Saturday, 20 November 2010

Looking Back at the Season's Results

Every season has its ups and downs - its successful results and disappointments, and this season was no exception.

I've noticed that for the past three summers (maybe four) we have had very good early summer periods of dry warm weather followed by mid to late summers of poor weather and lots of rain! We then get a few weeks of dry warm weather in the Autumn.

Another change is that the last frost date has been getting earlier each season which is good news as it extends the tomato growing season, however, although frost isn't a problem after mid May in most of the UK, damp wet weather will cause fungal diseases and lower plants resistance, making them vulnerable to other diseases and slow growth.

If there is one takeaway from all this, it is that plants that are often exposed to rain, or regular condensation in the greenhouse, won't do well.

My results this season were the best I've ever had from the early maturing varieties - especially the cherry tomato varieties, but the larger tomato plants that take longer to produce mature fruit, suffered from the poor summer.

The fruit of the larger varieties was particularly late to mature and I had many gardeners send me emails asking why their tomatoes had not turned red and how they might get them to mature more quickly.

It is warmth that encourages tomatoes to mature, so cool temperatures in late summer prevented fruit growing outdoors from ripening - or at least slowed the process down.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Best Tomato Varieties - Early to Mature

With hundreds of varieties from which to choose, the best varieties are those that will grow well in your area. It is no good choosing the variety with the best taste if you can't get it to ripen before the end of the growing season in your area.

Furthermore, those tomatoes that are packed full of taste often require a good amount of sun, something that is a bit hit-and-miss, especially if you live in a short season area.

However, there is one constant in tomato growing and that is that usually, cherry varieties will grow more quickly and mature earlier than larger varieties.

It is for these reasons that I always grow cherry varieties each season and if you choose a cherry variety that is not too small, Maskotka for example, you'll have a tomato that can be used as a cherry and medium size, and be eating your own tomatoes at the earliest possible time of the season.



Thursday, 22 July 2010

Tomato Problems

At this time of the season there are just two or three tomato growing problems that most gardener's are affected by:
  1. Blossom End Rot 
  2. Blossom Drop
Blossom End Rot  "BER" shows itself as a brown/black patch on the blossom end (underside) of the fruit.
This is caused by a calcium deficiency and the tomato is unable to complete it's growing process.
The best and quickest way to avoid this problem is to foliar spray with Chempak Calcium.

Blossom Drop happens when the flowers that have failed to pollinate are aborted by the plant.
In order to aid pollination, spray/mist flowers with water and tap plants gently

Other problems are usually about leaves but it is quite normal to have a few poorly looking leaves at the bottom of a plant because nutrients are sent to the growing tip - that's where all the action is - and the lowest part of the plant gets ignored. 

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Tomatoes are not "Easy to Grow".

I would love to be able to say (like some who write on the subject of tomato growing) that "tomatoes are easy to grow".

If this were true, why do I receive so many emails of "help" from people who have been growing tomatoes for years?

The truth is, growing tomatoes can be easy to grow if ...

We have an ideal summer for tomato growing ... or,

The person growing the tomatoes has had years of experience and grows tomatoes in a greenhouse.

You can see that this limits the idea of "easy" to a limited few.

Of course, if you are a professional tomato grower you will know that science plays a big role in success. This success being the outcome of the controlled climate of a greenhouse.

However, what about the home gardener who is spending the little spare time he or she has, casting their seeds upon the flimsy soil and advice of the "tomatoes are easy to grow" personalities who do a good job of promoting vegetable gardening in general, but a poor job of really helping people solve the many difficulties that may arise when growing tomatoes in a short season summer, such as the UK.

Are tomatoes easy to grow? Not in my experience!

PS   If you need advice about growing tomatoes, I'll do my best to answer your questions at the website above.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Tomato Story

An old Italian who lived alone in New Jersey wanted to plant his annual tomato garden, but it was very difficult work, as the ground was hard.

His only son, Vincent, who used to help him, was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament:

Dear Vincent,
I am feeling pretty sad because it looks like I won't be able to plant my tomato garden this year.  I'm just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot.  I know if you were here my troubles would be over.  I know you would be happy to dig the plot for me, like in the old days.

