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!