Thursday, 17 December 2009

Tomato Seedlings in Cold Conditions

In November I started an experiment to see if it is possible to grow tomatoes - in this case a cherry variety - over the winter period.

I've kept them in a light window and away from condensation that would probably result in a fungal infection.

Not watering too much, that is, keeping the soil almost dry, has also helped in keeping the seedlings healthy.

They are looking a little "leggy" but reasonably good for the middle of December.

Feeding will be unnecessary as the soil has plenty of nutrients and they won't need much at this slow rate of growth. Over-feeding and over-watering are two of the most popular mstakes that are made when growing tomatoes - killing them with kindness you might say!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Growing Tomatoes in Hot Weather

Here in the UK at this time of the year, people who grow tomatoes dream of warm sunny days surrounded by their beloved plants and of course...lots of tomatoes!

However, it is easy to forget that seasons around the world are different, and my winter is someone's summer - I'm thinking of those who live "down-under" that's Australia to English people, or in any other part of the world that is hot right now.

Here are a few tips for keeping your tomato plants in good condition.

  1. Don't put small plants in full sun for long periods until they have developed a good root system.
  2. Have a mist/spray handy to water through the leaves if plants start to wilt.
  3. Soil that dries out too quickly will probably cause blossom end rot in the fruit, so add gel, or perlite to the soil. An automatic watering system is great if you don't mind the expense.
  4.  Spray flowers to help fruit set.
  5. Keep plants shaded if possible. When temperatures reach around 35 degrees C. and over, many varieties of tomato plant will stop growing.

More information about growing tomatoes in hot conditions.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Growing Tomatoes in the Winter

Is it possible to grow tomatoes during the winter period, indoors without any extra lighting or hydroponic methods?

It is an interesting question because the urge to grow tomatoes all year round has tempted many to have a go at growing out of season - including me.

Looking at the little seedlings coming through the soil in a large pot, where a tomato from earlier this season had left its seeds, I decided to save three of the seedlings and put them in a small pot of there own.

Sowing tomato seed in November, and producing successful tomato plants, is possible for the commercial growers, growing in large greenhouses because they can control the temperature and the amount of (artificial) light the plants receive.

I've put the seedlngs in the lightest window in the house - my porch actually - and keep the temperature above freezing at night!

One guy who is doing this, or something similar, and writing about it on his blog is at the link below.

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Thursday, 29 October 2009

Tomato Growing

This blog will start again in the Spring of 2010.

However, during the winter period I'll write a few posts if I can think of anything useful to say!

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Late Season Success & Disappointments

It is at this time of the year when I'm pleased to have grown a few varieties that mature towards the end of the season. Of course, if we get a poor summer ( a bit like we've just had in the UK) most varieties will mature late.

Anyway, Tumbling Tom yellow is still going strong, First in the Field (last in the garden) is beginning to do its thing and New Yorker looks as if it might produce a ripe tom before the end of the season - if I'm lucky!

I can't believe that Garden Pearl has taken so long to mature and that the taste of my Red Alert toms were not as good as they have been in previous seasons. Never mind, The Santa - red and yellow - tomatoes are producing well and they taste really nice - a bit like grapes actually.

I've still got a few varieties with only green tomatoes on them but the sun we're having at the moment should help a lot. A tray of tomatoes that are almost ripe are in the windowsill warming in the sun - it is difficult to throw away toms that are perfectly ok even if they are green - I must get a recipe or two for fried green tomatoes!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The Weather Is On The Turn

The temperature is dropping and it seems as if the Autumn is here. This is the time when the tomatoes slow down their ripening and I still have a few plants that haven't even started to produce fruit yet!

The large varieties are usually the last to ripen but there is still a Garden Pearl, in the greenhouse of all places, that has just started to fruit.

The Red Alert, Tumbling Tom red, and the Maskotka are on their last, but the Tumbling Tom yellow is still going strong and the First In The Field (I call it last in the garden!) has just come into its own.

My favourite large variety, Oregon Spring, didn't perform well this season, and neither did Gardener's Delight which is an old dependable - usually - but tasted watery this year.

There are a number of things that affect tomato taste:
  • The variety.
  • The amount of water a plant has received.
  • The way a plant has been fed.
  • The amount of sunshine.
I think that the last one, the amount of sunshine, has been the most significant in the UK this summer - I've had quite a few reports of poor taste in varieties that would normally shine :)

Still a few weeks left - and all those green tomatoes yet to ripen!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Tomato - Maskotka & Tumbling Tom Yellow

Not much has been happening in the garden this past week. However, this is the time of the season when I like to compare the different tastes straight off the plants.

Although each variety has its own characteristic taste, it is also true that the taste does vary from season to season depending on the conditions.

The star of the season has been Maskotka (red in pic) for taste and quantity. It was also relatively early and fought well against the poor weather that we've had in the UK this summer - last season was also very wet and caused me to grow most of my outdoor plants under cover this summer.

Another star has been Tumbling Tom Yellow (pic). It has been later to mature than most of my other cherries, but the taste is zingy and intense with a meaty after-taste ... they look fantastic too!

I would say that these two varieties are the best tasting in my garden this season.

I think I'll buy some plain white plates!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Green Tomatoes - Tips for Ripening

We are still waiting for a few days of sunshine and the ripening of the many green tomatoes that are still on the plants.

If your first toms are still green but full size, I recommend that you feed (with tomato food of course) twice each week or every other watering. This should bring them on and hopefully get them turning colour.

However, don't exceed the manufacturer's recommended feeding instructions for more than three weeks or you may damage the plants roots due to a build-up of nutrients in the soil.

Also, if you are concerned that you have given too much or the strength of the solution was more than you had intended, give the soil a good flush through with clean water.

I still have some varieties such as Alicante without one red tomato, yet Red Alert has been fruiting since June!

If you wish, as soon as a tomato begins to turn colour, pick it and put it in a bowl with a ripe banana. The ethylene (?) from the banana helps ripen toms more quickly.

