How not to grow tomatoes – expert advice

Social media and the ability to be able to ‘publish’ whatever you want should have huge benefits for us all. When it comes to gardening the internet is a huge source of information. But there seems to be more nonsense than good advice. Using the internet is a bit like using a slide rule (for those of you who remember such things) – they always slightly mystified me because you needed to know the answer to be able to use them to to deduce the answer.

So it is with the ‘web’ – you really need to know the answer to your question because you don’t know if what you are reading is useful or nonsense.

The media is delighted by the news of shortages of fruit and veg in shops and are seeing it as an opportunity to make money almost as efficiently as the oil companies are benefiting from Putin’s invasion of Ukraine – it is indeed an ‘ill wind’. So a recent press release about growing tomatoes really got my goat (my apologies to goats).

I have written about growing tomatoes many times including here (you can search for more posts at the top of the page if you wish). I strongly believe that you can only encourage people to garden, and to garden again, if they have success so I get annoyed by advice about throwing seeds about and expecting crops to spring up.

But then there is the nonsense post. Many of these are copied or rewritten from other sites and often from American sites. I have nothing against American sites but they are not always safe sources of information for gardeners in Northern Europe because the climate may be different. But the worst are those written by people who just don’t know what they are writing about and call themselves and expert or guru. (I always wince at the Antrim Show when I am introduced as a guru! )

So this press release had me fuming. Let’s look at some of the advice:

C**** ******, a gardening expert from (a company selling plants) reveals their top tips for growing the perfect tomatoes at home.

Well actually it is HE not their but let’s not get picky about plurals

Nothing is more satisfying than growing beautiful, fresh tomatoes in your garden. The best tomatoes are grown early. You can grow them indoors as early as January, transferring to the garden after two months when the weather is milder.

Well the weather may be milder in March but even with all the optimism you can muster it won’t be safe for tomatoes outside in March around here!

For beginners, we recommend tomato moneymaker seeds. They are one of the most reliable varieties of tomatoes, popular for being reliable and producing heavy crops of delicious tomatoes.

This is personal, but ‘Moneymaker’ is never delicious and is OK at best. Why grow bog standard toms when cherry toms are arguably easier, tastier and ripen more readily

Sow seeds from January to April, about ¼ inch deep. Use deep pots or trays, under glass, with a temperature above 18°C (around 25°C is best). Tomatoes are sensitive to cold and love heat, which helps them to grow. Keep the soil moist but be careful not to overwater, making the soil soggy and inhibiting growth.

I wouldn’t use deep pots for sowing but most of this is not wrong.

Once seedlings are large enough to handle, around five inches tall, transfer them into individual containers or a seedbed. Once the last frost has passed, it is safe to plant them outside. If night temperatures drop below freezing, keep them inside for now. 

Seedlings five inches tall are too big to rip out of their seed trays. – most people can handle seedlings when the seed leaves have expanded but maybe this is written for The Gruffalo.

And now we get to some strange facts:

To ensure your tomatoes have the best chance of growing plump and juicy, you need to check your soil is of the highest quality possible with four easy steps:

  • Remove any larger weeds and debris
  • Treat soil with weedkiller
  • Dig over the soil to a depth of at least 12 inches, then rake until the ground is level, which aerates the soil, helping oxygen and moisture reach the roots to encourage growth.
  • Before planting, water the soil and work in a fertiliser

Yes, remove weeds and old parts of bicycles or shopping trolleys. But then treat with weedkiller????

If you have removed weeds why are you treating with weedkiller? Digging is something I approve of but 12 inches is a bit prescriptive and over the top. Yes, add some fertiliser if you like.

Tip: you can create your compost using old fruits, vegetables, and coffee grounds, which will help fertilise your plants at no extra cost. 

I would not expect this compost to resemble anything a novice would associate with the word ‘compost’

Then things get really weird

Dig deep enough for the soil to cover about two-thirds of the plant, encouraging strong roots and healthy growth

Does this mean you bury the lower two thirds of the plant in the ground? Strange!

Don’t grow tomatoes near cabbage, fennel, corn, or potatoes, as this will harm the tomatoes’ growth.

Near??? How near? Utter garbage.

Side shoots may appear on your tomato plants. You can prune these, which helps reduce the risk of disease and how much support is needed, but it’s not necessary.

While we have not discussed the way tomatoes grow he now says that removal of sideshoots from cordon toms is not necessary and that if you do remove them it will reduce disease. Words fail me.

It is safe to harvest tomatoes in the summer, from July to October.

