Growing Tomatoes outdoors
Nova tomatoes growing in a long row: Red Alert tomatoes can produce well when grown outdoors.
Tomatoes are the quintessential summer vegetable that no garden should be without. To get the best results tomatoes should be grown in a protected structure such as a polytunnel or greenhouse. However, if you don’t have a tunnel or greenhouse, it might be worth growing them outdoors – though yields will be lower, fewer tomatoes are better than no tomatoes at all.
Tomatoes love warmth, and outdoor tomatoes have the best chance of success in the warmest parts of Britain. Unfortunately, this limits their production to the area south of a line from Bristol to the Wash, though in a particularly sunny, warm summer, they might produce a worthwhile crop further north. Even then, the garden should be in a sheltered spot protected from the wind.
The techniques used to grow tomatoes outdoors are about the same as those employed for growing tomatoes inside (see "Growing tomatoes"). The plants should be started as transplants inside, and then transplanted either into the ground or a container such as a grow bag or large pot. Stout support must be provided for indeterminate varieties, and the fruit harvest when they are ripe.
Left: Outdoor indeterminate tomatoes need strong support. Right: Tomatoes also do well in pots.
The major differences to growing tomatoes indoors are the sowing and transplanting times, which are shifted to later dates. For example, sow seeds can be sown at the end of March in warmer areas, up to mid to late April in colder ones. Then transplant outside in late May where it is warmer, waiting until beginning of June in colder parts of the country.
Some tomatoes such as var. Nova (above) are worth trying outdoors
The biggest problem with outdoor tomatoes will be blight. Ferline and Red Alert may have some resistance, though in especially bad years, spraying may be the only way to control its spread . See the following Royal Horticultural Society site for a detailed discussion of its causes and control:
Late blight in tomatoes. Right: infected leaves. Left: row of outdoor tomatoes badly infected with late blight