Grow Your Own Tomatoes

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Using just a can, you can grow your own!

We’ve got our hands on the The Little Grower’s Cookbook, a children’s grow your own gardening and cooking book using repurposed and recycled materials. One of our favourite sections was on tomatoes and how to grow your own using just a can.

Tomatoes are actually a fruit not a vegetable. They are easy to grow from seed but you can also buy young plants from your local farmers’ markets or garden centre. There are lots of varieties to choose from in different colours and sizes as well as two types – ‘bush’ tomatoes and taller ‘cordon’ tomato plants. Here we used the bush (also known as compact) tomato as it will grow happily in a large container (ask your local pizza restaurant for an extra large tomato or olive tin) and it will reward you with lots of tasty fruits. Homegrown tomatoes, picked straight from the plant, remind Julia of her childhood – harvesting sweet, juicy tomatoes, full of flavour and scent, with her father in his greenhouse.

The basics

When to Grow

Sow seeds in spring and plant in early summer, when the weather is warmer.

You will need

Packet of bush(compact) tomato seeds or 1 small bush or compact tomato plant

Recycled supermarket fruit punnet, small yoghurt pots or biodegradable pots

Bigger yoghurt pots or drink cups for transplanting


Recycled, extra-large tin, about 20-25cm tall, clean and with no sharp edges or 1 large deep flower pot

Multi-purpose or potting compost

Growbag compost

Plant label (wooden lolly stick), pen or pencil

Watering Can

Stick for supporting the plant, such as bamboo cane

Gardener’s twine or string

How to Grow

If you are using tomato plants rather than seeds then you can skip straight to the transplanting section.


A recycled, clean fruit punnet, small yogurt pots or biodegradable pots are the perfect containers to grow your tomato plants from seed. Fill each punnet or pot with your compost, rubbing it through your hands to remove any lumps, and add some water. Sow one seed per cup or six seeds per punnet and top up with a little more compost. Alternatively, see our ‘mini greenhouse’ project on page 186 for a fun way to do this using a fresh tomato.


About two weeks after sowing, your tomato seedlings will have appeared. When they are about 8cm tall and have two true leaves you will need to move them to the large yogurt pots or drinks cups to continue growing. You will need to make some drainage holes in the bottom.

Using a pencil, make a hole in the compost. The seedlings will have very thin stems so carefully pick them up by their leaves and place into the hole gently, one plant for each pot, trying not to damage the roots. Water the seedlings carefully and leave in a sunny warm place; tomatoes need lots of light to stop them becoming thin and weak. Don’t forget to label your plants and stand the pots on a tray to catch water spills.


When your seedlings have 3–4 true leaves you can transplant them to the extra-large tin or large deep flowerpot that you have filled with grow bag compost. Tomatoes are hungry plants and will love the rich nutrients in this compost. Water the plants regularly but be careful not to overwater if your container does not have drainage holes. When the weather warms up, move them outside to a sunny, sheltered spot.


Bush tomato plants need little attention other than watering daily. Soon lots of yellow flowers will appear and each one of these flowers will turn into a tomato. Your first tomatoes will be ripe and ready to pick by midsummer, but more tomatoes will keep coming! Keep checking your plants to see when the tomatoes start to turn red – that’s when to pick them. If there are lots of sunny days the tomatoes will ripen very quickly.


Little Grower’s Tip

Plant some basil near your tomato plants. The lovely scent from the leaves will stop white fly attacking your plants. Or even better try the ‘pizza box’ idea on the next page.

When transplanting your tomato plants, bury them deeply – including some of the stem into the compost – this helps increase the root system, making your plants big and strong.

Tomatoes are self-pollinating which means they don’t need another tomato plant or bees to help produce fruit, unlike some other fruit and vegetables. You can give them a helping hand by gently shaking the plants when the yellow flowers appear; this spreads more pollen and guarantees lots of juicy tomatoes for you.

The Little Grower’s Cookbook is donating 10% of sales to DEC and is available to buy from or other retailers including Amazon.

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