatoes before the season ends.

There are a number of ways to do this and interestingly, it’s not light but warmth that is the key.

A cardboard box makes a good ripener. Lie green tomatoes in a box lined with newspaper, leaving a little space between them. Cover with another piece of newspaper and put in a warm place. Alternatively hang up the whole plant in a warm place It is the gas ethylene that ripens fruit and this is emitted by ripe bananas, apples and tomatoes. Therefore paper or plastic bags of green tomatoes with a ripe banana in alongside will speed up the ripening process. It’s worth adding a couple of breathing holes to avoid mould and do check regularly.

Problems

Plants drying out result in split fruit so stick to a watering regime.

If you’re growing tomatoes indoors or in a greenhouse keep a beady eye out for aphids, white fly and red spider mite. Remove damaged leaves and spray with a mix of mild household detergent and rainwater.

To prevent slugs chomping through your fruit it’s worth removing the lowest two tresses so that the fruit remains elevated.

Tattered leaves should be torn rather than cut off as a cut can invites pests.

Brown patches on leaves and fruit will likely be blight, in which case spray with copper-based fungicide. The fungus grows if there is too much moisture and there is not enough ventilation but, conversely, plants become vulnerable if they are too dry, too. Water once a week and match ventilation to weather.

Nutritional benefits

Tomatoes have high levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K, as well as significant amounts of vitamin B6, folate, and thiamine.

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Mineral-wise, they are a good source of potassium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper.

There has been significant research into whether the tomato’s vitamins and antioxidants can combat the harmful effects of free radicals that cause cell damage that leads to cancer and heart disease. Certainly it has been found that lycopene, the red pigment in the skin, can actively protect the body against heart disease and some forms of cancer.

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