In many areas of Britain
the tomato crop requires protection – you
can grow the plants in a greenhouse or cultivate
dwarf varieties in frames or under cloches. If,
however, you live in a mild area and there is
some shelter from cold winds then you can expect
a satisfactory crop in the open garden in most
summers. The outdoor crop has its benefits –
the flavour of the fruit is generally better,
and the bush varieties take much of the hard work
out of tomato growing. There are, however, a number
of pitfalls for the unwary even if your site is
warm and sheltered. First of all, you must choose
a variety which is recommended for growing outdoors
– don’t buy seedlings without checking
that they are suitable. You must also prepare
the ground properly – tomatoes need well-drained,
humus-rich soil. Finally, remember to remove the
growing point of a cordon variety whilst the plant
is still quite small – leaving it to grow
to its natural height will prevent the tomatoes
from ripening. As you will see, there are many
varieties that are suitable for outdoor growing.
Expected germination time: 8-11 days
Expected yield per plant: 4lb (2kg)
Life expectancy of stored seed: 3 years
Approximate time between sowing and picking: 20
Ease of cultivation: Not easy – tomatoes
in growing bags need regular attention.
· Outdoor tomatoes are a tender crop, so
choose a warm spot in front of a south-facing
wall if you can. During the winter dig thoroughly
and incorporate garden compost plus peat. Shortly
before planting rake in a general fertilizer.
· If you are growing only a few plants
or if you have no land available, then outdoor
tomatoes can be grown in 9in (23cm) pots or in
compost-filled growing bags. These can be placed
on the open ground or on balconies and patios.
Remember that container growing will call for
much more frequent watering. Regular feeding will
Sowing and Planting
· If you want to raise your own seedlings,
follow one of the techniques under greenhouse
tomatoes. Alternatively, you can buy tomato seedlings
for planting out. Look for ones which are dark
green, sturdy and about 8in (20cm) tall. These
young plants should be pot-grown.
· Plant the seedlings 18in (45cm) apart
in rows of 30in (75cm) distance. Water in after
planting and use a 5ft cane for Cordon varieties.
· Plant out into growing bags, pots or
the vegetable plot when the flowers of the first
truss are beginning to open. Water the pot before
planting out and ensure that the top of the soil
ball is set just below the soil surface.
· You will get a better crop if you spread
black polythene sheeting over the soil surface
and plant the tomato seedlings through X-shaped
· The standard time for sowing seed under
glass is in late March or early April. The young
plants are hardened off during May and planted
out in early June, or late May if the weather
is favourable and the danger of frost has passed.
Plants to be grown under cloches are planted out
in the middle of May.
· Under average conditions the first tomatoes
will be ready for picking in mid August until
late September. It can extend from late July to
Looking after the crop
· If a cordon variety is grown, loosely
tie the stem to the cane. Make the ties at 12in
(30cm) intervals as the plant grows.
· Side shoots will appear where the leaf
stalks join the stem. Pinch them out when they
are about 1in (2.5cm) long. Remove yellowing leaves
below fruit trusses as the season progresses,
but never overdo this de-leafing process.
· Water regularly in dry weather to keep
the soil moist – alternating dryness with
flooding will cause blossom end rot or fruit splitting.
If using growing bags you must water frequently
as noted in the instructions. Feed regularly with
Bio Tomato Food. When small tomatoes have developed
on the 4th truss remove the tip at 2 leaves above
· Pick the fruits when they are ripe and
fully coloured. Hold the tomato in your palm and
with your thumb break off the fruit at the ‘knuckle’
(swelling on the flower stalk).
· At the end of the season the stems can
be removed from the canes and laid under cloches
on a bed of straw. An easier way to ripen green
fruit is to place them as a layer in a tray and
put them in a drawer. Next to the tray set a couple
of ripe apples to generate the ripening gas ethylene.
These varieties are grown as single stems and
they have to be trimmed and supported. As described
above, the stem is stopped after the 4th truss
has set so as to hasten ripening before the autumn
frosts. There are many red varieties, varying
in size from giants to bite sized fruits, and
there are also yellow, orange and striped tomatoes.
(Ailsa Craig; Alicante; Craigella; Golden Sunrise;
Harbinger; MM; Moneycross; Moneymaker; Tangella;
Tigerella; Yellow Perfection - See tomatoes, greenhouse
for their varieties)
Gardener’s Delight: An old favourite, but
the one to choose in the opinion of many experts.
A heavy crop of bite-sized tomatoes are produced
with a tangy flavour which puts the bland taste
of some greenhouse varieties to shame.
Sweet 100: A new rival to Gardener’s Delight
– the cherry-sized fruits are delicious
and you can expect to pick several hundred from
a well-grown plant.
Marmande: The other end of the scale to Gardener’s
Delight and Sweet 100 – the irregular-shaped
fruits are very large and fleshy with few seeds.
These are the well-known Continental tomatoes,
but the full flavour does not develop under out
Saint Pierre: Another large tomato, irregularly-shaped
and deep red in colour. The flavour is good and
yields are high.
Outdoor Girl: One of the earliest tomatoes to
ripen – widely recommended as one of the
best outdoor varieties. It is a heavy cropper
bearing slightly ribbed fruits with a good flavour.
Ronaclave: A rival to Outdoor Girl’s claim
to be the best outdoor tomato for the amateur.
It crops early and heavily and the plants have
excellent disease resistance.
Gemini: Ronaclave has a good reputation for succeeding
in cool summers and so does Gemini. Its fruits
are medium-sized and sweet.
These varieties make outdoor tomato growing much
easier. They are either bushes 1-2 ½ ft
(30-75cm) high or creeping plants less than 9in
(23cm) tall. They do not require supporting, trimming
or stopping, and are excellent for cloche culture.
One drawback is that the fruits tend to be hidden,
which makes harvesting more difficult than with
cordon varieties. Straw or plastic sheeting must
be laid around the plants as many fruits are at
The Amateur: The most popular but perhaps not
the best of the bush tomatoes. The 1 ½
ft (45cm) plant produces a heavy crop of medium-sized
Red Alert: A recent introduction which will obviously
become a favourite. It is very early and the small
fruits have a better flavour than any other bush
Sleaford Abundance: Despite the small amount of
leaf borne by this variety the crop is heavy for
a bush tomato.
Alfresco: An excellent variety, vigorous and high-yielding
with good resistance to disease.
Pixie: The plant is small and compact but staking
may be necessary. The fruits are small and the
flavour is good – a favourite with many
gardeners but the crop can be disappointing in
an indifferent summer.
Sigmabush: A good choice – the open growth
habit allows the crop to ripen in dull weather.
It is noted for its earliness and quality.
French Cross: Fruits are larger than average for
a bush variety and so are the yields.
Sub-Arctic Plenty: Its name indicates that it’s
the variety to choose for the cooler regions of
the country. Under good conditions the first tomatoes
are ready very early in the season.
Tiny Tim: A dwarf bush variety which you can plant
in a window box. The cherry-like fruits are bright
red and almost seedless.
Florida Petit: A new one to try – even smaller
than Tiny Tim. It is claimed that you can grow
it as a house plant in a 4in (10cm) pot.
Diseases and disorders are much more important
than insect pests – outdoor tomatoes are
much less susceptible than crops grown under glass.
Keep a careful watch and treat plants immediately
symptoms appear. Tomatoes require regular feeding
with a specific fertilizer, such as Bio Tomato
Food, in order to prevent undersized fruit on
the upper trusses. Don’t overfeed –
little and often is the secret.
Tomato Leaf Mould
Grey Mould (Botrytis)
Stem Rot (Didymella)
Blossom End Rot