Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Stopping The Tall Varieties

The stage at which you remove the growing tip of a tall variety depends on whether you are growing outside or in a greenhouse. You might allow four trusses outdoors and up to seven or eight in an unheated greenhouse.

The photo on the right shows what happens if you don't pinch out the growing tips! Thanks to Ted S. for the photo.

The other factor to consider is the length of your growing season which for the purposes of the above example would be from late May to the beginning of October of a frost-free period. The longer your growing season, the more trusses you can grow before you pinch out the growing tips, assuming that you have a tall enough greenhouse!

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Growing Tomatoes - Watering and Disease

When watering, avoid splashing soil up onto the lowest leaves which may transfer soil infections into a plant through the leaves. Splashing water up onto growing fruit may also create ghost spot which is caused by grey mould soil spores and displays small transparent water-like rings.

It's also a good idea to pull off suckers, side shoots and leaf branches by hand rather than cut them because the blades of knives and scissors can spread disease from one plant to another.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Cherry Tomatoes - The First to Mature

Every season the race is on to see which variety matures first.

However, looking through the seed catalogues in the winter months provides the encouragement to select the earliest maturing variety just to see how soon I can be eating ripe tomatoes later in the season.

The first thing to note is that (in my experience) it is always the cherry tomatoes that mature first.

The next point is that it is not necessarily the variety with the shortest season that matures first, but the variety that sets its fruit at the coolest temperatures.

A plant can be waiting at the flowering stage with no sign of fruit set because the day and night temperatures are not conducive to fruit set.

Furthermore, some varieties will set fruit at cooler temperatures and it is only experience that can give you the knowledge of which is the earliest variety to set.

When you have a quick growing cherry variety that is cold tolerant and sets fruit at cooler temperatures, you have the earliest possible combination.

Of course the seed catalogues almost always say, this or that variety is early or cold tolerant but there is often a lack of information about early fruit set.

I've brought this subject up because this season many gardeners have reported that their plants have been slow to set fruit.

Fruit set or flower fertilisation occurs when day and night temperatures stabilise so that pollen reproduction can occur (usually June for most varieties). Sowing very early in the season could be a waste of time if you choose varieties that require higher temperatures to set their fruit.

Anyway ... after all that I managed to be eating Glacier cherry toms at the end of June from plants growing outdoors ... I'm happy with that!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Blossom End Rot

This is definitely my best season for reducing blossom end rot.

The watering plan has been to thoroughly soak the compost every few days and water normally in between. Of course we haven't had many hot spells where it becomes difficult to keep the compost moist, but nevertheless, I have had only a few cases of BER and I'm growing over seventy plants.

Two further points to make are, it took longer than usual for flowers to set therefore the plants are producing toms in warmer conditions (helps reduce BER caused by low temperatures) and also, the new compost and sterilisation of containers etc. this season means that there are no soil based diseases that hinder the uptake of nutrients and especially calcium.

Blossom end rot was a real problem for me last season but hopefully, I think I've got the better of it!

The three most important ways to avoid BER are:
  1. Water thoroughly every few days.
  2. Always use new compost to avoid disease.
  3. Sow medium and large varieties (the most affected by BER) a little later in the season for fruiting at warmer temperatures.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Removing Leaves

Lower leaves of a tall variety, those below the first truss, may be removed when a plant reaches about 4 ft tall.

If you use a knife or scissors there is a chance that disease may be spread from one plant to another so it is best to pull them off with a sharp tug upwards.

Some of the lower leaves will be yellow and poorly looking and of no use to the plant's growth.

If too many leaves are removed at the same time, it can stress the plant so remove gradually over a period of a few days if there are a lot to remove.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Leaf Curl or Leaf Roll

The curling or the rolling of tomato leaves is quite normal for some varieties and is just a sign that they're happy. However, sometimes it is a symptom of a more serious situation that affects a plant in a way that causes damage.

There are three causes of leaf roll:

  • Physiological leaf roll which may be caused by stresses such as too much water, excess nitrogen, and transplant shock. Often the plants recover and the leaf roll has no affect on the plant's productivity.

  • Herbicide damage may also be a direct result of leaf roll symptoms. Fruit may be deformed but plants can recover if they are not exposed to too much. It is often a drift of spray from a neighbours garden or nearby farmer spraying his field that can cause the problem.