Thankfully many of the varieties I grow are producing ripe tomatoes and one of the stars of the season has been Maskotka, a cherry bush variety. The fruit are large for a cherry tom and the quantity and taste are also very good.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Tomato Split

One heavy downpour of rain and some tomato varieties will split quite easily. Even in the greenhouse irregular watering may cause toms to split, and the worse variety for splitting is Sungold.

However, Sungold is also the sweetest tom I've ever tasted, so it does have its good points!

Irregular watering is the main reason why tomatoes split so I water my toms even if they don't need it and when they do, I'll not give them too much.

If you see a plant wilting give it a spray mist of water but don't over-do the watering.

The good thing about cherry varieties like Sungold is that you won't get blossom end rot which affects mainly medium and large varieties. This means that the main consideration is to not over-water, rather than keep the entire soil area of the roots moist in order to avoid BER.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Maskotka - First in the Field

With so much happening in the garden at this time of the season, it is difficult to know where to start.

My three Maskotka plants have blight after fighting valiantly in the rain - I would give the title of "blight tolerant" to this variety any day considering how often they've been rained-on!

The large varieties (usually later than smaller size toms) are beginning to ripen so I'm taking a few that are turning colour off of the heavy laden trusses. Sometimes a truss can be so heavy that it pulls off the main stem.

On the subject of tomato taste, I think it would be reasonable to say that strong flavoured toms with an acid prominence would go well with strong or spicy tasting food, and toms with a more balanced or sweeter taste would go well with more subtle tasting food.

My wife and I love salmon - we don't eat it very often because of the expense - but I can tell you that an assortment of the right flavoured tomatoes, that suite the subtle taste of salmon, is heaven on a plate. I can't think of a meal I would rather have!

I'm still waiting for First in the Field - it's last in the garden (almost), but like many of the medium and larger varieties they're struggling to ripen because of the poor summer we've had.

A few days of warm sunshine in the UK and we'll be in tomato heaven. If you live in a different part of the world I hope you've had less rain!

Friday, 14 August 2009

Taste & Colour

I spend so much time thinking about the best ways to grow tomatoes I often ignore the subject of eating them.

Left is a pic of three varieties, Auriga (orange) Red Alert (red-obviously!) and Tumbling Tom (yellow).

I like to compare the different tastes and have three colours which look great in a salad - actually I ate them with a bacon sandwich!

The taste of Auriga is sweet with a little acid.
The taste of Red Alert is a balance of sugar and acid.
Tumbling Tom yellow has a tart zingy taste - still sweet but with attitude. Actually, they look similar to how they taste!

With so many varieties to choose from now, and plenty more about to mature, this is the most productive time of the season and the time I look forward to all year - the neighbours are quite happy too, now that they receive some of the overflow!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

100's & 1000's

A couple of weeks ago 100's & 1000's (left) was on my list of tomatoes that are too small to grow. However, the taste is really very very good!

A balance of sugar and acid that is truly traditional - just a pity about the size, although you do get a lot of them.

The toms that have been exposed to the rain we've had lately do taste a little "watery" and don't have their usual intense flavour.

With so many varieties to try it's difficult to decide which ones to grow again next season, however, 100's & 1000's are on my list of best tasting toms!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009


Each season I like to grow a couple of tomato plants inside my porch which gets the morning sun 'till about midday.

Last year it was Micro Tom which did quite well but the toms were a bit too small for my liking. This year my neighbour gave me two Vilma plants which I planted in six inch pots and just let them get on with it.

As you can see they're doing well and the toms are a decent size cherry - they also taste good too!

Of course I won't get the amount from these plants that I would from Red Alert or Tumbling Tom, which are much bigger plants, but I'm very pleased with this variety and I'll grow them again next season.

Having so much great looking soil/compost left at the end of each season, that I won't use twice on the tomatoes, I decided to have a go at growing a few other vegetables.

My wife loves runner beans so I planted a few in containers with pretty good results. The rain we've had lately has helped a lot.

So I'll keep the soil from the toms and use it again next season on runner beans

Monday, 10 August 2009

The Season So Far - August 10th

It has been a while since my last post having been on holiday for the past week but there is no escaping the weather here in the UK - it has been wet most days in almost every part of the country but we did get some sun over the weekend.

However, on the bright side, I am surprised that none of my plants has blight because this time last year (which was also very wet) was a total disaster and most people who grow their toms outdoors suffered from this dreaded fungal disease.

The plants that are producing ripe fruit are mainly the bush varieties - Red Alert, which was the first to fruit was maturing at the beginning of June!

One of the stars of the season so far has been Maskotka - another bush cherry variety with good size fruit and a good tomato taste. I'll definitely grow this variety again next season.

Growing a couple of plants in the windowsill is something that is also great fun. Last season I tried Micro Tom but was disappointed by the very small fruit. This season my neighbour gave me two Vilma plants and their fruit size has been impressive for a pot cherry.

Tumbling Tom (red and yellow) , Garden Pearl, Minibel, Maskotka, Red Alert and Vilma are all fruiting now but the toms of my other varieties are still green.

A few days of sun will see a big improvement and I can't wait to taste some of the new varieties growing this season.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

On The Verge!

About a month ago I thought that in a week or two I would be over-whelmed with ripe tomatoes!
Unfortunately I'm still waiting to be over-whelmed although I have received a modest trickle of ripe tomatoes that have kept my wife and I modestly supplied.
However, my neighbours who, normally about this time of the season, receive bags of the best toms imaginable haven't had any yet and are probably wondering if I still like them!

Well, I'm on the verge of being inundated and over-whelmed - all we need is some sun.

Last season was a disaster for many growers owing to the constant rain and I, and I'm sure lots of other people, are hoping that the weather turns in our favour and starts to act like a sunny summer.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Getting The Better of Slugs & Snails

How to avoid your precious tomatoes from being given a nasty suck by these little pests is a problem.

You could stay up all night with a torch and catch everyone of them but that would be a bit extreme! Instead, my method is to distract them with an old damaged tomato in an easy place for them to find.

Another thing they love is a French Marigold. Growing these between your plants (companion planting) is supposed to deter some aphids - but slugs and snails love them and I would rather sacrifice a Marigold or two than my best tomatoes.

