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Articles about Vegetable Crops for the Garden

  Advantages of Container Vegetable Gardens
  Best Vegetable Crops for Containers
  Brandywine Tomatoes - Get the Most From This Heirloom Variety
  Choosing a Site For Your Home Vegetable Garden
  Container Vegetable Gardening Tips
  Container Vegetable Gardens
  Double Your Crops
  Getting Children Interested in Growing Vegetables
  Grow Your Own Salad
  Growing Tomatoes in Pots
  Growing Vegetable Plants Becomes More Than Just A Hobby
  How to Grow a Vegetable Garden
  Indoor Container Vegetable Gardening Ideas
  Indoor Vegetable Gardening How to Tips
  Learning About Indoor Container Vegetable Gardening
  List of vegetable crops by difficulty
  Mushroom Growing in Odd Unused Spaces
  Non Hybrid Seeds For Survival Gardening
  Organic Container Gardening - Simple and Easy Ways to Grow Vegetables and Flowers in Pots
  Organic Vegetable Cultivation Table
  Over Wintering Chilli Pepper Plants
  pH preferences of food crops
  Planning your Container Crops
  Planting Tomatoes Upside Down
  Potato Container Garden Tips
  Preparing a Vegetable Garden
  Review: Food4Wealth by Jonathan White
  Vegetable Container Garden Tips
  Vegetable Crops in alphabetical order by name
  Why I Recommend Vegetable Container Gardening
  Why Vegetable Container Gardening is Getting More Popular Today Than Ever
  How to grow organic Asparagus
  How to grow organic Aubergines
  How to grow organic Beetroot
  How to grow organic Broad beans
  How to grow organic Broccoli
  How to grow organic Brussels sprouts
  How to grow organic Cabbage
  How to grow organic Calabrese
  How to grow organic Carrot
  How to grow organic Cauliflower
  How to grow organic Celeriac
  How to grow organic Celery
  How to grow organic Celtuce
  How to grow organic Chinese broccoli
  How to grow organic Chinese cabbage
  How to grow organic Chicory
  How to grow organic Corn
  How to grow organic Cucumbers and Gherkins
  How to grow organic Endive
  How to grow organic Florence fennel
  How to grow organic French beans
  How to grow organic Garlic
  How to grow organic Globe artichokes
  How to grow organic Jerusalem artichokes
  How to grow organic Kale and borecole
  How to grow organic Kohl rabi
  How to grow organic Komatsuna
  How to grow organic Land cress
  How to grow organic Leaf beet
  How to grow organic Leeks
  How to grow organic Lettuce
  How to grow organic Mizuna
  How to grow organic Mustard greens
  How to grow organic New Zealand spinach
  How to grow organic Onions
  How to grow organic Parsnips and Hamburg Parsley
  How to grow organic Peas
  How to grow organic Peppers (hot and sweet)
  How to grow organic Potatoes
  How to grow organic Radishes
  How to grow organic Rocket
  How to grow organic Runner beans
  How to grow organic Salad onions
  How to grow organic Salsify, Scorzonera and Scolymus
  How to grow organic Seakale
  How to grow organic Shallots
  How to grow organic Spinach
  How to grow organic Squash
  How to grow organic Swede
  How to grow organic Texsel greens
  How to grow organic Tomatoes
  How to grow organic Turnips

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Frann Leach

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Organic Gardening:

How to grow organic Tomatoes


Tomatoes come in a bewildering variety of shapes and colours


Lycopersicon esculentum

Family: Solanaceae (Group 8)

You can grow organic tomatoes. It's easier than you think - and the difference in the taste is simply astounding. Not only that, but you're not limited to the supermarket offering (small or medium). Tomatoes come in numerous different shapes, sizes and colours. Get hold of a specialist tomato catalogue and you will find pages and pages of different types, something for everyone, and for any purpose you can imagine. And you can get varieties to grow outdoors or under glass.

Cordon or Indeterminate types

Cordon tomatoes must be provided with support and the side shoots need to be removed regularly to channel production into fruiting. Once the plant has reached the top of the support (up to about 120cm (4')), or when 4 trusses of fruit have set, the main growing point is pinched out. Due to the short growing season in the UK, it is unlikely that more than 4 trusses will reach maturity in this country, at least for the time being. Who knows what global warming may bring?