A few days later he received a letter from his son.

Dear Papa,
Don't dig up that garden.  That's where the bodies are buried.

At 4 a.m. the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left.

That same day the old man received another letter from his son.

Dear Papa,
Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now.  That's the best I could do under the circumstances. 
Love you,

Thanks to John F. for sending me this amusing story!

Monday, 17 May 2010

Removing Side Shoots

Side shoots should be removed from tall varieties that are also called indeterminate or Cordon.

This keeps all of the new growth in the main stem from which the leaf branches and eventually the trusses grow.

Here you see two side shoots growing between the main stem and the leaf branches. You can remove these side shoots when they are about an inch or two long.

Trusses eventually grow from the main stem. They look like leaf branches to begin with, but then grow flowers on the end of the branches.

The flowers eventually fade and small pea-like tomatoes are formed.

If you are growing outside in a short season area, you would expect to grow about four trusses of tomatoes before stopping the plant by pinching out the growing tip.


For more information please visit:

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Tomato Problems

Chances are, if you are having problems with your tomato plants it will probably be because they are receiving too much water at this time of the season when temperatures at night are quite low.

The combination of wet soil/compost and cold temperatures overnight, will give tomato plants a hard time.

Here are a few tips:
  • Water in the morning so plants can use most of the water they are sitting in before the temperature drops at night.
  • Don't sit tomato plants that are in pots, in a tray of water for more than 15 minutes or so, otherwise the soil will become sodden.
  • Roots need air as well as water, so a root ball that is constantly wet will not grow to its full potential.
  • Tomato plants do not like wet leaves for more than a short time ... wet leaves overnight can trigger tomato blight and other fungal disease.
  • Keep plants indoors or under cover at night until all danger of frost has past. In the UK that will be around the end of May.
It is normal for the lower leaves of plants to show some signs of marks and blemishes with purple under leaves, these are just the leaves that struggled through the colder temperatures of early spring.

New growth should show a good leaf colour and eventually the lower leaves can be removed. Most of the plants energy goes into the new growth and the old leaves get left behind - as it were.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Nematodes - Good and Bad

Nematodes are microscopic worm-like creatures in the soil that can help the tomato and vegetable gardener by attacking slugs and other unwanted pests.
Professional growers use these to control all sorts of nasties in the greenhouse.
However, there are some unfriendly nematodes that attack the roots of tomato plants and will cause a lot of trouble. This happens when old soil is used or plants are grown in the same place and soil each season.

Symptoms of Nematodes Affecting Tomato Plants

The symptoms include wilting during periods when plants are in hot, direct sunlight because they are unable to absorb enough moisture through their roots.

Plants become stunted because of a lack of nutrient uptake caused by damaged roots.

Leaves can become pale and a reduction in fruit yield is experienced.

As nematodes increase each season, the problems becomes worse.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Tomato Plant Cuttings

Taking a cutting from a tomato plant is easy and will produce another plant that when its roots take, will be growing strongly in no time!

  • Remove the side shoot from a tall variety or one of the many shoots that grow on a bush plant that is about 3 or 4 inches in length.
  • Leave just two leaves on the cutting so that it won't need to support too many leaves.
  • Plant in seed compost and keep in a warm shaded place making sure the compost doesn't dry out. 
  • If the cutting starts to wilt give a spray/mist with water.
  • The roots should form in about two weeks.

This is a great way to gain more plants, you'll also find that it will produce flowers more quickly than a similar size plant grown from seed.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Tomato Plants and Rain - Don't Let Them Get Cold and Wet!

If you are growing tomatoes in the UK at the moment I recommend that you keep them out of the rain by providing them with some shelter during the day.

Of course, plants can't be left out overnight until the end of May - after the lost expected frost - but they also should not be allowed to stand outside in the cold during the day in the rain!

Sorry to be so direct about this, but if your lovely plants get cold and wet ... it will probably do them a lot of damage and they will be well on their way to a fungal disease!