If you go out into the garden with a torch just after sundown, you'll find most of these pests and be able to throw them into an area of your garden where some other little animal such as a hedgehog may find a meal. I sometimes hear them crunching in the night!

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Rain, Progress and Tradition

The last few days have brought both sunny and wet weather - but mainly wet!

If this were last season my plants would be suffering from blight by now but the shelter that they have has definitely made a difference.

Balancing organic against conventional methods, that is, spraying with anti-fungicide or not is something that I think most gardeners are aware of, and like to ere on the organic side of growing whenever possible.

The best varieties to grow, when using organic methods, are the ones that are most resistant to disease. These varieties are usually recent F1 hybrids that have been developed for their resistance to disease and other tomato problems.

However, there is something rather reassuring about growing heirloom or heritage varieties but sadly many of these need more protection against disease than their more recently developed counterparts.

Many would call F1 hybrid tomatoes progress, and I suppose that if we were making a living from growing tomatoes I would be relying on these to pay the bills, but I think that real tomato growing is about growing traditional, open pollinated varieties and keeping alive the taste and traditions of the past.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Tomato Plant Types

There are hundreds of different varieties of tomato plants that bare fruit of many shapes, sizes and colours. But there are basically just two types - the tall type and the bush type ... not forgetting the type in between!

The terminology can be confusing when talking about indeterminate, cordon, determinate, semi-determinate, bush and tall varieties, so here's a guide that I hope will make things clear.

  1. Tall: indeterminate and cordon - plants that will keep on growing taller until they are stopped.
  2. In between: semi-determinate - can be grown either as a tall or bush variety.
  3. Bush: determinate - a bush variety - knows how tall to grow!

Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages for example, tall varieties are great to grow up against a wall, whereas bush varieties excel in large pots on the patio.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Tomato Growing Ebooks - Are They Useful?

There is so much free information online it seems a bit unnecessary to pay money for - especially when you could go to my website or even send me an email if you have a question about tomatoes and I'll get back to you with an answer.

However, it could be rather good to sit down and read all about growing tomatoes in a step by step fashion and learn from scratch about the different aspects of growing - all from one source.

Furthermore, when a problem occurs, a good ebook should have a section that can help with leaf diseases and fruit problems - this can be very useful and time saving. Whenever I need an answer about something it can take ages to read through all the forum posts etc. and never really get the info. I want.

So, are ebooks about growing tomatoes useful? ... I would say - yes they are- if they contain enough detail and are written by people who know their subject.

I've put together a little review of three popular tomato growing ebooks which I hope you may find interesting.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Avoid Blossom End Rot

This season I seem to be obsessed with just two tomato problems - Blight and Blossom End Rot or BER for short.

Having read about the many wonderful and strange ways to avoid BER I thought that this season I would give some a try, so I saved the egg shells and found a pack of indigestion tablets in the back of the cupboard.

I ground the egg shells in a pestle and mortar earlier in the season and sprinkled the powdered shells around the base of my tall varieties of Alicante, Golden Sunrise, Tamina and Gardener's Delight earlier in the season to give the calcium time to affect the soil.

I recently, just as the flowers started to set, dissolved an indigestion tablet (spearmint to be exact!) in the watering can and repeated this a couple of weeks later.

All of these varieties have toms that are almost full size, although still green, and there is no sign of blossom end rot on anyone of them!

Was it because of my thorough watering - or the egg shells - or the indigestion tablets, the last two of which contain calcium? Well, I don't know for sure and to be perfectly honest I don't care because for the first time in my growing experience, there is not a tom with BER anywhere to be seen!

I do have one Oregon Spring tomato that has a slight touch of BER, but I started this plant early in the season and colder temperatures make it more difficult for plants to absorb nutrients so low temperatures would account for this.

I shall of course, for the record, test to see which of the two additions of calcium is the most effective before the end of the season.

Also, you can buy calcium especially produced for plants so this is another, more conventional option. I rather like being a bit unconventional at times!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Growing Tomatoes Upside Down

Growing tomatoes upside down has become very popular over the last season or two, but like any way to grow tomatoes, there are advantages and disadvantages and I would like to mention a few of them below.

  • Off the ground at easy picking height.
  • More difficult for bugs to attack.
  • Branches on bush varieties are less likely to be pulled off by the weight of the tomatoes.
  • Good air circulation.
  • Easier to remove dying leaves.
  • Spot diseases early as plant is more visible.

  • The weight - the handle and bracket needs to be very strong or you may hear a thump in the night!
  • The small root area - small plants that have less root requirements are going to enjoy it more.
  • The likelihood of the soil drying out quickly - needs daily watering in warm weather.

Overall, growing tomatoes upside down is fun and has many advantages. It certainly looks great on the patio when the friends and family visit ... just be aware that the ease of picking will mean that those juicy toms won't be hanging there for very long!

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Saving Your Own Tomato Seed

I expect that most people who grow tomatoes have considered saving their own seed for the following season. This is a great idea but there are a couple of things to be aware of.

You can only save heirloom or open pollinated types if you want them to grow "true to type" like their Mum and Dad*** these are all varieties except hybrid F1's. If you save and sow F1's your toms won't grow like their parent(s) - they'll be F2's which for tomato plants are probably going to produce something different.

Moneymaker crossed with Gardener's Delight = Money Delight

At this point I should suggest a competition for the most amusing cross but I'll resist that!

How to Save the Seeds

Remove the seeds and juice into a glass or small container and cover with cling film etc and add a little water... just enough to cover the seeds.

Keep for about a week during which time a mold will develop called a "mother". This mold will sterilise the seeds.

Rinse the seeds then put them into a glass of water ... the good seeds will sink and the bad seeds will float. Dry the good seeds on kitchen towel for a day or so, until they are completely dry then store in an airtight container such as a container for vitamin pills etc.

*** Tomato plants have flowers that are self-pollinating, that is, they don't need another plant to fertilise their flowers. Although, sometimes a Bumble Bee can cross fertilise one variety with another - as above.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Removing Leaves - The Kind Way!

