Ailsa Craig Tomatoes: An Heirloom Variety for Your Garden

ailsa craig tomato in greenhouse


Revered by gardeners and cooks alike, the Ailsa Craig tomato is a classic British heritage variety, offering a delightful blend of historical pedigree and exceptional flavour. This guide offers a deep dive into the Ailsa Craig tomato: its history, how to grow it, its benefits and challenges, and some commonly asked questions.

A Storied Past

Named after an island in the Firth of Clyde, Scotland, the Ailsa Craig tomato first graced gardens in the early 1900s. Its balanced sweet-tart flavour, firm, juicy flesh, and appealing bright red hue have made it a favourite among gardeners and gourmets for over a century.

Benefits of Ailsa Craig Tomatoes

Growing Ailsa Craig tomatoes offers numerous benefits. Their well-balanced flavour profile makes them a versatile addition to any kitchen, from fresh salads and sandwiches to sumptuous sauces. Their robust growth habit ensures a bountiful harvest, making them ideal for gardeners who love the reward of plentiful produce.

Challenges to Consider

Despite the many positives, there are some challenges associated with growing Ailsa Craig tomatoes. They are an indeterminate variety, which means they require regular pruning to prevent excessive foliage. Additionally, they need staking or caging to support their vigorous growth, making them a little more labour-intensive than some other varieties. Finally, like all tomatoes, they can be susceptible to common tomato pests and diseases, so regular monitoring is essential.

Growing Ailsa Craig Tomatoes: A Step-by-Step Guide

Growing Ailsa Craig tomatoes requires a few specific considerations, given their indeterminate growth habit and size. They prefer a sunny location with well-draining soil and consistent watering. Below, we outline a step-by-step guide for sowing seeds, transplanting seedlings, staking, and ongoing care. 

1. Sowing Seeds Indoors

Start your Ailsa Craig tomatoes indoors about 6-8 weeks before the last expected spring frost. Sow the seeds in small pots filled with a mix of compost and perlite for good drainage. Cover the seeds lightly, water gently and place them in a warm location with temperatures around 15-20 degrees Celsius. 

2. Seedling Care

Once the seedlings develop their first pair of true leaves, transplant them into larger pots. Keep them in a well-lit area and maintain a consistent watering schedule, allowing the top layer of the soil to dry out between waterings to prevent overwatering. 

3. Hardening Off

A couple of weeks before you intend to transplant them outdoors, start ‘hardening off’ your young plants. This process involves gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions to help them adjust. Start with a few hours in a sheltered location, gradually increasing the time spent outside over a week or two.

4. Transplanting Outdoors

Choose a sunny spot in your garden with well-drained soil. Ailsa Craig tomatoes thrive when they receive at least six hours of sunlight daily. Dig a hole that is deep enough to cover most of the stem of the tomato plant, as new roots will develop along the stem, creating a stronger plant. 

5. Staking

Since Ailsa Craig is an indeterminate tomato variety, it will continue to grow and produce fruit until killed by frost. These tomatoes will require a sturdy stake or tomato cage for support. Secure your plant to the support structure as it grows, using soft ties to prevent damage to the plant.

6. Care and Maintenance

Water your Ailsa Craig tomatoes regularly, aiming to keep the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged. During dry spells, you might need to water more frequently. As for feeding, tomatoes are heavy feeders, so use a tomato fertiliser to provide all the necessary nutrients for optimal growth and fruit production.

7. Pruning

Prune your Ailsa Craig tomatoes to increase airflow and light penetration, which will result in healthier plants and better fruit. Remove the side shoots that appear in the leaf axils to help direct the plant’s energy into growing bigger, better-quality fruit.

8. Harvesting

Your Ailsa Craig tomatoes will be ready to harvest when they have developed a uniform, vibrant red colour. The skin should still be firm, and the tomato should come off the vine easily.

Ailsa Craig Tomatoes FAQs 

Are Ailsa Craig tomatoes easy to grow?

Yes, Ailsa Craig tomatoes are generally easy to grow. These classic tomatoes are well-loved by gardeners for their reliable growth habit and robust flavour. They may require some basic care like regular watering, feeding, and some pruning, but overall, they are not overly demanding and are well-suited to both novice and experienced gardeners.

Can you grow Ailsa Craig tomatoes outside?

Absolutely! Ailsa Craig tomatoes can be successfully grown outdoors. It is essential to choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil, as they require at least six hours of sunlight per day to thrive. Remember to harden off the young plants gradually before planting them outside after the risk of frost has passed.

How tall do Ailsa Craig tomato plants grow?

Ailsa Craig tomatoes are an indeterminate variety, which means they can grow quite tall. On average, they reach about 5-6 feet in height, although they can grow even taller with proper care and under ideal conditions. As such, they will require staking or caging to provide necessary support as they grow and bear fruit.


Growing this variety is a wonderful way to enjoy a slice of history in your own garden, if you’re looking for alternatives though then check out our blog on top UK tomato varieties. Despite the few challenges they present, the rewards are plentiful and the process is a gratifying journey. Embrace the opportunity to grow this heritage variety and enjoy the fruit of your labour in countless delicious ways.