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.

Always pleased to hear from anyone by email if you have a comment, question or would just like to say hello. email me here

The website has a lot more info. www.tomatogrowing.co.uk

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!