There is a very well advertised e-book on the web that advocates de-leafing to an extreme degree.

Each season I remind myself to try this method (on just one plant) but for some reason I can't bring myself to strip a tomato plant of almost all its leaves - just leaving a few at the top!

It is certainly a good idea to remove the lower leaf branches up to the first truss.
This will improve air flow and help prevent bugs and diseases from getting out of control - it also helps a plant send its nutrients to the parts that are most in need, that is the fruit and growing tip.

It is standard practice for professional growers to remove leaves up to the truss that is fruiting. This means that as tomatoes ripen, all leaves are removed below the truss with the ripe tomatoes.

Eventually most of the plant is without leaves but this is all done gradually over a period of weeks and months and I believe this should not be attempted over a period of just a few days - unless you want to send your poor plant into shock!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Glacier - Bush or Tall Variety?

I really like to experiment and try out new ways to grow my favourite plants ... tomato plants of course!

Glacier is a cherry variety that sets in cool conditions and last season I tried growing it as a bush variety. It was very early but it did not produce the amount of toms that I had hoped for.

This season I have just one Glacier plant and it's growing as a tall variety with much better results.
The lowest truss has about 70 flowers on it and so far, about half of them have set.

This year I'm growing it under cover which also makes a difference so there's no worry about blight and its taste being drowned by too much rain.

I think I'll grow Glacier again next season and let you know about the taste in a couple of weeks time when the first tomatoes mature.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

The Season So Far - Part 2

Having started this season with the determination not to sow too many seeds of the same variety, I wanted the room to try some new varieties that I've not grown in the past.

Among these is Maskotka, a cherry/bush variety that has performed brilliantly. Its fruit is a consistent size and the toms taste as good as Red Alert - the standard by which I judge all my cherry/bush varieties.

Of course taste is not consistent, that is, it depends on a number of variables, one of which is the amount of water a plant receives. Too much water literally dilutes fruit taste.

A tomato plant absorbs water, and the nutrients the water contains by osmosis. This is the upward suction of water and nutrients into a plant to create leaves and fruit etc.
Excess water is evaporated through leaves but if the nutrients are greatly diluted, the plant has to absorb a lot of water to get the same amount of nutrients - follow me so far?

This means that the more water you give a plant, the less nutrients it will receive per measure, and thats why you can dilute the taste by over-watering. Phew - I hope you understand my explanation!

Friday, 10 July 2009

The Season So Far

The first week or two of July gives a good idea of how successful the season is likely to be.

Just about every plant is loaded with green tomatoes and about four bush varieties, that I started early, have been giving a steady flow of ripe toms for the past two or three weeks.

The main concern now, is blossom end rot on the medium and large varieties.

Looking at the underside of the green tomatoes that are nearly full size, I have noticed that only one tom, out of many, has a touch of BER so I would consider this a great success.

If it takes a minimum of two months to go from flowers to mature fruit, any flower buds that haven't opened by mid July, won't be fruiting in time before the end of the season, in the UK that will be around the end of September - beginning of October when the weather (usually) turns too cold for growing outdoors.

The biggest change I've made this season is that I'm growing all my outdoor plants under cover - shelters or lean-too's etc. around the garden. This means that I don't need to worry too much about tomato blight which destroyed most of my outdoor plants last season!

Monday, 6 July 2009

Tomato Growing in the Rain

The week has begun with much cooler temperatures and plenty of heavy showers.

Because last season was so disappointing owing to tomato blight, I've become extra sensitive to my plants being destroyed again by rain and fungal disease.

However, tomato plants are able to absorb moisture through their leaves as well as their roots, and this can be helpful in the prevention of blight.

If you can stop their soil from becoming soaked through with rain, tomato plants will absorb some of the rain on their leaves which helps to dry the plant leaves more quickly.

This means that if you water less when wet weather is expected and prevent rain from the area around the plants roots, this can help to dry-out plants that have been given a good soaking on a wet day!

Have you ever wondered why tomatoes split when it rains but don't usually split when you give them a good watering. It's because water through both roots and leaves are too much for the tomato skins to cope with.

Don't forget to resume normal watering when the weather improves or blossom end rot will be the next challenge ... who said that growing tomatoes is easy?

Friday, 3 July 2009

When It's Too Hot

We've had some very warm weather here in the UK over the past few days and my container tomatoes are wilting - both from the sun above and the hot patio below!

The quickest way to revive a plant that is wilting is to spray it with a mist of water, 'though this is not recommended if the plant is behind glass as it can cause leaf burn.

Another drawback of prolonged periods of warm weather is that the air can become very dry.
This will effect flower pollination as the pollen becomes too dry to transfer successfully from the stamen to the pistil and self-fertilise.

One way to help pollination in these conditions is to wet the floor area where your plants are growing - the patio or greenhouse floor etc. This will produce some humidity, however temporary, and may help the situation.

Some days I have to water twice ... reluctantly. However, It's that exciting time of the season when you can get a good idea just how successful your plants will be - if we get a good summer of course!

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Removing Lower Leaves on Tomato Plants

As we come to the time of the season when many gardeners will be watching their first and even second trusses developing on their tall varieties, the lower leaves may be showing signs of decay and bug damage.

Changing yellow in colour and small dark patches are common as plants send their nutrients to the grow tip and of course their fruit.

I recommend that you remove lower leaves - gradually over a period of a week or two - up to the first truss. However, if you don't have a first truss yet, keep things as they are so as not to stress the plant.

By removing lower leaves your plant will get:

  • Better air circulation around the base of their stems
  • Less bug activity
  • Less chance of fungal disease
  • More energy for the fruit and top growth
  • Earlier ripening

This applies to tall (cordon, indeterminate) plants and not bush varieties. However, if you see yellowing or damaged leaves on your bush plants, I would remove them too.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Waiting for the Flowers to Set

One reason why a tomato variety is early is because its flowers set early in the season, and therefore, its tomatoes will reach maturity early too - all things being equal.