Bush or Determinate types

Somewhat sprawling, bushy plants which can be grown without supports (or so they say, although the ones I tried fell over, so I had to give them a stick each, anyway - the sticks can be shorter, though, so you may be able to use fleece). As fruits are often produced close to the ground on these plants (basically, the whole plant is close to the ground), straw or plastic mulches (particularly black and white plastic, black side down) are useful to keep fruit clean. Note that access to insect pollinators is necessary once flowering has started - meaning you have to take the fleece off.

Recommended cultivars

Outdoor Cordon
Gardener's DelightCherryExcellent flavour, Also for cold greenhouse
Sweet 100CherryAlso for cold greenhouse
Outdoor GirlStandardEarly, good in cool years
GeminiStandardGood for cool summers
Outdoor Bush
Red Alert F1StandardEarly, good flavour
RomaPlumMay need support
Greenhouse (all cordons)
AlicanteStandardReliable, heavy cropper, Resistant to greenback
DombitoBeefsteakGood disease resistance
Golden SunriseStandard yellowTasty and juicy
TigerellaStandard stripedEarly, yields well
Cherry Belle F1CherryOutstanding flavour

Dwarf varieties

These are miniature bush types, sometimes no more than 20cm (8") tall, low yielding, and mainly used in pots. There are also miniature trailing types, such as Tumbler, which are often grown in hanging baskets.

Fruit types

Apart from the standard red tomato found in every supermarket, there are also pink, orange, yellow and striped tomatoes. Sizes range from the smallest 'currant', through cherry, small, large and beefsteak. These last are very large, and of a more uneven shape more like a capsicum, good for stuffing, with thick walls.

As well as variations in size and colour, there are also several different shapes available; in addition to the usual round tomato and the chunky beefsteak types, there are also plum tomatoes (used extensively in Italian cooking), the Oxheart and more recently, pear-shaped types.

Cultivation methods - outdoors

As a general rule, tomatoes can only be grown successfully outdoors in the Southern half of the British Isles, although use of the fluid sowing method combined with black and white plastic mulch and perforated or fleecy films may produce a crop even as far north as Edinburgh, I am told. They can also be grown in containers, which can be brought outside for the warmer months and returned to the greenhouse when the weather turns against you (presuming you haven't tied the supports to the greenhouse framework so irrevocably that you can't get it off without damaging the plant!).

Site and soil

Tomatoes grow best on a sheltered site, ideally backed by a South-facing wall. If the site is exposed, erect an artificial windbreak. The soil should be fertile, well-drained, and moisture retentive. If the soil is at all acid, it should be limed. Work in plenty of well-rotted compost or manure before planting out, plus 125gm/sq metre (4oz/sq yard) of fish, blood and bone and 125gm/sq metre (4oz/sq yard) of rock potash. If growing tomatoes in containers, use a John Innes number 3 or equivalent.

Tomatoes should be kept as far away from potatoes as possible, because they share almost all the same pests and diseases. Tomatoes should be included in a rotation with the other Solanaceae (potatoes, aubergines/eggplants, peppers and chillis are all Solanaceae).


Sow the seed no more than 8 weeks before the last expected frost date for your area. Good quality tomato seed should be sown indoors at a minimum temperature of 60ªF (16ªC). Sow the seeds individually 20-25mm (¾-1") deep in trays or modules. As they germinate and reach a size when they can be handled, transplant them into 10cm (3½") pots. At 6 weeks, start hardening the plants off, aiming to plant them out at 8 weeks once the soil temperatures have reached 50ªC (10ªC), and the plants are beginning to flower. If the weather forecast is for frost, delay planting until the weather improves.


Cordons 40-50cm (15-18") each way, Bushes 50-60cm (18-24") each way, Dwarfs 25-30cm (10-12") each way. Cordons can also be grown in large containers about the size of a standard bucket (one per container) or two or three to a growbag. If you are using growbags, you will need to find some way to support the cane, as there is insufficient depth of soil to hold it steady. This is fine, if you are placing the bag onto the ground - just push the cane straight through the plastic into the ground, but if you are growing them on the patio, there may be a problem. To be perfectly honest, you are better off putting the soil from the growbag into a couple of buckets (make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom) and planting your tomatoes in there. This way, the soil doesn't dry out so fast, so it's easier to keep them moist. Adding a few water crystals helps, too.