It is now too late to start tomatoes from seed in the UK because the season (summer) will be over before the tomatoes mature, but if you still haven't started yet, tomato plug plants are the answer.

The low light conditions we are having in the UK at the moment are making tomato plants "leggy".

It is best not to water unless absolutely necessary when temperatures are cold and there is poor light, otherwise plants will become unwell (wet, cold soil makes them very unhappy) and leggy.

Hope to be more positive next time and also that the weather improves!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Heirloom Tomatoes Grow True to Type

There are many wonderful heirloom varieties available to grow that will give you the taste of "yesteryear", the seeds have been saved and handed down the generations because of taste and other qualities that people have considered to be worth preserving.

Heirloom varieites grow "true to type" that is they produce the same tomatoes from the saved seeds.

Hybrids or F1 tomatoes won't produce the same tomatoes from their seeds because they have parents of different varieties. These different varieties will show themselves when the seeds from the tomatoes of the first generation are grown - they are considered to be unstable and may produce all sorts of unusual shapes and taste different.

That doesn't mean you can't save the seeds from hybrids - if you want to try, you may end up with some very interesting results. Perhaps not for the serious grower but you may have a lot of fun with the results.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Tomato Plant Side Shoots

If you haven't grown tomatoes before, side shoots can be a bit confusing.

Here's a quick guide on which varieties to remove side shoots and which varieties to leave side shoots (sometimes called suckers) on the plant.

Tall Varieties
Remove side shoots on tall varieties like Moneymaker, Alicante, Gardener's Delight and Sungold.
Tall varieties are also called indeterminate or cordon.

Bush Varieties
Leave side shoots on bush varieties such as Tumbler, Tumbling Tom, Garden Pearl and Red Alert.
Bush varieties are also called determinate because they grow to a predetermined height.

Because bush varieties are only grow to between 1ft and 2ft high, they are great to grow in large pots and can be moved around the garden or patio if required.

The height of tall varieties means that they are going to stay in the same position all summer and are suitable for grow bags.

If you intend to grow tomatoes in your garden soil, it is likely that every bug under the sun will have a nibble on your tomato plants and tomatoes when they are ready, so unless you are an experienced gardener, I suggest you start with growing tomatoes in containers.

If you have any questions I'll be happy to answer them.

For more information on side shoots please visit the link below.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Feeding Tomatoes

Tomato plants require regular feeding when they are producing tomatoes but before then, will only require the minerals and nutrients that are already found in new compost.

This means that feeding tomatoes isn't really necessary until the flowers have set and small the small fruit start to grow.

One of the mistakes that people who are new to growing tomatoes make is to give give small plants tomato food. This is only necessary for tomato plants when they are fruiting, feeding young plants a full strength dose of tomato food can sometimes cause root damage.

These are some of the ways I would feed my small plants, and plants not yet fruiting.

  • General purpose plant food at half strength.
  • Liquid seaweed extract 
  • An organic stimulant or tonic such as SB Plant Invigorator

Other nutrients that are sometimes used are epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) and extra calcium (to help prevent blossom end rot). Both of these "extras" may be given as a foliar feed to boost a plants intake of a particular nutrient, usually because of signs of a deficiency. The problem is however, as soon as symptoms appear in tomato plants, it is often too late to make much difference.

Don't get too concerned with feeding tomato plants because if you do, you'll probably kill them with kindness and give them too much.

To Sum Up

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

However, when transplanting, a half strength feed of 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 always have access to food as they need it.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Don't Put All Your Toms In One Basket

If you're like me, you've sown tomato seeds this season and you probably have too many plants.

The problem is, the plants get bigger and bigger, need potting into bigger pots on a regular basis and the bag of compost gets lower and lower and it's back to the garden centre - again! (I know I should have bought that 3 for 2 offer).

If you have a lot of plants, especially the ones like Tumbling Tom that are suitable for hanging baskets, the temptation is to put too many plants into one basket.

In my experience one, two at the most, is the right amount because tomato plants need a reasonable amount of room for their roots. Also, the more plants you have in a hanging basket, the quicker it will dry out in warm weather.