  • The last possibility is a viral infection such as yellow leaf curl virus caused by sap sucking insects such as aphids. Once a plant has the virus its growth also becomes stunted and there is no cure.

There is little that can be done to avoid the second and third reasons (above) for leaf roll. Also, stress is difficult to avoid if you grow outdoors but stress is managable whereas herbicide damage and viruses aren't.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Tomato Support

One of the problems with bush tomato plants is that when they are laden with fruit, the weight of the toms sometimes pulls a branch away from the main stem.

If this happens, all of the toms on that branch will of course stop growing, so it's a good idea to identify any branch that looks vulnerable and support it in some way.

You can see in the pic above that the tomato plants have their laden branches supported with string. A stake is also very useful but do be careful with short stakes and make their ends visible.

Here I've stuck a piece of heavy duty tape to the ends of the canes to make them easier to see ... a cane in the eye is an awful thought!

On a lighter note, you could attach wine corks to the ends of the canes ... but you'll have to drink the wine first!

Another option is empty plastic vitamin containers placed upside-down on the ends of the canes.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Basic Curry Sauce

The Basic Sauce

Caution: The making of this sauce requires that a little water is added to hot oil.
This should be attempted with care because the mixture can splash back so it is recommended that this sauce is cooked only by adults.

The following amounts are for two people.

· Cumin - three heaped teaspoons (big heaps!)
· Coriander - same as above
· Turmeric - one level teaspoon
· Chilli Powder - half teaspoon
· Salt & Pepper - quarter teaspoon each
· A good half cup of sunflower oil

You will also need a tin of chopped or whole tomatoes and a couple of tablespoons of natural yoghurt (optional).

This is the basic mix for most of my curries which you can adjust to your own taste.

Cooking Method and Basic Sauce

Before you start have an open tin of chopped or whole tomatoes ready and a cup of hot water.
Heat a saucepan on the stove (on high) then add the oil.
Add the spices then start stirring and keep stirring (don't let the oil burn).
Add about a tablespoon of hot water and be careful not to let the oil splash back - you should get a big hiss!

Do this several times over a period of a minute or two then start to add the tomato juice then a tomato or two from the tin over the next couple of minutes and use about half of the tin. You will only use about half the cup of water but remember to keep stirring or the oil may burn.

You should notice that the spices change from an oil/sand mixture to an oil/mud consistency.
Turn the heat down to simmer and let the mixture cook for five to ten minutes.
You should see that by now you have a lovely brown/red muddy mixture.
Add the yoghurt just before serving for a creamier consistency.

To make "Special Banana Curry" mash half a banana with a fork and add it to the sauce.
Cook for another ten minutes then add the other half of the banana sliced.
To give the curry a more complex deeper taste, add a tablespoon of dried fenugreek leaves that have been soaked in water for ten minutes - it is powerful stuff!
You could also add pieces of chicken or prawns.
Two tablespoons of tinned/chopped spinach instead of banana.
Double the chilli powder and add tomato puree to the sauce for a madras.

The important bit is adding the water to the oil and spices without getting burned! However, this part of the cooking process is essential to making a good curry sauce.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Is This Really July?

This is what you may expect earlier in the season but the constant rain that we've been having in the UK means that if you have just a few plants, it may be a good idea to cover-up!

Finding ways to protect your tomatoes from rain is probably the biggest challenge for those who grow tomatoes outdoors.

Wet leaves, for a prolonged period, means there is a high chance of blight ... a fungal disease that also affects potatoes. Some varieties are less susceptible, such as Ferline and Legend, but even these are not totally blight resistant.

Another problem with rain is that it drains the soil of nutrients. This could be quite useful later in the season when there may be a build up of nutrients and a flush-through of water would be helpful.

However, as the fruit continues to swell a constant supply of nutrients are needed so even if the plants are well watered, they still need feeding!

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Petals & Sepals

One of the interesting characteristics of tomato plants is that their flowers are not only different in size but also in the number of petals and sepals each variety has.

The sepals are the green slender leaves growing above or behind the petals.

I've just been out in the garden counting the sepals and I've found that seven is about average but there are ten on a Brandywine (as in pic) and the lowest I've counted, so far, is six on a Tumbling Tom. It would be interesting to find out which variety has the fewest and the most sepals!

This makes me wonder why, when there are so many different colours of tomatoes, are all tomato flowers yellow? If I find the reason I'll let you know!

