Published: 03:55PM Feb 5th, 2010
By: Web Editor

Each month gardening expert Joe Maiden brings you his down-to-earth advice on growing our most popular crops and uses his lifetime of gardening experience to offer top tips to help you to produce your best ever harvests. This month Joe looks at growing tomatoes.


I would like to bet that in Great Britain there are not many gardens with a greenhouse that do not have a few tomatoes growing in them during the summer months.

The taste and smell of a freshly picked home-grown tomato picked when it is warm is something very special.

Tomato plants can be very delicate and in the first few weeks of growth as seedlings they need warmth, humidity and the right care and attention. If you have the luxury of a heated greenhouse, very early crops can be achieved. If you have an unheated greenhouse, planting in milder areas can start in March, but watch the weather
forecast and give extra protection if the night temperatures dip.

Sowing now

Tomato seed can be very expensive. Some of the F1 hybrid types can cost 25p for one seed. Take care of your seed by sowing correctly. Depending on your conditions for growing on, in either a heated or unheated greenhouse, sowing can start early in the new year. You need to maintain a temperature of 15C (60F). My method is to sow 12 seeds to a 10cm (4in) pot. The seed is large enough to handle so you can space the seed. The compost I use is a good quality, multi-purpose type and the prepared pots are watered the night before sowing. After sowing, press the seed into the compost and cover over with fine compost. In general terms, the covering is twice the thickness of the size of the seed. Place in a propagator or on a heated bench in your home or in a greenhouse.

Transplant seedlings

When the seedlings have made two good seed leaves, carefully lift out of the compost. I have an old dinner fork which is useful for this purpose. When handling seedlings, hold the leaf not the stem. The plant will always grow another leaf but will never grow another stem, so do not bruise the stem. Pot on individually in to small pots. My father always used 8cm (3in) clay pots for this purpose and so do I. Grow the plants on in good light and maintain warmth. A heated greenhouse or a windowsill indoors will be fine. Wash the greenhouse glass if necessary to allow the optimum amount of light in; this is most important early in the year to prevent young plants becoming leggy. If growing on a windowsill in the house make sure it is in the brightest room. Tomato plants that grow as good, firm, squat, short-jointed plants will give you more trusses of fruit.


Feed once a week with a tomato fertiliser. My method of feeding is to use pelleted sheep manure, now called SlugGone ( I scatter approximately 60 pellets around the top of the buckets. This is a slow release organic feed which will last the season. Sheep manure is one of Mr Charles Maisey's favourite ingredients for feeding his plants and Charles is one of our best amateur growers. These pellets will also deter slugs and snails. More about SlugGone at a later date.

• Tomatoes in growing-bags:

When growing-bags have been stacked for a while they go solid; a good idea is to loosen them by banging them on the ground or thumping the bag to loosen the compost. Then jiggle the bag to evenly disperse the compost across the whole bag.

• Tomatoes in the border soil:

The traditional method of growing tomatoes in the greenhouse is growing them in the border soil. Last year I went back to growing mine in the border soil. I dug in some well-rotted compost in February and used one handful of SlugGone (pelleted sheep manure). Instead of supporting the plants by tying string around the bottom of the plants and onto a strand wire, which is the commercial way; I placed a cane to each plant and tied the plant to the cane. This way is safer because if the plants are supported only by string and it breaks, then you have a problem.

Feed once a fortnight with tomato fertiliser and never allow the plants to get very dry.

Hanging basket toms

Another method of growing tomatoes is in a hanging basket – the variety ‘Tumbler F1’ is ideally suited for basket culture as it has a branching habit in the form of a small bush and when the fruit form, they hang down the side of the basket. The fruits are small – slightly bigger than the cherry type – and their breeding is from 'Gardener's Delight' which,
of course, has such a wonderful flavour. I use moss around the outside edge of the basket and I use growing bag compost as the medium and feed with high potash feed every 14 days and keep well watered. The basket can be hung outside from late May to early June.

Two vegetable gardeners talking

A few weeks ago I met my good friend Medwyn Williams; immediately we started talking about vegetables. Medwyn asked me a question: “Have you still got the purple podded pea you gave me maybe 25 years ago?”, “No” was the reply.

We are now on the lookout for a 23cm to 25cm (9-10 in) long purple podded pea often with 10 large peas in the pod, light green in colour.

Mine was given to me by a wonderful man from Leeds called Eddie Odenelled. Eddie called this variety ‘Suttons Purple Podded’. He bought a packet and as all good gardeners do, selected the best pods for his seed stock. Eddie was such a kind man he gave this variety to anyone who wanted it.

I grew this variety for years and remember showing it at Harrogate. Most of the pods had 10 peas inside, some had 11.

Do you know this variety?

Please help us find it. We all realise how important it is to look after rare plant types.

There is a variety of purple podded pea about. The plant is tall, purple flowers, small pods less than 10cm (4in) long with quite small seed, a bit flatish in shape. It’s not that one!

Meet Joe Maiden

Joe has spent a lifetime in horticulture, during which time he has met thousands of gardeners and reached thousands more through his now legendary, weekly radio broadcasts which take place live from his plot in North Yorkshire.

He is a National Vegetable Society judge and fellow of the society, as well as being a committee member of the Leeds Horticultural Society.

Joe was recently awarded the Harlow Carr Medal for services to horticulture. His passion for veg growing stems from his childhood in Cumbria – his father was a great gardener and supplied the family with all the vegetables they needed, just as
Joe does now for his family.

Responses to “Tomatoes”

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