One well grown plant can produce the same amount of tomatoes (or more) as two poorly grown plants that have had to struggle in crowded conditions.

So don't put all your toms in one basket - if you run out of room, the easiest and cheapest solution is to use a grow bag at three plants per bag.

See also: Tomato Quick Start Guide at the Tomato Growing website.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Know Your Nutrients - Feeding Tomatoes

There are three macro nutrients, three secondary nutrients and six micro nutrients.

The secondary and micronutrients are sometimes called trace elements and are not always present in tomato food, although they should be present in a good quality tomato feed and compost.

The problem is, tomato plants are heavy feeders and will require all twelve elements after the food in your grow bag or container has been used up. So check the contents of your tomato food and if it doesn’t contain all of the elements listed below, supplement it with a general feed such as miracle grow or some other plant food that contains trace elements.

Macro N-P-K

Nitrogen (N)   Macro nutrient - Under nitrogen deficiency, the older mature leaves gradually change from their normal green appearance to a much paler green. As the deficiency progresses these older leaves become uniformly yellow (chlorotic). Stunted growth and purpling/reddening along the veins on the underside of larger leaves.are also symptoms.

Phosphorus (P)   Macro nutrient - a distinct purpling of the stem, petiole (leaf branches) and the under sides of the leaves. If deficiency is severe, leaves can develop a blue-gray luster and growth may be stunted.

Potassium (K) Macro nutrient - Leaves show marginal tip burn (necrosis) and again, growth may be stunted.


Magnesium (Mg)  Secondary -magnesium deficiency generally starts with mottled yellowing (chlorotic) areas that develop in between the leaf veins. As the deficiency progresses, small brown patches develop in the yellow areas.

Calcium (Ca)  Secondary - show dying areas (necrosis) around the base of the leaves. Yellow/brown spots may also appear on the edge of leaves. These spots can also be surrounded by a sharp brown outlined edge. This often affects the older leaves first.

Sulfur (S) Secondary - The veins and petioles (leaf branches) show a very distinct reddish colour. and leaves turn yellow.


Iron (Fe)  Micro nutrient - show strong chlorosis (yellowing) at the base of the leaves with some green netting. Symptoms may also show yellowing of young leaves, while the veins remain green.

Manganese (Mn)  Micro nutrient - Shows a light chlorosis of the young leaves and netted veins of the mature leaves especially when they are viewed through transmitted light.

Boron (B) Micro nutrient - Younger leaves show a light yellowing/browning. A cluster of leaves develop in the same place. Leaf margins twist and leaves become brittle.

Copper (Cu)  Micro nutrient - Copper-deficient leaves  are curled, and their petioles bend downward. Leaves show a wilted appearance with yellow to brown patches. Mature leaves may become bleached between the veins.

Zinc (Zn)  Micro nutrient - The younger leaves become yellow and pitting develops in the interveinal upper surfaces of the mature leaves. Older leaves develop brown patches in between the veins. Young leaves very small and develop in a cluster in the same space.

Molybdenum (Mo)  Micro nutrient - Leaves show some mottled spotting along with some interveinal chlorosis (yellowing). An early symptom for molybdenum deficiency is a general overall chlorosis, similar to the symptom for nitrogen deficiency but without the reddish coloration on the undersides of the leaves. Upward cupping of the leaves may also be seen.
You will notice that deficiencies show themselves usually on the lower leaves first. That’s because plants put all they have into top growth first and lower, older leaves tend to be second in the queue!

Sunday, 4 April 2010

How to Grow Tomatoes - Beginners Guide

How to grow tomatoes - a beginners guide.

There is nothing like the taste of home grown tomatoes, yet on the other hand, the frustration of poor results can often put off the "would be" tomato grower from trying again the following season. By the time the crop has failed it is often too late to start from scratch in the same season.

