‘Need to know tomato hacks’: Grow a tasty, bumper harvest – pruning tip and asprin trick

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Chris Bonnett is the owner of Gardening Express

Tomatoes are perhaps the most popular homegrown veg, they are very easy to grow, even if you do not have a garden! From six-foot monster plants with masses of salad sized fruits to the giant flat beefsteaks, tasty sweet cherry varieties, and the unusual heritage varieties in shades from the brightest red to pink, golden yellow, green-striped, egg-yolk orange; there are even a few purple-black varieties that could be mistaken is little round aubergines!

So there is something for everyone, and if you have limited space, select a variety you know you will eat and love.

Tomatoes from seeds are best started a month or so ago indoors, in March or April to bring on ready for planting outside if you do not have the luxury of a greenhouse that they’ll absolutely love.

If you can’t find plants locally and didn’t start your own, you can still start seeds now – you’ll just get shorter plants with fewer trusses (that’s the fruiting branches) of fruit later on – although, they do usually catch up with their earlier started friends.

Here are the top secret tips to a bumper harvest

Choose your planting spot wisely

Tomatoes love a bright sunny spot, even better if it can be sheltered, and deep fertile soil that will hold moisture on hot summer days, so don’t plant in the shade, or in thin poor soils, as you’ll drastically limit your harvest, or even fail.

Grow Bags have historically been used for tomatoes, but for the best crops, and ease of watering, forget them – they’re not big enough.

If you don’t want your tomatoes in the soil, use large 15-litre tubs, and don’t forget a saucer that can hold water to keep them going if you’re out all day in hot sunny weather.

Plant deeply – or sideways

You want to have your plants around six inches (15cms tall) when you plant them out.

This should be in well prepared fertile garden soil, or large planters with fresh compost, ideally with a season-long feed included as tomatoes are heavy feeders.

We use a professional mix called “Compost King” in our nurseries, as this contains Seaweed too. More about seaweed in a moment.

Take your tomato plant and nip off all the lower leaves on the bottom two-thirds of the plant, dig a deep hole, and plant in the soil covering the lower stem of the plant up to the set of leaves you did not remove.

The plant will then grow masses of extra feeding roots from the buried stem, which will make it extra sturdy too.

If you don’t want such a deep hole, you can achieve the same thing by sideways planting – that is laying the plant down in a long planting hole – with just those few leaves revealed above the soil. Remember where the stem and root are planted for later.

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Staking

As soon as you have planted your tomato, add a sturdy, tall bamboo cane. Doing this now avoids damaging new roots your plant will make than adding at a later stage.

As your plant grows, you’ll need to gently tie in the main growing shoot to this stake.

Remove side shoots

Some varieties can be grown without this and will form sprawling, unwieldy bushes, but the biggest harvests come when you remove side shoots – these are quite simply the new shoots and branches that appear at each leaf joint.

Be careful you do not remove the main leading shoot. The reason to remove these is that you want to get your plant focusing on producing lots of fruit, not lots of shoots.

It also keeps the air circulating nicely around the plants which helps the plants fight off any tomato plant ailments.

Alan Titchmarsh gives advice on how to plant tomatoes

Feeding

Back to the seaweed, try and find a feed that contains liquid seaweed if you can, and feed your tomato plants regularly following the instructions on the bottle. Seaweed is great to use because it is organic, which helps build super strong plants that are better able to ward off pests and diseases.

There’s also a seaweed meal that can be added to your soil or compost at planting time.

Seaweed does not feed your plants as such, as it happens, it is essentially the anabolic steroid of the plant world, containing all sorts of organic goodness and trace elements to make plants thrive and get the most out of the other elements in the feed you are using. I also think it makes for a tastier crop too.

Spray aspirin

Here’s a top tip that not many people know – aspirin – adding a couple of aspirin tablets and dissolving them in a watering can once a week before watering and spraying the plants with the solution seems to stimulate a tomato plant’s immune response.

This simply means they can fight off any pest and disease attacks much better. It is even said to ward off the dreaded tomato blight later in the season.

It also strengthens the plant’s resolve against stress conditions such as high heat or a missed watering. Happy plants, equal higher yields.

Watering

You want to aim to keep the soil around your tomatoes well-hydrated – poor and inconsistent watering can result in cracked fruit or worse a condition known as blossom end rot when the end of the developing fruit turns brown and starts to decay.

Solve this for pot-grown plants by having large saucers to act as a summer reservoir you can keep topped up at all times to last a whole day when the weather is hot in the summer.

In the ground, when you plant, dig a secondary hole next to the planting hole and “plant” an up-ended milk or lemonade bottle as deep as you can with the cap removed and base cut out, use this as a funnel for all your watering and feeding and you can deliver straight to the roots where it is needed – which could be every day at the height of summer.

Epsom salts

Not for a cleansing bath for you, but for your tomatoes. Tomatoes can often suffer from magnesium deficiency in the soil – so water once a week with a solution of Epsom salts – around two tablespoons per watering can fill, and your plants will really thank you for it.

The same solution can be sprayed over them too. It’s a yield booster and again helps the plants keep strong against any pest and disease attacks.

Topping out

This is for later in the season, when you’ve set between four and six trusses of fruit – you want to cut the growing point off the plant – you don’t want more shoots or late fruit growing that will not ripen before the frosts of autumn set in, so you need to cut out the top of the plant and stop the plant growing upwards so it can focus all energy into the fruits it is carrying.

Air

Later in the season again, if you have leaves crowding the fruit trusses, remove a few of them. This helps air circulation around the plants, helping to prevent diseases, it also helps light reach the fruit and the ripening process.

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