Tomatoes are one of the most popular polytunnel crops in the UK. But growing them is not always easy. One of the biggest challenges when it comes to growing tomatoes here is the relatively short growing season. Unpredictable weather, blight and pests can also be challenges for those trying to grow tomatoes at home. One of the keys to success with tomatoes is sowing tomato seeds early indoors – these will then be at a good stage of progress by the time the weather warms and they can be transferred to the polytunnel towards the end of spring, or in early summer. Here are some tips if you are planning to grow tomatoes this year:
The tomatoes that will provide the best yields in the UK are usually those which are ready to harvest earliest. A bad summer can sometimes mean that the cold weather arrives before most of a tomato crop has had a chance to ripen. Choose the right short-season varieties and plant early to avoid being left with too many green tomatoes to use up later in the year.
Often, the advice is to sow tomatoes indoors eight to ten weeks before your last frost date where you live. The problem often cited with sowing too early is that the seedlings may struggle to get enough light. This can make them leggy and weak. Fortunately, this is an easy point to remedy (see the tip below). Those who do start their tomato seeds early and care for them properly will often see better, higher yields of tomatoes come harvest time.
Light levels, even on a south facing windowsill, can be very low in the early months of the year. Unless the weather is unseasonably clear and sunny where you live, you will likely have to supplement the light levels for your growing tomato seedlings. Fortunately, LED strip grow lights make it very easy to provide the required light levels for growing plants without breaking the bank, or consuming too much energy.
While the optimal temperature for germination of tomato seeds is around 21 degrees Celsius, they will germinate at a slightly lower temperature, or a slightly higher one. At lower temperatures germination will tend to take a little longer. The key thing, however, is not the exact temperature, but trying to keep temperatures from fluctuating too extremely during your tomatoes early stages of growth.
Watering should also be as consistent as possible. Make sure that you sow seeds into moist growing medium, and thereafter, water tomato seedlings from below, taking care not to over water or allow your tomato seedlings to dry out.