Cover Storage Tomato Long Keeper

How to Sow and Grow Storage Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a staple in many gardens, offering a bounty of ripe, juicy fruits throughout the summer months. While fresh tomatoes are delicious when enjoyed straight from the vine, storing tomatoes for later use allows you to savour their flavour long after the growing season has ended. This practice is common in Italy and southern Europe but has yet to catch on in the UK. Certain Heirloom varieties exist that, when grown under specific conditions, will allow you to eat homegrown tomatoes well into winter. In this blog, we’ll explore the process of growing storage tomatoes, from selecting the right varieties to preserving your harvest for year-round enjoyment.

Jump to a topic:

Hanging bunch of tomatoes for drying against a white wall background. Free space for text

Selecting Storage Tomato Varieties

When it comes to storing tomatoes, not all varieties are created equal. Look for tomato varieties specifically bred for long-term storage, known for their thick skins, firm flesh, and superior keeping qualities. Some popular storage tomato varieties include:

  • Hanging Prince Storage Tomato – a plum storage tomato for which you harvest the entire truss and allow to ripe on the vine en masse and that, if left long enough will ultimately dry to be similar to sundried tomatoes.
  • Long Keeper Storage Tomato – a larger storage tomato which involves harvesting individuals tomatoes and storing them in paper.

Sowing Storage Tomatoes

  • Start Indoors: Begin by sowing storage tomato seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost date in your area. Fill seed trays or small pots with a high-quality seed starting mix, then plant tomato seeds to a depth of 2cm.
  • Provide Ideal Conditions: Place the seed trays in a warm, sunny location or under grow lights to encourage germination. Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged, and maintain temperatures between 21-27°C for optimal seedling growth.
  • Transplant Seedlings: Once storage tomato seedlings have developed several sets of true leaves and are large enough to handle, transplant them into individual pots filled with potting soil. Harden off seedlings by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions if you’re planting them in the garden.
  • Choose the Right Location: Plant storage tomatoes in a sunny spot with well-draining soil, ensuring they receive at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. Space tomato plants 40 cm apart to allow for proper air circulation and room to grow.
  • Provide Support: Storage tomato plants benefit from sturdy support structures to prevent sprawling and keep fruits off the ground. Install tomato cages, stakes, or trellises at planting time to support growing plants and keep them upright.
  • Water Consistently: Water storage tomato plants regularly, keeping the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged. Avoid overhead watering, as this can increase the risk of disease. Instead, water at the base of the plants to deliver moisture directly to the roots.  Note that before harvest you must start to restrict watering – more on this later.
  • Feed Sparingly: Avoid over-feeding storage tomato plants, as this can lead to excessive foliage growth at the expense of fruit production.
  • Prune for Airflow: Remove suckers and lower leaves from storage tomato plants to improve airflow and reduce the risk of disease. Prune selectively to open up the plant canopy and allow sunlight to reach developing fruits.

Harvesting and Preserving Storage Tomatoes

  • Droughting: Once the fruit has swoon to full size but is still hard and unripe, restrict water to the bare minimum. Only supply small amounts of water should wilting occur. Keep an eye out for signs of blossom end rot on plants as this will require some water and the addition of organic liquid feed to prevent. Droughting like this causes the skins of the tomatoes to harden which is necessary for maximum storage time.
  • Harvest: Once fruit shows the very first signs of blushing it is time to harvest, this should be in Autumn time, much later than other standard tomato varieties due to the late start given to storage tomatoes. On small fruited varieties such as Hanging Prince, harvest the whole truss and hang together in bunches tied with string. On larger varieties such as Long Keeper, harvest fruit individually and wrap in tissue or newspaper and lay out in trays. So the fruit is not touching.
  • Storage: For longest possible storage time, store in a cool, dark, dry, frost and pest free environment. Check the tomatoes regularly and remove any spoiled fruit before this can spread to the rest. The tomatoes will continue to ripen slowly during storage and can be used as required.
Long keeper square

Sowing storage tomatoes allows you to enjoy the bounty of summer, long after the growing season has ended. By selecting the right varieties, providing proper care, and preserving your harvest using various methods, you can savour the flavour of homegrown tomatoes year-round. So, roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and start sowing storage tomatoes for a season of delicious abundance!

Shop Heirloom Tomato Seeds

Video – How to Sow and Grow Tomatoes