In my experience Red Alert and Glacier are among the earliest varieties to set their flowers and produce "baby toms" and I know that these will also be the first to produce fruit.

Among the cherry varieties, I would put Red Alert first, followed by Tumbling Tom, and then Garden Pearl as the order for flower set among these three varieties.

It can be frustrating waiting for flowers to set fruit, especially if they are affected by blossom drop - when a flower drops off its stem because it did not pollinate.

Keep misting with water and tapping those plants ... you'll get some results soon!

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Tomato Taste

I suppose that real tomato taste is one of the main reasons why people grow tomatoes but what makes one tomato taste different from another?

If you grow tomatoes, there are five things that affect their taste:

  1. The variety.
  2. The amount of sun they receive.
  3. The amount of water they receive.
  4. The minerals available in the soil.
  5. Time since picked.
The variety you choose to grow has the biggest affect on taste. Sungold, for example is very sweet with little acid whereas Gardener's Delight has a more traditional flavour that is a good balance of both sugar and acid content.

Other flavours are more difficult to describe but every variety has its own distinctive taste when just picked.

The sun they receive helps to develop the flavours too. It's not just because you are on a happy holiday on the Mediterranean that everything tastes great - it's because of the amount of sun!

Nutrients and minerals are needed by the plant to develop taste. The more water there is in the soil, the more diluted the nutrients are. This means that plants that are over-watered produce tomatoes that are less strong in flavour.

If you don't give your plants all the nutrients they need their flavour will be reduced.

It is well known that most fruit is best picked and eaten as soon as possible to get the full goodness of vitamins and taste - this also applies to tomatoes.

I suppose that's why they say: "there's only two things that money can't buy - true love and home-grown tomatoes!"

Monday, 22 June 2009

Encouraging Flowers to Set

One of the most frustrating times when growing tomatoes is when the flowers drop off of their stems - it's called blossom drop.

Here you can see where the flowers were and the reason they drop of is because they fail to pollinate or set.

There are a number of reasons why this can happen.

The air is too dry or the air is too humid are two common reasons.

One way that helps avoid this happening is to spray the flowers with a mist of water and tap the plant or pot gently.

This helps to move the pollen in each of the flowers from the stamen into the pistil in order to fertilize the flower.

Tomatoes are self-fertilizing and contain both the male and female parts.

Bumble Bees are excellent for this as their wing vibration and method of honey collection also helps the process.

When the pollen reaches the bottom of the pistil the flower begins to develop a very small pea-like tomato that grows to its variety size.

(Thank you to the owner of this photo).

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Watering & Containers

I really enjoy growing bush (and tall) varieties in large pots and containers, although bush varieties are the most suitable.

However, one of the biggest drawbacks is that pots and containers dry-out quickly leaving roots in dry soil which may cause other complications.

Dry roots are unable to absorb nutrients, the most obvious being calcium resulting in blossom end rot - BER.

This pic shows the bottom of a tomato affected with blossom end rot - the wall of the tomato was unable to develop fully owing to a lack of calcium because of dry roots.

The problem with dry roots is that you can water your containers and even though the surface looks as if the plant has been watered, beneath, there may be pockets of soil that remains bone dry.

The reason is that water always finds the easiest root out, and that could mean that half of your plants roots could be dry after watering and unable to absorb nutrients - in this case calcium.

A good way to water plants in containers:
Give them a good soaking every other day rather than a little each day - but don't keep the soil continually wet as roots also need air.

Of course if the weather is very warm and the plants are fruiting, you may need to water every day anyway!

However, the idea is that all of the root area should be in moist soil - for most of the time - which enables the roots to absorb the food they need.

One point to make is that I've never had a cherry tomato with blossom end rot - it is the medium and large varieties that are prone to calcium deficiency.

I took this photo of Tumbler about eight years ago and it shows the toms trailing over the side of the large pot. These days I grow Red Alert instead of Tumbler F1 because it is difficult to get the seeds and they were expensive!

The taste is also very similar .... more about taste in the next post.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Tomato Blight

This is the effect of last season's wet summer on my tomato plants.

It wasn't the cold that caused the blight, it was the rain - day after day - the leaves of plants could barely get dry between showers.

However, on a dryer, happier note, it is not going to happen to my plants this season!

Every outdoor plant is either under a shelter of some kind or can be moved under cover if we get prolonged periods of rain. That's one of the advantages of growing bush tomatoes in large pots etc. is that they can be moved if necessary.

Of course there are blight tolerant varieties available - I use the word tolerant rather than resistant because even these varieties could not cope and went down with blight. The two varieties I'm referring to are Ferline and Legend.

I've sometimes heard people say "the rain will do them good" well, a little drop maybe, but wet leaves for more than a day or two will probably result in the beginnings of what you see in the picture above!

Monday, 15 June 2009

Grow Bags & Tomato Plants

When planting toms in a grow bag, try to keep the moisture in the grow bag from evaporating by keep the compost inside covered. Plant through cuts in the top without removing any of the plastic cover and water through pots sunk into the compost.

Although water needs to drain away, make holes in the end of the grow bag (not the middle) so that the water doesn't escape too easily.

It's also a good idea to remove the lower leaf branches - gradually - to improve aeration around the base of the plants - especially if you are growing in a greenhouse with three plants to each grow bag.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Removing Lower Leaf Branches

With twelve tall (indeterminate - cordon) plants in my small greenhouse competing for space, removing the lower leaves helps increase aeration around the base of the plants and helps prevent problems such as fungal disease.

This also helps tomato plants mature more quickly - they can give all their energy to the upper part of the plants growth.

When removing lower branches, give them a sharp pull upwards (trying not to damage the main stem). If you remove the stems with a knife or scissors, the blades of these can transmit disease from plant to plant, so it's best to remove by hand where there is no contact at the point of the open wound.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Pruning Bush Varieties

I love growing bush varieties for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that you get branches growing in all directions and countless clusters of flower buds that make pruning a plant a complicated series of decisions ... should I remove them or not?!