Monday, 7 July 2008

Diluting The Taste

If tomato plants receive too much water when the fruits are swelling, the taste of the tomatoes is affected or perhaps more accurately ... diluted!

Exactly why this is ... I don't know, but I guess if soil consists of water and nutrients (among other things) the uptake of nutrient levels is reduced when there is too much moisture in the soil because of dilution.

The reason why this has crossed my mind is because of the amount of rain we've had in the UK lately. As long as the temperature doesn't dip too much, tomato plants should be OK. However, cooler temperatures plus wet leaves equals tomato blight ... one of the biggest problems for outdoor growers. Potatoes are also affected by the same disease.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Droopy Leaves 2 - The Wilts

There are two more reasons (see previous post) why leaves droop when the sun comes out and that is because of fusarium and verticillium wilt. Both of these are fungal infections which are found in soil and infect the roots and clog-up the vascular system of a tomato plant preventing it from carrying moisture to its leaves etc. a bit like a human with very slow blood circulation (excuse the comparison!).

There isn't much that can be done apart from foliar spraying to help the plant in hot weather but an infection of either of these wilts will slow down the production capabilities of tomato plants depending on the severity of the infection.

Once again, use fresh, sterilised compost from grow bags etc. to avoid this problem. It usually occurs when plants use the same soil several seasons in succession.

You may have noticed that there is now Twitter on the blog. Twitter is a sort of mini blog where I can jot down a word or two about what is happening in my garden with regards to my tomato plants at various times of the day. I'll give it a try and see what happens!

Saturday, 5 July 2008


This is one of my favourite pics of the bush variety called Tumbler F1.

I used to grow it every season and it was always among the earliest varieties to mature ... along with Red Alert.

For some reason, possibly the cost of seed, it seems to be losing popularity and more difficult to find in the garden centers and seed catalogues this past couple of seasons.
I now grow Tumbling Tom, Garden Pearl and Red Alert ... Red Alert being the most like Tumbler but much cheaper in seed cost.

There are many new cherry varieties being developed, especially among the tall cordon types, but I expect at some point in the future Tumbler will make a come-back - I hope it does!

Friday, 4 July 2008

Droopy Leaves - Nematodes

The sun is out, the sky is blue, there's not a cloud to spoil the view but you've got droopy leaves!

So you give your affected plants a good watering, move them into the shade if they're in a large pot and give their leaves a misting with the sprayer. Hopefully, their leaves will lose their droop and look normal again.

However, there are times when this becomes a recurring situation and more than just under-watering is the cause.

Nematodes are microscopic worms that live in the soil and affect the roots of tomato plants to the point where proper absorption is reduced and plants are unable to take up enough moisture and nutrients when the weather is hot.

This results in drooping leaves and requires foliar application of both water and feed. Unfortunately, plants affected by nematodes will not perform to their full potential.

Using fresh, sterilised soil such as that from grow bags etc. is the best way to avoid any soil based problems.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

A Drop of Rain

When temperatures are reasonably warm a drop of rain can be very useful.

Firstly, it saves you having to water your outdoor tomato plants, and secondly, it wets the compost or soil gradually, allowing a more thorough wetting of the root area and helping to prevent blossom end rot.

However, a deluge when there are ripe tomatoes on the plants can cause tomato split. This happens when the soil goes from dry to very wet and the tomato skins cannot expand to the degree of water consumption that the tomatoes absorb.

When this happens I just cut the tomato that's split along the line of the split and nobody knows the difference. I usually cut my cherry toms in half for curries and pasta dishes anyway.

One problem that occurs when it rains heavily is that it brings out the slugs and snails. When the rain stops is a good moment to catch them and throw them into the bushes at the bottom of the garden. At night my wife and I can sometimes hear a crunching sound ... we think it's the hedgehogs having a midnight feast ... every cloud has a silver lining!

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Tomato Taste - Sweet or Traditional

This picture was taken two seasons ago (my toms aren't quite as mature as these at the moment) and it shows a truss of Sungold which are probably the most famous of the sweet cherry types.

When you bite into a Sungold you realise that the taste is much sweeter than a Gardener's Delight for example. That's because Sungold is not only sweet but has very little acid content.

Gardener's Delight on the other hand, does contain both sweet and sour, or perhaps I should say sugar and acid and is considered by many gardeners to represent the true, traditional, tomato taste.

Of course I'm not complaining about Sungold ... they taste great!