However, here are some tips and advice to help the beginner avoid the diseases and other problems associated with growing tomatoes. Many experienced gardeners will tell you that tomatoes are easy to grow - they are if you have had previous experience and know especially what tomato plants don't like.
  1. Use new compost for seeds and plants because old soil or compost may contain all sots of nasties. Nutrients also degrade over time, so fresh comost (multi-purpose for example) is the most nutritious.
  2. Clean and sterilise all pots and containers used last season - especially if they were used for tomatoes.
  3. When seeds germinate, keep the seedlings in as light a position as possible to prevent them from becoming leggy.
  4. Transplant seedlings into individual pots 3inch or slightly larger and increase pot size as plants grow.
  5. Don't feed plants with tomato food until after pea-like tomatoes start to form as the flowers die. If plants are regularly potted-on into bigger pots containing new compost, they won't need to be fed as there is enough food in the compost.
  6. Don't remove the flowers as these are the future tomatoes.
  7. Stand plants in trays of water only when watering, then allow compost to almost dry out. Tomato plants need both moisture and air to grow a good root system and if they are stood in water all the time they will be vulnerable to disease.
  8. Contrary to popular opinion, tomatoes don't like rain because they hate water on their leaves - especially overnight when the temperature drops. Wet leaves for just a few days and your lovely little plants will probably get blight - this is very bad!
  9. Lastly, tomato plants can't cope with frost, or near frost temperatures, so keep them indoors overnight until after the last frost in your area.
Following the above tips will give a very good chance of success, by the way, cherry tomatoes are among the easiest to grow and a great place to start for beginners.

More tips and advice on how to grow tomatoes, especially for beginners, may be found at tomato growing.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

When To Sow Tomato Seed

My urge to start sowing tomato seed begins in January but knowing It's best to sow about eight to ten weeks before the last frost in my area (end of  May to be safe) means that I should wait until around the end of March.

Of course I can't wait that long and already the porch and kitchen are full of tomato seedlings and there are more germinating in the airing cupboard upstairs!

The difficulty with growing tomatoes from seed is that there is only a small window of opportunity - too early and the plants won't get enough light etc., too late and the season has come to an end because of cold temperatures before the fruit matures.

It takes around two months from seed to flower, and about the same from flower to fruit - a total of four months.

This growing time can be shortened with cherry varieties that mature early such as Red Alert and Tumbler. They not only mature early but they are more likely to ripen in a poor summer, in part, because smaller plants and tomatoes have less growing to do.

If you would like to sign up the the free Tomato Growing Newsletter for lots of tips and free advice.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Tomato Plug Plants

It's always a good feeling to sow a seed and watch it grow into a full size plant then eat its fruit ... very satisfying!

However, there are times when plug plants, or pot ready plants are extremely handy and fill an important role.

Here are just a few reasons why plug plants are helpful and avoid the following problems ...
  • Poor germination rates - Hybrid F1 seed is expensive!
  • Damping off - when seedlings are attacked shortly after germination by fungi and die.
  • Seedlings that have been grown in poor light conditions - without additional light - can become leggy.
Another advantage is that they are great for those who are new to growing tomatoes and will get you off to a great start without the above problems. Also, if you are planting in late Spring, you will still get ripe fruit before the season ends.

There are the disadvantages of not knowing the seed source, and also, not having as wide a choice as with seeds, but on balance, tomato plug plants are a great benefit for the tomato grower.

Plug plants are available by post directly from the nursery of Plants by Post of Nottingham UK, so why not get the season off to an early start - and an early crop of the tastiest tomatoes.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Big Tomatoes

A neighbour came by the other day and asked if he could have 4 lbs of tomatoes ... I told him that I'm not prepared to cut one in half for anybody!

There are some fantastic big tomato varieties that are well worth a try. Brandywine which comes in pink, red and yellow - the original source of which came from the Amish farmers and is now a very popular heirloom variety with exceptional taste.

Caspian Pink (from Russia) and German Red Strawberry could become irresistable to grow once tasted!

A large Italian variety like Cuore di Bue (oxheart type) is also worth a try in your area. Just remember that these large varieties require good conditions to perform well. Also, large tomato varieties will usually take longer to mature than medium or cherry tomato varieties.