Mulching, support and crop protection

Mulch is optional. Use either black plastic mulch or black and white (white side up to reflect the light back up onto the fruit). Cloches, fleece and perforated film can all be used until the plants are in flower, when access must be provided for pollination. Cloches can be stood on end "wrapped round" the plant. Fleeces and films must be gradually cut away above the plants, but left in place on either side to give additional shelter.

Cordon varieties need to be tied to 2m (6') canes (the bottom 30-40cm (foot or so) of which is pushed into the soil) at planting out, or to two or three parallel wires run between stakes. The main stem must be tied about every 30cm (foot) as it grows, and sideshoots which develop in the leaf axils need to be removed regularly (at least twice a week).

After 4-5 trusses of fruit have set (3 in the North), or when the leader reaches the top of the stake, in late July or early August, pinch out the growing point, a couple of leaves above the top truss.


Once plants are established, watering should not be needed until flowering starts except for container-grown plants and those in growbags. After this, apply about 10 litres per square metre (2 gals/sq yard) every week. The soil must not be allowed to dry out, or blossom-end rot will almost certainly develop. Growbags and containers will probably need watering every evening.


Plants grown in the open ground should need little feeding if the soil was properly prepared. Container-grown plants will need to be fed regularly, every watering or every other watering, with tomato fertiliser or comfrey liquid. Both of these feeds are high in potash, which aids fruit production without encouraging too much leafy growth.


Unprotected outdoor tomatoes are normally ready from about mid-August. Pick fruit as ripe as possible for the best flavour. Try one straight off the plant: who needs salad dressing?

In late September, mulch outdoor cordons with straw, cut them down and cover with cloches to assist the fruit to ripen. Bush cultivars can also be cloched, and container-grown plants moved under cover, if you can move them at all.

If frost threatens before the fruit ripens, there are 4 options available:

  1. Pull up plants and hang by their roots in a greenhouse or somewhere warm indoors (i.e. not a cellar);
  2. Cut trusses with about 10cm (4") of stem and hang between 2 horizontal canes to ripen indoors or in a greenhouse;
  3. Pick fruits individually, wrap loosely in paper and store in a cool place - ripen small quantities as required in a warm place in the dark, placing a banana into the container with them, which will produce ethylene gas to encourage ripening;
  4. Use remaining fruit for chutney.

New methods for early outdoor crops

Developed by research stations for bush tomatoes, the fluid sowing methods avoid the need to raise plants indoors in heat. They have been used successfully in the Midlands, and South of England and Wales, and as far North as Edinburgh.

In Northern and cold areas, sow 7-10 days later than stated.

  1. Fluid sowing in a frame

    • Keep frame covered to warm up for two weeks
    • Sow pre-germinated seeds in late March/early April
    • Sow 25mm (1") deep in rows 12cm (5") apart, thin to 10cm (4") between plants in the rows
    • Protect frames with sacking if frost threatens
    • Ventilate well on sunny days
    • Plant out mid to late May at 15-20cm (6-8") high after hardening off in the normal way

  2. Fluid sowing in situ

    • Warm up soil with cloches or clear plastic film
    • Sow pre-germinated seed about the third week of April
    • Station sow 50-60cm (18-24") apart each way
    • If covered with cloches until flowering, sowings can be made 2 weeks earlier in the South and 1 week earlier in the Midlands, East Anglia etc.

  3. Using fleece and perforated film

    Low polytunnels are not very successful for bush tomatoes, due to high humidity, although there are newer ventilated types that may be a partial solution to this problem. However, use of fleece or perforated plastic film will result in heavier crops. This can either be used as a tunnel cloche or a floating mulch.

    Once flowers can be seen, around mid-June, start making intermittent cuts about 1m (3') long in the centre of the film. A week later, cut the remaining gaps, but leave the cover on either side to give shelter. This method can be combined with fluid sowing and planting through plastic mulch.

Pests, diseases and disorders

Article ©2004 Frann Leach. All rights reserved.

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