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How to grow tomatoes at home amid UK shortage

Beat the tomato shortage with your step-by-step guide to growing your own

tomatoes growing patio© Photo: iStock
Chloe Best
Lifestyle Features Editor
March 2, 2023
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A tomato shortage has hit the UK, leading many supermarkets to ration the number shoppers can buy – if they can find any at all.

One way to beat the issue is to grow your own tomatoes at in your garden, and while it is relatively simple to get started, it will take about five months for the fruit to grow from seedling to harvest, so you can reap the rewards by the summer. Watch the video below for more gardening jobs to do in March that will get your garden looking beautiful by the summer.

WATCH: Gardening jobs to do in March

Whether you're a complete beginner or have a little more gardening experience, this step-by-step guide from Craig Wilson, a gardening expert from Gardeners Dream, is all you need to grow your own fresh tomatoes at home – and the best time to start is now.

MORE: 10 spring gardening jobs to do now

According to Craig, the best tomatoes are grown early. They can be grown indoors as early as January, transferring to the garden after two months when the weather is milder.

What you need to grow your own tomatoes

"To grow tomatoes successfully from seeds, you'll need some starter trays and 3-4 inch pots to transfer them into after they begin to grow. You'll also need rich, fertile soil or peat-free potting compost and a good spot with plenty of sun (around eight hours a day) and shelter," Craig recommends.

Tomato seedlings© Photo: iStock

Which tomato seeds should I use?

For beginners, we recommend tomato moneymaker seeds. They are one of the most reliable varieties of tomatoes, popular for being reliable and producing heavy crops of delicious tomatoes. And you don't need to visit a garden centre to find the perfect seeds, there is a wide assortment of tomato seeds available on Amazon, including everything from heirloom tomatoes to Tumbling Toms.

READ: 9 new garden trends to enjoy your outdoor space in 2023

How to sow tomatoes at home

Planting tomato plants© Photo: iStock

Sow seeds from January to April, about ¼ inch deep. Use deep pots or trays, under glass, with a temperature above 18°C (around 25°C is best). Tomatoes are sensitive to cold and love heat, which helps them to grow. Keep the soil moist but be careful not to overwater, making the soil soggy and inhibiting growth

Once seedlings are large enough to handle, around five inches tall, transfer them into individual containers or a seedbed. Once the last frost has passed, it is safe to plant them outside. If night temperatures drop below freezing, keep them inside for now.

MORE: Nigella Lawson has the best hack for your leftover tomatoes

How to prepare your tomato patch

To ensure your tomatoes have the best chance of growing plump and juicy, you need to check your soil is of the highest quality possible with four easy steps:

  • Remove any larger weeds and debris
  • Treat soil with weed killer
  • Dig over the soil to a depth of at least 12 inches, then rake until the ground is level, which aerates the soil, helping oxygen and moisture reach the roots to encourage growth.
  • Before planting, water the soil and work in a fertiliser

Tip: you can create your compost using old fruits, vegetables, and coffee grounds, which will help fertilise your plants at no extra cost.

How to grow your tomatoes

Tomatoes growing in pots© Photo: iStock

Dig deep enough for the soil to cover about two-thirds of the plant, encouraging strong roots and healthy growth. Each plant should be around 20 inches apart in rows, and the spacing of each row should be double that. Make sure to water the plants consistently. When watering, check the soil's moisture; the water should go around ten inches deep.

Tomato trellises and support stakes can help your plants to grow. Don't grow tomatoes near cabbage, fennel, corn, or potatoes, as this will harm the tomatoes' growth.

RELATED: Get inspiration from these celebrities with amazing vegetable patches

How to maintain your tomatoes

Water regularly and feed weekly with a high-potash fertiliser once the plants begin to flower. Side shoots may appear on your tomato plants. You can prune these, which helps reduce the risk of disease and how much support is needed, but it's not necessary.

When to harvest your tomatoes

It is safe to harvest tomatoes in the summer, from July to October. Tomatoes ripen after picking but wait until they are beginning to change colour before harvesting. They should come off the vine easily. If not quite ripe, keep them in a well-ventilated area at home until they are ready to eat.

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