How to grow tomatoes outdoors
What would your desert island food be? For me I'd have to have two, the potato and the tomato. Two very different foods but surprisingly both have a great deal in common.
The main thing is that they are actually from the same plant genus, Solanum. If you examine the flowers it becomes quite obvious that they are related also a potato fruit that forms after the flower is very tomato like although not fit for consumption as they are poisonous. Both are native to South America, arrived in Europe in the 16th century.
To grow tomatoes really successfully, (now, I mean crop successfully, because they will grow quite happily outside) in Ireland you need to grow them under the cover of a polytunnel or greenhouse. If you are going to attempt tomato growing outside you must locate them in the sunniest most sheltered spot you have available.
Don't be tempted to plant outside too early, there is nothing to be gained in doing so in fact quite the opposite can be true. Mid May at the very earliest.
Growing in a container or grow bag is advisable for outdoor growing, assuming you will grow tomatoes there every year, as you won't have to worry about the crop rotating that would be advisable every three years otherwise. Crop rotation gives the soil a rest from the same crop and its nutrient demands and also help discourage soil borne diseases.
Choose a suitable outdoor variety. The choice of tomato varieties is head spinning, I know a man that grows over a hundred different varieties every year, something of an obsession one would think. Bush or cordon refers to the growth habit. Bush are compact needing no pruning and suitable for pots and even hanging baskets, cordon are those traditional tall staked varieties that need supporting and to have their side shoots removed.
After that there is the choice of fruit. Cherry, salad, beefsteak, plum and heritage or heirloom. All of which can be broken down into sub categories. For outdoor use stick to the cherry and salad types which are the most suitable in our climate, personally I would just go with the cherry tomatoes as they ripen more quickly. Thompson and Morgan have a great section on their web site entitled 'Perfect tomato selector' which can be extremely helpful.
If you are growing from seed ideally you should have sown them by now and have seedlings growing on a window sill ready to plant out in a fortnight or so. The advantage of growing from seed is that you have the choice of whatever varieties you want although maybe more seeds and plants than you require. Buying plants from a garden centre restricts your variety choice but you only get the number of plants you require and the germination uncertainty is already done for you.
Tomatoes are voracious feeders and indoors or out should be feed weekly with a suitable tomato feed. Regular and consistent soil moisture is also important as wild fluctuations of wet and dry causes fruit to split. When growing outside it is best to allow only five or six trusses of tomatoes to form and let the plant concentrate its energies into ripening those.
Varieties to grow outdoors include, cherry types Gardeners Delight, Tumbling Tom and Lossetto. Salad types include Alisa Craig, Alicante and Moneymaker. And if things don't go quite according to plan there are plenty of green tomato chutney recipes available online.