It is great to grow favourites each season, but it's also exciting to try something new ... I also recommend Oregon Spring as a great slicing tomato for sandwiches and terrific in a ploughman's lunch!

Don't forget to visit my tomato growing website for lots of tomato growing tips.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Choosing Varieties for Blight Tolerance/Resistance

There are two varieties that are often advertised as being blight tolerant - these are Ferline and Legend.

Anyone who has grown tomatoes outdoors will know that wet weather for long periods will cause blight ... a serious fungal disease that attacks plants and fruit, making them useless.

The varieties Ferline and Legend are said to have some blight tolerance/resistance so I guess they are worth considering if you expect to have prolonged periods of wet weather during the growing season in your part of the world. Here in the UK it is almost guaranteed!

A couple of seasons ago I gave these varieties a try but was disappointed with the result. The tolerance level was no more than many of my other plants.

However, the season was so wet that no variety would have been able to withstand blight, owing to the rain and constantly wet leaves.

The symptoms of blight are brown patches on the leaves, plants and fruit that result in making the whole tomato plant useless.

The best way to protect against blight is to keep the leaves dry and sheltered from the rain.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Tomato Maskotka

Maskotka is a bush cherry variety that I grew last season for the first time.

I now rate it among the best cherry varieties for container growing and I shall grow it again in 2010.

Its taste is excellent, it produces a good amount and the size is slightly larger than the average cherry tom such as Garden Pearl or Tumbling Tom.

I grew it in large pots to give it plenty of room. This usually produces a slightly larger fruit than if grown in crowded conditions.

If the weather is hot and you have a small container or hanging basket with several tomato plants in, you may need to water several times a day!

Adding water retaining gel or perlite to the soil/compost helps stop the soil from drying out. However, tomato plants, when fruiting, need lots of water and nutrients.

The taste of tomatoes may change from season to season depending on the amount of sun the plants receive.

In my experience I have found that a poor tasting variety one season, can have an excellent taste the following season. The amount of water or rain the plants receive, as the fruits swell, also has an influence on the taste.

Because of this, it is good to give a new variety two or three seasons to make a judgement on its taste - I hope it tastes as good this season!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Growing Red Alert Tomatoes

Red Alert is one of the more difficult cherry varieties to grow.

It requires a good amount of light to stop it becomming "leggy" (over-watering adds to this problem) and it needs a larger container than most other cherry varieties for it to produce a good crop.
However, it is one of the earliest varieties I have grown, it produces a huge crop when grown in a large pot or container and its tomatoes are among the finest tasting - given a reasonable amount of sun during the season!

As an open pollinated variety (not F1) its seeds are cheap and you can save them for the following season.

Red Alert is very similar to Tumbler in size and taste, but Tumbler is an F1 variety with expensive seed.

Here is a typical seed packet description. I don't recommend growing Red Alert in a hanging basket but Tumbler will do well with limited root room.

Felknor Ventures FV504C Topsy Turvy Upside-Down Hanging Tomato PlanterA superb flavoured, outdoor bush tomato which is very early to mature and heavy yielding. The size of the fruit depends partly on the amount of root space. If grown in a hanging basket, the fruit will be slightly smaller than if grown in a large container. You can expect weights of 4-5lb (1.8-2.25kg) per bush. 55-60 days from transplanting.

It is a good idea to limit the amount of tomato plants in a hanging basket - one or two will be enough.
One well grown plant with plenty of room will produce as many tomatoes as two or three plants that are over-crowded in a limited space.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Sowing Tomato Seed Early - Part 2

At this time of the year I can't wait to get started. Sowing different tomato varieties and seeing them germinate is one of the great pleasures of the season.

Most seasons I sow too early and end up with lots of plants that are unable to go outside overnight, because of the frost, and the house becomes crowded with tomato plants!

My plan this season is to sow a few bush varieties that can cope with lower light conditions without becoming too leggy - remembering that they need space as they grow and potted up into bigger pots. I tried this idea last season and it worked fine with Glacier - a variety that can cope with low temperatures and will grow as a bush or tall type.