My wife thinks that I should get out more often and experience the world that exists beyond our garden, and the tomato plants I love so dearly, but I am happiest when I'm pruning my favourite bush varieties which this season have increased in number.

The problem is, at this time of the season, bush varieties can produce hundreds of flower clusters and potentially thousands of tomatoes from one plant, which is of course unrealistic!

I like to remove some of the small flower clusters if a plant already has advanced flowers and some that have set in order to give the most advanced flowers a boost.

It is true in my experience that the more flowers a plant produces, the longer it takes for them to set and produce mature tomatoes.

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Monday, 8 June 2009

Removing Side Shoots

Even though we've had two days of constant rain, I've managed to keep my outdoor plants dry (well almost).

It is amazing how easy it is to miss seeing side shoots and pinching them out is a pleasurable job especially when a long one is found!

In the pic you can see that the middle shoot growing out of the elbow of the main stem and leaf branch is the shoot that needs removing.

It doesn't matter if they grow two or three inches, but it's best to remove them as soon as possible to enable the plant to concentrate its energy in the main stem and top growth.

You may find that lower leaves begin to turn yellow. This is quite normal and the lower leaves can be removed.

Although the lower leaves are nearest the roots, they will mainly be ignored as the plant gets taller and most of the nutrients etc. are sent to the top of the plant.

See also: side shoots and trusses

Saturday, 6 June 2009

First Tomatoes to Mature - Red Alert

Perhaps I should rename my blog tomato weekly because It has been a while since my last post!

Anyway, we've had some wonderful tomato growing weather recently and all my plants are doing fine. However, as I write it is pouring down outside, but fortunately, this season all the tom plants are covered from the rain - I'm determined not to suffer from blight as I did last season.

My most advanced plants and the first tomatoes to mature this season will be Red Alert probably followed by Tumbling Tom.

I sowed the seed of these varieties back at the end of February and pampered and protected them to get the earliest toms possible. Of course this is not really practical because if I added up all the time spent and the extra heat etc. just to get a few plants to mature in June, each tom costs much more than it would in the shops ... but I grew them and they'll taste fantastic - I hope!

As far as protection is concerned, I do have two small greenhouses but the real challenge is growing outdoors, or perhaps outdoors but protected from the rain. If we have several days of wet weather, blight is almost guaranteed so some protection is worth the extra effort.

The tomatoes in the picture above, Red Alert, should be turning red soon!

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Feeding Tomatoes

Tomato Plants are heavy feeders when they are fruiting but will only require the minerals and nutrients that will already be found in new compost/soil.

This means that feeding tomatoes is unnecessary until the flowers set and small, pea size fruit appear.

An easy mistake to make, if you are new to growing tomatoes, is to give your small plants tomato food. This food is only for tomato plants when they are fruiting and may cause root damage.

If you want to give plants a boost before they begin to fruit I would recommend the following:

  • General purpose plant food such as miracle grow at half strength.
  • Liquid seaweed extract - a general tonic and very useful when transplanting.

There are other nutrients that may be given such as epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) and extra calcium (to help prevent blossom end rot). However, these should be given with care because sometimes too much of one mineral may prevent a plant absorbing another, especially if foliar feeding.

The thing is not to get too obsessed with feeding tomato plants (as I have done in the past) because if you do, you'll probably give them too much.


If plants have been transplanted into new compost or soil - within the last five weeks - they do not need to be fed.

When transplanting, a half strength feed with general purpose food is helpful (but not essential) because it helps the plants become established in their new home.

Give tomato food (only) when plants start to fruit - little and often is the best way. Professional growers usually feed at every watering, at a reduced strength, so plants alway have access to food.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

This season I'm determined not to get caught-out.

I've suffered blight, disease and blossom end rot in previous seasons but I think this time I am well prepared.

All of my outdoor plants are under some kind of shelter to avoid blight due to rain.

I've sterilized all the equipment used last season to help avoid disease and used fresh compost.

Blossom end rot doesn't usually effect cherry tomatoes but all the medium and large varieties have water retaining gel added to the compost to prevent is from drying out and causing calcium deficiency. You don't need gel if you can keep the soil constantly moist - but that can be difficult.

Another tip I should mention is to stake and support your bush varieties. Windy conditions can put a lot of stress on main stems and can cause damage. For low plants like Tumbling Tom, stick a few short canes into the compost between the branches.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Yellow Leaves

If the leaves at the bottom of your plants are showing signs of turning yellow, don't worry!

All the goodness from the roots goes into producing top growth and the lowest leaves are often ignored. If the higher leaves of your plants are turning yellow it is probably because they are struggling to absorb nitrogen.

In this case, a foliar feed with a balanced food like miracle grow will help. Deficiencies are often due to low temperatures are plants that have used up all the food in the pot they are in, in which case move to a bigger pot with more compost.

I usually remove yellow and poorly looking leaves from the bottom of tomato plants.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

So Far ... So Good!

I've gone to the effort this season to make sure that all of my outdoor plants are under cover with a lean-to placed here and there around the garden.

Last season was so disappointing because of blight, that I decided that if I were to continue to grow outdoors then It was necessary to keep the plants out of the rain. It only takes a few wet days and a few cold nights to spoil things.

Red Alert has shown just how good a variety it is, by producing the first tiny pea-sized fruit of this season. I sowed the Red Alert seed after Tumbling Tom back in February but it caught-up and over-took Tumbling Tom which I sowed two weeks earlier.

However, they are both fantastic varieties and earliness is not the only reason for choosing a which variety to grow.

There are a few mistakes that are very easy to make that can put all your hard work in jeopardy. I like to be positive and have a glass that is half full and not half empty, but the following are things I would try not to do.


Give your plants too much water (many people kill their plants with kindness).

Feed your plants with tomato food until they begin to fruit.

Pour water over the leaves (tomato plant leaves like dry conditions).

Use compost and old soil from last season - it probably contains diseases and bugs.

Feel the leaves from plant to plant - you may be spreading diseases on your fingers.

For more tips about growing tomatoes please visit

I'm always happy to answer tomato related questions if I can.
Please email me here.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Tomato Root Space

How much root space a tomato plant needs depends on the variety and the size of fruit it produces.

