Growing tomatoes in the cold climate of Scotland. Yup it is possible.

I think it’s fair to say that tomatoes have been one of my favourite things to grow over the past couple of years but I hear all the time that you can’t grow tomatoes in the Scottish climate.  Yet I grow lots, blue tomatoes, purple tomatoes, red tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, even stripy tomatoes.

So what’s the trick?

Well simply, it’s about choosing the right variety for the space you have to grow them. Let me explain. You get two types of tomato plants determinate (bush type) or indeterminate (also called cordon). Determinate tomato plants grow as a bush, they are usually compact and all the fruits ripen at pretty much the same time. They don’t need a lot of staking or pruning. Indeterminate tomato plants grow to be tall, very tall, sometimes over 6 feet and continue to grow and produce fruit until they are killed off usually by cold weather. They also need a lot more care and maintenance, lots of pruning.

Within these plant types there are lots of different varieties which in turn will all have different positives and negatives for you as a grower. For example, the bigger beefsteak type tomatoes take a lot of sunlight to ripen, so if your garden doesn’t get a lot of direct sun or if your summer season is short, then these can be difficult to grow. The little cherry varieties, however, can be easier as they need a little less sunlight to ripen.

I am lucky because I have a greenhouse, which means I can have the tomato plants growing for an extended season, meaning when the weather changes in Scotland and we start to get cold and even frost (which is much earlier here than other parts of the UK, I can keep my plants safe in the greenhouse, unaffected. If I was growing my plants outdoors, I’d have to take this into consideration and chose a variety which would ripen quickly to get the best of the shorter season.

So here are some of my very quick tips for growing tomatoes.

Planting

You can plant your tomatoes directly into the soil or into pots. I prefer pots as this gives me the option to move things around in the greenhouse. If you use pots, make sure they are a decent size, your tomato plants get quite big. I usually go for around a ten-inch pot with good quality compost. You can also use grow bags, but try to keep it to one or two plants per grow bag.

Watering

This is one of the most important parts of growing tomatoes and I can’t stress enough how important it is to water your plants regularly and evenly.  The reason I say this is because if you neglect the plant, even just a little and then suddenly try to catch up on the watering, the skins can split, meaning you are likely to get mould growing in the fruit. Try to keep a strict watering regimen.

Feeding

Feeding your plants is essential, once they start to flower you need to feed them weekly with a good, balanced fertiliser. After all the plants are making lots of fruit for you so they need lots of nutrition.

Support

Your plants will need support, especially when they are full of heavy fruit. I use canes and wires to support mine. You can also buy cages especially for growing tomato plants but basically, you just need to find a way to keep them upright and support heavy branches.

Pruning

Determinate varieties (bush) should have their side shoots removed from below the first truss of fruit to allow air and light to penetrate and prevent disease. Try not to remove too many shoots after this as it will reduce your crop so keep them “bushy”.

Indeterminate varieties (cordon) should be encouraged to keep only one or two main stems. Remove any “suckers” by pinching out the growing tips from the leaf joints. These plants will be tall.

Remove “suckers” from your tomato plants

With both types, you may have to regularly remove excess leaves to allow sunlight and air to reach the fruit and help it to ripen.

Good luck with your tomato growing, I hope you guys will get as much fun and pleasure from growing tomatoes as I do, and remember, there are lots of types to grow, so be brave and try at least one that’s not a standard red salad tomato?

Once you have a gut of tomatoes and don’t know what do do with, take a look at some of our tomato recipes to help.

Tomato chutney

Tomato and red pepper soup

Summer pasta

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