Safe?? is there some risk associated with picking toms in June???

Tomatoes ripen after picking but wait until they are beginning to change colour before harvesting. They should come off the vine easily. If not quite ripe, keep them in a well-ventilated area at home until they are ready to eat.

Why on earth would you pick unripe toms and ripen them indoors – I know you might at the end of the season. The whole point of growing your own is to let them ripen on the plant so they taste good!


Now you may think that I am getting worked up over nothing but I want people to be successful in their gardening. I did some more research and visited the company website and discovered lots more rubbish on their blog.

I was particularly intrigued by a post about ‘the best weed killers for a tidy garden’. Now I am not averse to using a few of what few chemicals are still available to home gardeners. I garden using as few chemicals as possible but I do use them ‘in extremis’ and I would not stop anyone using some glyphosate to be able to manage their plot.

The post is illustrated with photo of a neat garden with immaculate lawn. So it is surprising that the five weedkillers suggested all contain glyphosate. There are various ‘brands’, all commercial rather than domestic packs, with recommended applications such as Gallup XL for ‘Most garden-variety weeds‘ and ‘Clinic Up’ which is best for ‘Weeds across your garden and flower beds‘. Please don’t use glyphosate on lawns or on flower beds unless you want to kill everything.

So it is surprising that, in an explanation of weedkillers they state ‘You can use systemic-type weed killers in wet or dry weather. You can also use it on lawns, as it shouldn’t spread or damage your grass lawn

Glyphosate is systemic – to quote from the National Pesticide Information Centre ‘Glyphosate is a non-selective systemic herbicide’ meaning that ‘Glyphosate is absorbed by plant foliage and transported throughout the plant through the phloem.’ Glyphosate kills lawns!

But then the introductory paragraph says it all!

Weed killers are an essential part of gardening. Whether you opt for a chemical systemic weed killer or like to roll up your sleeves and dig up those weeds yourself, it’s an important task. Without a weed killer your carefully nurtured chosen garden plants will suffer.’

On the contrary – listen to this nonsense and all your garden will suffer.

7 Comments on “How not to grow tomatoes – expert advice”

  1. Jaye Marie and Anita Dawes
    March 2, 2023 at 7:29 am #

    you’re right… a load of horse manure!

  2. Paddy Tobin
    March 2, 2023 at 8:15 am #

    Relax. Take deep breaths. Move on!

  3. Mitzy Bricker
    March 2, 2023 at 11:30 am #

    Thank you for your insight and advice.  Some of the stuff was utter nonsense!😳😂

    Blue Rock HorsesFrederick County,


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    • thebikinggardener
      March 2, 2023 at 11:39 am #

      Thank you for that. I hate moaning in my posts and always feel like deleting them a minute after they go live in case I offend anyone so your comments cheer me up – but I promise won’t encourage me to moan more!

  4. Dee
    March 2, 2023 at 11:34 am #

    😂🤣😂. Yes, totally agree. After many years of trying to grow a few tomatoes in North Mayo, this year I’ve swore to stop trying. They always grow far too tall and gangly for my covered raised beds (those have been turned over to rear pet lambs this year – I’m hoping they and their straw beds will both fertilise and prepare a good bed for the underplanted strawberries when the lambs no longer need covered in at night). Anyway, those tomatoes – I’m fed up having tomato plants that don’t start producing fruit till the end of October/November just a last ditch effort before they die off. Tomatoes might grow fine in Cork, Wexford or in a protected south facing Dublin garden but I’m giving up! Plenty of Olearias for me – ok, I can’t eat them but the sheep love the trimmings!

    • thebikinggardener
      March 2, 2023 at 11:41 am #

      I am slowly adding more olearias and, apart from ‘haastii’ I love them all! I know you are fed up with tomatoes but if height and late-ripening are the issue I would suggest you try an early ‘bush’ type that stays low and doesn’t need training. ‘Red Alert’ and ‘Tumbler’ are the standard ones and that straw will keep the low fruits clean too. Give it one more try maybe?

  5. tonytomeo
    March 2, 2023 at 2:56 pm #

    Gads! You would not believe how many clients argue with me, with ALL my horticultural education and experience, about some hooey they read online. Furthermore, just trying to confirm information that I know to be true online is BAFFLING. Just recently, I tried to determine the approximate ratio of queen palms relative to all palms in Los Angeles. Not only is such information not documented (which really should be no surprise), but I found lists of the ‘most popular’ palms in Los Angeles, and about half of such palms do not even live there. The same list was copied at many sources. The same applies to all horticulture and gardening.

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