Bush Varieties

Tumbling Tom and Balconi Red are quite happy in a smaller area than Red Alert - all of which produce cherry tomatoes.

Oregon Spring, Siberian, Alaskan Fancy and New Yorker (these are medium and large fruited) will all require more root space than the cherry varieties or they will run out of energy before the tomatoes fully mature. They are also bigger plants.

So how much root space, or size of container should they be planted in?

There are two things to consider:
  1. Size of Plant
  2. Size of Fruit
Red Alert is a larger plant than Tumbling Tom even though the fruit are about the same size.
Larger plant = larger root system.

When dealing with plants that are about the same size but produce different size fruit, the larger fruiting variety requires more root space.
Larger Fruit = larger root area required to bring larger fruit to maturity.

Answer: A Tumbling Tom (small cherry plant) will be quite happy in a 5 Litre pot - around 9 inches diameter.

An Oregon Spring needs a 10 Litre container (at least) to perform to its full potential because both the plant and the tomatoes are large.

Tall Varieties (Also known as Cordon and Indeterminate).

The issue here is:
  1. The size of fruit
  2. The amount of trusses you intend to grow.
These plants are usually grown in grow bags so the question is - how many plants in a grow bag?

Answer: two medium or large size varieties, or, three medium to cherry size varieties in each grow bag. Most average size grow bags contain around 35 litres of soil/compost.

With regard to the amount of trusses ... you could grow two plants with six trusses each or three plants with four trusses each - you still end up with the same amount of trusses!
Usually it is four trusses outdoors and six trusses in the greenhouse.

Few! ... if you are still with me and haven't decided never to visit my blog again, well done!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

How Much Room For Roots?

As we get to the time of the season when we plant our well cared for plants into pots and containers - as well as grow bags of course - my temptation is to over-crowd with too many plants.

For example, I always sow more seeds than I should (just in case) and end up with far too many plants and not enough containers and compost to go in them. Faced with the dilemma - should I give my extras away or put two in a large pot instead of one!

Experience tells me to not over-crowd but I sure would like to keep them and plant them now!

Well, this season I'm trying to be good and give each plant the root room it should have for the best results.

What is the best amount of space or soil amount for each variety? I'll let you know in my next post coming soon!

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The Wind - Support Your Bush Varieties Too!

I'm not going to get caught-out this season like I did last year when almost all of my outdoor plants got tomato blight. So every plant will get some kind of cover from the rain as I've constructed Lean-to's and all sorts of protection around the garden.

The problem is, as soon as you have sheets of polythene and other plastic covering, the wind becomes an issue. Chasing covers into the next door neighbors garden is a bit embarrassing!

The other issue with windy conditions is the direct effect on your plants and the damage it can cause to the base of the main stems. Although bush varieties are often thought to grow without support, I usually stick a cane or two around each plant to help when it's windy and also when it is heavy with fruit.

Bush varieties like Red Alert are taller than Tumbling Tom for example and will need some support. Sometimes a branch will become so heavy with fruit that its weight will pull from the main stem so tying branches to some kind of support can be helpful.

However, do remember to be careful with the ends of canes ... eyes can be vulnerable so it's a good idea to make the tips easy to see.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Tomato Plants

There's still time to grow tomatoes this season if you buy small plants from the garden center.

Look for those that have dark green, healthy looking leaves and stems that are not "leggy" - that is thinner and taller than they should be ... compare them to the other plants of the same shelf.

Of course you probably won't get the selection of varieties that are available from seed, but buying small tomato plants is a great way to get started at this time of the season.

Remember ... keep those leaves dry!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Grow Bags for Tomato Plants

This post is about making the most of your grow bag or, "grow bag optimisation" to put it in a rather grand way!

Perhaps the biggest drawback with grow bags is that they can dry out quickly, especially when plants are fruiting. So here are a few suggestions to help keep the moisture in.

Make slits in the top of the grow bag and plant so that the plastic can be replaced around the bottom of the plant and the compost is not exposed and moisture is unable to evaporate.

Sink pots directly into the grow bag so that the plant roots can grow out of the bottom of the pot and into the grow bag (see above).

Add a few handfuls of perlite to the soil to aid water retention. Also, water retaining gel is a good option.

You will need to pierce drainage holes but make them at the ends of the bags rather than at the sides to help keep the entire compost area moist.

To help watering, sink a large pot in the middle which can be filled easily and the water can make its way out of the bottom of the pot (see pic. black pot between two Sungold plants).

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Foliar Feeding Tomatoes

The quickest way to get nutrients into a plant is to spray the leaves with a suitable plant food.

This may not necessarily be tomato feed as there are other nutrients that can help the development and growth of plants.

Seaweed extract is a great way to give your plants a boost - it's organic - and can be given by foliar spray or roots. It is particularly good when transplanting to bigger pots to stop plants from becoming stressed.

To help avoid blossom end rot in medium and larger varieties, a foliar spray can aid nutrient intake - calcium is crucial when plants are growing fruit - and give the tomatoes the food they need as fast as possible.

It is important to check the instructions on your plant food container to make sure that foliar feeding is possible - some feed is not suitable.

The best way to feed is little and often so that plants always have access to some food. My preferred method is to reduce the recommended amount by half and feed twice as often.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Removing Leaves

It's a good idea to remove the leaves at the bottom of a tomato plant if they are looking poorly. Pull them off with an upward yank rather than cut them with a blade because scissors/blades can transfer infection from plant to plant.

It is common practice to remove leaves from tall varieties up to the first truss. It creates more air movement around the base of the plant and gives more energy to the upper part of the plant and tomato development.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Rain Again!

Well ... I guess I shouldn't complain because we've had several days of sunny weather and one of my tomato plants, Red Alert, has just started to set fruit - the first flower has faded and a tiny pea-like tomato has appeared!

I did sow the seed for this plant in February so I guess it's not surprising for it to be at this stage, at this time of the season. However, not all tomato plants will set fruit in cool temperatures which is one reason why Red Alert is an early variety.

