February, and thoughts are turning towards better weather, and even those unfortunate souls with little or no garden to grow and enjoy can still look forward to sowing a few seeds and perhaps raising a small, home-grown harvest.
There are peppers, lettuce, radish, herbs and, of course, the tomato. Many people won’t sow their own but buy ready-germinated plants from garden centres, but nothing tastes quite as good as tomatoes you grow yourself from seeds you sow yourself.
And to the true believer, the choosing of the seed, the sowing, the germinating, potting on the seedlings, feeding, watering, supporting and, finally, harvesting, is an important of the gardening calendar.
Tomatoes are relatively easy to grow and even the most amateur of amateur gardeners should be able to produce a decent fruit or two. The seed may be a tad expensive, but, overall, it’s worth it to be able to taste your very own, home-grown tomato.
You can sow the seed over a period of weeks, from as early as February, through till the end of April; when you do and how you do depends on what you’re growing and the size of the harvest you aim to achieve.
The methods of growing are almost as numerous as the varieties of tomatoes – in beds of soil in a greenhouse, in bottomless pots standing on beds of gravel, in large buckets, in open ground and, probably now the favourite, in growing bags.
Sow the seed, two to a three-inch pot, the last week in February, covering the pots in clingfilm and leaving them on the kitchen windowsill. When the seeds germinate and have produced a decent pair of leaves, pot them on, one plant to one three-inch pot.
Keep the compost moist but not waterlogged and try to shade the growing youngsters from hot sun. If they get too big for their pots, move them to bigger ones; come May, they can go out into the growing bags in the greenhouse; if you haven’t got such a luxury, keep them indoors until the threat of a late frost has passed, then put them outside to grow up a sheltered south-facing wall.
Support the growing plants with bamboo canes, water regularly, remove side-shoots, and start to feed with a liquid fertiliser when the flowers appear.
Watch out for pests and shade the plants when the sun is very hot. When the plants have set their fifth or sixth truss, pinch out the tops and let the fruit ripen. Then pick and enjoy.