30. April 2018

How to grow tomatoes outdoors

Do you need a greenhouse to grow tomatoes? This is one of the most common questions I get from my readers. I grow tomatoes outdoors without any issues. Why not give it a try?

It seems to be a given that tomatoes are always grown in the greenhouse. But that’s not necessarily true. Some kinds are indeed supposed to be better suited for greenhouses though: For example the expensive F1 hybrids that are developed for greenhouse cultivation. But in most other cases, I think it’s a sliding scale. Adopting this frame of mind gives me the courage to experiment, and I think you should do that too. It’s not as hard as you might think to grow tomatoes outdoors.

The pros of growing tomatoes outdoors

I’m in no way an expert in growing tomatoes, but I manage to grow them with exactly the right of amount of success to cover my needs. I actually think it’s easier to grow tomatoes outdoors. They don’t need as much supervision out in the open as in the polytunnel. The tomatoes grow super quickly in my polytunnel and require plenty time for watering, fertilization, tying and much more. It’s a different pace outside. I also like adding some tall tomato plants to my outside areas in the kitchen garden.

I don’t water my tomatoes as frequently outside, and they get used to that. No problem. Using mulch is the perfect way to keep the soil moist and it also provides the plants with all the nutrients they might need, all season. I can also choose to grow my tomatoes together with other plants which is a perfect way to utilize my garden space to the max.

 

En trädgårdskorg överfull av tomater, A basked full of tomatoes.

There are a lot of not fully developed tomatoes to deal with in late fall. Most of them will ripen indoors and you can harvest them from large trays even in winter.

This is how I grow tomatoes outdoors:

  • I’m always careful not to sow my tomatoes too early in the open field. The reason why I wait is because I don’t want my plants to get too large and unmanageable.
  • I always try to keep my plants outside for a few weeks before I plant them, so they get used to the conditions outside. If not, I’ll just keep them in my polytunnel. I put them outside if it’s 7 degrees Celsius or more outside during the night.
  • I start planting them outside around mid-May. I put some garden fabric on top if the nights are still a bit cold.
  • I plant the tomatoes deep into the soil. That way, my plant is sturdy and the first batch of tomatoes won’t be too high up on the stalk. This will also give the plant a more compact look.
  • I use sticks for support. I put them in the soil close to the plant or create a larger structure which I’ll sooner or later be able to tie the plant to.
  • I always make sure to put mulch on top of my tomatoes to keep the soil moist. Grass clippings and ensilage work perfectly and provide the plant with nutrients the whole growing season.
  • Remember to remove some leaves along the stalk so that the tomatoes get enough light. They ripen quicker this way.
  • The shoots are removed throughout the season, since I don’t want the plant to waste its energy supply this way.

 

En liten tomatplanta satt i jord täckt med organiskt materiel. A little tomato plant with mulch

Mulching is perfect for tomatoes that thrive in nice, moist soil. You can start using mulch as soon as you’ve planted the little tomato plant.

 

Smaller harvest when you grow tomatoes outdoors?  
I’m guessing that the harvest will be smaller when you grow tomatoes outdoors, compared to a well-functioning greenhouse project. I have limited space in my greenhouse though. There’s simply not enough room for all of the plants I want to put here. But there’s plenty of room in the open field, I can put a lot more plants here. Even though the harvest from each individual plant is a bit smaller, I can still level the playing field by planting a lot more plants outside. Being able to do this is a big plus!

Unfortunately, my tomatoes have been affected by water mold many years in a row now (both in the polytunnel and the open field). Despite this, we’ve still been able to fill our freezer with enough tomatoes until the coming spring. So all in all, growing in the open field has been completely worth it.

 

Höga tomatplantor och under dem växer huvudsallat. Tall tomato plants and lettuce.

Here, I’ve put the black tomato variety Indigo Rose and batavia lettuce together.

 

Which varieties should I use?
The back of the seed packets will tell you which varieties are best suited for the greenhouse. There’s information about growing in the open field on some of them too. This is rare though. I always avoid the seed packets that lack information about how to grow them in the open field. The varieties that take a very long time to develop are a no for me too, since this could mean that the tomatoes take too long to ripen.

I’m usually not this picky when I’m choosing between different varieties. I, just like everyone else, grow way too many different kinds. This makes it harder to keep track of all the information about harvesting, taste and growth rate.

Some varieties stand out of course. Black Russian, Black Seaman, and Brandywine are three beefsteak tomatoes that thrive in the open field. The different varieties of little cherry tomatoes often produce a nice and early harvest too. Principe Borghese has grown really nicely, just like the heirloom tomato Röd Blomme, Taxi and Marmande. Many people who are enthusiastic about growing tomatoes in the open field talk about Gardener’s Delight. I haven’t tried it myself but I’ve heard good things!

In conclusion: I grow many different varieties in the open field. For me, the most important thing is not that every single plant should produce a huge harvest. We get enough. The best part is that it’s so fun to harvest all these different types of tomatoes and then compare them. The children love this activity. I’m really looking forward to taking a closer look at the variety Banana Legs!

 

En tomatplantering längs en husvägg. Tomato plants against a wall.

My tomatoes in the open field got water mold in 2016, but my beef steak tomatoes still managed to produce a large harvest.

 

Using pots to grow tomatoes outdoors
If you feel a bit worried about putting your tomatoes in the open field, you could always try to plant just a few of them to test the waters. Or, put them in a pot that you can move to the greenhouse or polytunnel if you get cold feet. I use all of these tricks!

Good luck!
/Sara Bäckmo

 

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