It's not just the amount of time it takes from seed to fruit, it's also the ability of a variety to "set" - that is, pollinate flowers to become fruit in cool temperatures - that makes a variety early.

Many larger varieties that originate in Italy for example, will not set fruit so early in the season because of temperature, humidity and length of day - all of which tomato "set" responds to.

Of course temperature and humidity can be controlled in high-tech greenhouses, and duration of day can be controlled by artificial light also.

So if you want an early tomato variety, the ability to set fruit in low temperatures is important. Red Alert and Glacier are two good examples.

By the way, do keep them out of the rain at this time of year if possible.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Tomato Plant Roots & Water

Looking after seedlings and young tomato plants can be a tricky business.

Just how much water to give, especially if new to growing tomatoes, can be a difficult decision to make. The method is to keep the compost just moist so that it is neither wet or completely dry.

This is actually impossible as compost or soil drys-out rapidly on a hot day, and if you are away from the house your little plants could be dying of thirst in the hot sun.

The first thing to understand is that the more water you give your plants (over a period) the less roots they will grow. This is owing to the fact that roots need air as well as water and a consistently sodden soil will stunt root growth owing to lack of air.

That means if you over water your plants, when the time comes that they need a good root system to absorb water on a hot day, they may not be able to take up all that they need.

This a a pic of a variety called Glacier and it has a good root system with strong, thick white coloured roots.

When plants are in pots they should be stood in a tray of water for 5 or 10 minutes to thoroughly absorb water and soak the whole of the compost area.

It's best to not water again until the compost is almost dry to allow air back into the soil.

If the leaves start to wilt that will be a sign that you have left them a bit too long without water! For a quick recovery, spray them with a mist of water and water them from below again.

I realise that this can be time consuming if you have to keep your eye on the plants and try to judge how moist the compost is just below the surface!

However, the best start a plant can be given is a good root system and this will pay-off with a healthy life and a good harvest.

More about watering and feeding tomato plants here.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Weather - Good or Bad for Tomatoes

Today, we've had some really good weather for growing tomatoes. Lots of hazy sunshine with a nice floating cloud or two for the odd bit of temporary shade.

I think the biggest threat to my plants at this time of year is damp wet air. I can keep them out of the rain but I can't control the humidity or condensation which can be almost as bad as rain, especially if they are slightly over-watered.

The only moisture that I like on tomato plant leaves is when spraying a mist of water to foliar feed or to revive a plant that has been in hot sunlight and has started to wilt.

It is a "given" that tomato plants hate wet leaves, that is leaves that are wet for more than a few hours, which may lead to fungal diseases such as damping-off (when seedlings shrivel and die) or tomato blight on older plants.

Fugal spores may also be found in compost that has been left in the rain outside a garden center from last season - try to make sure that the compost you buy is this year's supply.

More information about growing tomatoes may be found on the tomato growing tips page.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Tomatoes & Full Sunshine

It is generally accepted that tomato plants require lots of direct sunlight in order to grow to their full potential. This is both true and untrue depending on the variety, growth habit and age.

A variety such as Tumbling Tom in full sunshine for most of the day will struggle to absorb enough water through its roots to replace the moisture evaporating through its many leaves when it is in hot, direct sunshine.

A variety such as Red Alert, which has less leaves, will need less water to supply to its leaves and therefore cope better in hot sunshine. It is also the case that a plant with a well developed root system will cope better in all conditions and produce a better crop.

Varieties that originate in Southern Europe, such as Italian and Spanish varieties, will do better in hot weather than those that come from cooler areas of the world.

I'm writing about this subject because, in the UK, we are in the middle of some very sunny and warm weather and some of my tomato plants are wilting in the hot sun!

When this happens I'll move them into the shade and give their leaves a spray misting with water ... twenty minutes later they'll look a lot happier.

It is also true about tomato plants that some varieties need to be acclimatised to direct sunlight. No ... this is not April the 1st ... it's just that tomato plants have huge divergences in growth habit and requirements which make growing tomatoes all the more interesting and rewarding.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

When To Transplant Seedlings

Transfer the seedlings to their own pots when they start to grow their first true leaves - the ones between the seed leaves - see below:

Should Seedlings Be Fed?

If you use good quality new compost, you do not need to feed them until they are much bigger - when they start to fruit. However, they will need to be potted-on after about four weeks or so. That means more compost which contains more food.

If you want to feed them at this early stage, you could give them a "one off" feed - when potting-on - at half the recommended strength as on the box of general purpose plant food.

Tomato feed should only be used when the plants are fruiting because it contains mostly potash for fruit development and not the nitrogen and phosphorus for the growth of young plants.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Watering Tomatoes

The amount of water you should give tomato plants depends on the temperature and the size and amount of leaves your plants have.

Generally, the soil or compost should be just very slightly moist so that the roots have access to both water and air. Many people over-water tomato plants thinking that they're being kind, but actually too much water stunts their root growth and slows down their development.

It's best to water in the morning so that your plant doesn't have to sit in wet soil over-night when the temperatures are low. If you didn't water the plant enough, its leaves would start to wilt - if they do, give them a mist spray of water.

Perhaps the most important thing is to make sure that the entire area of the soil that the roots are in is slightly damp - dry areas will prevent access to the food the plant needs.

Hope that helps ... watering tomatoes can sometimes be a problem for even the most experienced tomato grower!

Friday, 17 April 2009

First Tomato Post of the Season

Well ... I almost decided not to start-up again this season but I couldn't resist it!

My intention this season is to stick mainly to bush, cherry tomato varieties, such as:
Tumbling Tom
Garden Pearl
Red Alert
100's & 1000's

To name a few, but I'm also growing a few larger varieties including Oregon Spring.

Around the end of January I sowed a couple of Tumbling Tom seeds and these plants are now flowering along with two red Alert plants that I sowed at the beginning of February. It's best to sow plants that are to be grown outdoors at the end of March - but I just can't help it!

Anyway, if we get some reasonable weather, the first tomatoes should be ready to eat around the end of June.

More about growing tomatoes from my website at: