Tomato growing has always been one of the gardening challenges with great rewards when you pick that first fruit fully ripened on the bush, and then followed by loads more as the season progresses. Summer salads would never be complete without some home grown tomatoes.
At this time of year they are available in the supermarkets, but you struggle very hard to find a ripe one with some flavour, though we did find a small red cherry one on the vine, to go with our salads with lettuce leaves and spring onions fresh from the greenhouse.
They had been sown last autumn to utilise the greenhouse borders over the winter months.
Early March is soon enough to sow the seed as I germinate mine at home on a warm windowsill growing them on a few weeks before they go into my cold greenhouse. If any frost or cold nights threaten them I have an electric heater to keep them protected over night.
Sow them thinly in shallow trays in seed compost and keep them warm for germination.
They are generally very easy to grow so germination is usually good. Prick them out into individual small pots once they have made strong seed leaves and only handle them by the leaves, (not the stem)
As my windowsill space is limited I keep them as long as possible in small pots, but soon they will need a bigger pot and transferred to the greenhouse.
Keep them growing in the pots until the first trusses show, then they are ready for their permanent position.
There are several options to consider.
Do you use large pots, ring culture, grow bags, straw bales (very popular fifty years ago) or border soil.
I have tried all methods and while grow bags make life simple, it is growing in fertile border soil that has given my tomatoes the greatest flavour.
This used to be the traditional method (many years ago) but commercially the soil was sterilised every winter with steam injection or chemically with chloropicrin. My fertile border soil has been composted and dug every year and I got three years of great crops, but as I have no means of sterilising the soil, last year my crop suffered from verticillium wilt.
So this year I take no risk, so the whole border got dug out a foot deep and replaced with healthy fertile garden soil with added compost.
Who needs to go to the gym for exercise when you can grow a tomato crop.
Anyway I will try the border again this year, but then go back to growbags in 2018.
The border will have some fertiliser added then the tomatoes planted about 18 inches apart.
Once they get established and the first trusses start to flower begin to feed the plants with a tomato feed every week.
Tomatoes grow on a single stemmed cordon that needs a strong support especially when full of ripening fruit.
I use six foot lengths of polypropylene binder twine hung from roof wire supports and tied to the bottom of the tomato plants which are then twisted around the twine as they grow.
Remove all sideshoots so the plant can use its energy for fruiting. Remove the growing point after six to eight trusses or more if you get a glorious summer as tomatoes love the heat.
There are plenty of varieties and different types to try out from normal fruits such as Shirley or Alicante, cherry types such as Sweet Million and Sungold, beef stake types, plum types and a good one for hanging baskets or tubs is Tumbler.
Let the fruit fully ripen before picking and if you get more tomatoes than you can handle they will make an excellent soup, or they can be frozen for future use.
Wee jobs to do this week
There is nothing to beat picking that first strawberry in early summer. Our target date was first week in June in my youth when Red Gauntlet was favourite down in Sussex.
Today we have so many new varieties to choose from that you can try a few and see which ones suit your location and conditions best.
However, to bring on them on a fortnight earlier cover a row with a low polythene tunnel held up with metal hoops.
Last year I picked my first berries on 22 May, but with the mild winter we are running ahead so could be even earlier this year. Fingers crossed!!!