It’s not too late to sow your own tomatoes, especially if you want to grow them outdoors. Tomatoes are a tender, warm weather crop so can’t go outside until all risk of frost is past, which in most of the UK means mid May, earlier for Cornwall, but even later in Scotland. Therefore, it’s not practical for most people growing at home to sow seeds any earlier because you end up with every windowsill filled with massive, gangly plants that are straining for light and nutrients. Unlike greenhouse grown tomatoes, you won’t get fruit until July at the earliest but with gardening, you have to go with the flow.
I sowed these a couple of weeks ago and some more yesterday. Plant individual seeds well spaced apart in a container (this is a recycled mushroom punnet) so that they’re easier to prick out. The first two leaves of any seedling never look like the end product, so pot them on when two true leaves appear. I favour the high tech approach of an old dinner fork to gently lift out the tiny plants. Pick them up by the leaves, not the stems and put them into 3 inch pots of compost, poking a hole with your finger first. If they’ve gone a bit leggy and lanky (like these have - too many seedlings, not enough greenhouse), plant them a bit deeper. They might need transferring to bigger pots again before it’s warm enough to put them outside.
This year, I’m growing four varieties, all but the last one from seed I’ve collected and saved myself:
Gardener’s Delight - huge crops of sweet, juicy, cherry tomatoes that have a multitude of uses. A bush variety that can be staked or left to sprawl along the ground with perhaps a little straw underneath to keep the fruit clean.
Marmande - an old French variety, big, knobbly fruits with deep grooves that are rarely seen in British shops because supermarkets think that uniform size and shape are more important than food with flavour. It tastes superb, with a fleshy texture and little juice so perfect for slicing and eating with mozzarella or making the best tomato sauce you have ever tasted. It does not crop heavily and is prone to blight but is well worth the effort.
Tangella - an heirloom variety whose seeds are not commercially available in the UK so you’ll have to join the Heritage Seed Library if you don’t know someone who grows it and saves their own. It’s a very heavy cropper of golf ball sized fruit the most beautiful shade of orange with a good flavour suitable for salads or cooking. Looks great mixed with red tomatoes and basil.
Tigerella - I haven’t grown these before but the stripey fruit is meant to be richly flavoured and very early so I’m giving them a whirl. I’m going to put a couple in the polytunnel to do a comparison with the outdoor ones.
As I was potting these seedlings on, I could hear the bells of the Carillon at Bournville wafting up the hill. One of many delightful details around Bournville village built by the philanthropic Cadburys, it plays a little tune at each quarter hour as well as being played by hand on regular weekend performances. Being Easter Sunday, there was a special concert of hymns, which made a very pleasant soundtrack to my gardening yesterday. As you can see, the effort has all got a bit much for one of my under gardeners.