The variety I recommend for this is Tumbling Tom. It comes in red and yellow types, doesn't get leggy and produces a good size cherry that tastes great.

Normally the sowing time for outdoor growing is around two months befroe the last frost date in your area.
However, it is possible to sow three months before the last frost date if you sow a bush variety like Tumbling Tom, keep them in as much light as possible and away from damp, cold conditions (inside of course) and don't over water them.

It's great to have your own tomatoes early in the season and there are ways to etend the growing season at the other end too!

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Growing Tomatoes in Cold Conditions

In November I blogged about starting an experiment to see if it is possible to grow tomatoes - in this case a cherry variety called Garden Pearl - over the winter period without extra light etc.

Here is the result on the 28th January 2010.

I've been very careful not to over water them as combined with cold night temperatures - in my porch - would probably cause fungal disease.

The low light levels have produced seedlings that are more "leggy" than you would expect when grown in the Spring, but they are still healthy enough to continue growing.

Of the three, the one in the center is the tallest but it also has the largest leaves.

As long as they don't shoot up like rockets, I think that they'll make it through to Spring and hopefully produce the earliest crop of Garden Pearl tomatoes I've had.

The important thing is not to over water tomato plants in periods of low light and cold conditions.
Also, growing a bush variety is easier because they are shorter and easier to move around into the light etc.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Sowing Tomatoes Early

For outdoor growing, the best time to sow tomato seed is around two months before your estimated last frost date. So if the LFD date is the middle of May, you would sow around the middle of March.

However, is it possible, with a little extra TLC to sow earlier in order to get an early crop of tomatoes.

There are two problems that have to be worked around or overcome if you want to sow early:

  • Low Temperatures 
  • Low Light Levels

Low temperatures may cause fungal disease - especially if plants receive too much water.
The other problem is that at low temperatures plant roots are unable to absorb the necessary nutrients for healthy growth.

Low light also contributes to poor growth. Solar energy is turned into chemical energy and plants create glucose, their main source of fuel, through photosynthesis - and that requires light. As a result, plants often become "leggy" because of their search for more light.

The Solutions

Artificial light and artificial heat and quite a lot of extra work!

I have found that growing bush varieties that won't become too leggy and keeping them in a cool (but not cold) area in as much light as possible, is a solution. You could also use a grow light to extend the daylight hours in the late winter and early spring.

In my next post I will let you know how the seedlings that I found growing in November in a large pot (they had self seeded from last season's plants) are doing.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Tomato Varieties To Grow This Season - Outdoors

At the end of last season - just as the season before - I decided to limit the amount of tomato plants I'll grow.

Each season, kind people send me seed - which has to be sown! - and I end up growing far more plants than I had intended. So I decided to ask myself a question:

If I could only grow one cherry variety, one medium variety and one large variety, which ones would I grow?

My first choice would be the bush Tumbling Tom - it comes in both red and yellow strains (I cheated a bit there!) and it is a decent size cherry and very reliable. The red tastes different from the yellow and the plants produce a very good yield. Will grow very well in large pots.

There are many excellent tall varieties but the one I would choose for outdoor growing is Alicante.
This is one of the finest tasting varieties and dependable in an unpredictable summer - weather-wise!
Great in a grow bag up against a sunny wall or fence.

For my final choice I'm back to the bush varieties and Oregon Spring is a favourite of mine. Its taste, size and reliability make it a great choice for outdoor growing; However, it does need room for its roots so give it a good size container.

When I think of all the varieties that I've left out ....!

One thing to consider is that different varieties grow better or worse in different regions, so finding out the ones that best suit your area is a good way to a successful crop.

One thing you can do is to ask an experienced gardener at your local allotment. He or she will probably be happy to share his or her experience and tell you of their methods - possibly handed down the generations!

Monday, 25 January 2010

Cherry Tomatoes - Hundreds and Thousands

It's fascinating to grow any variety of tomato, but cherry tomatoes are very much my passion.

Last season (2009) was successful even though we had some very wet and very dry weather making container growing more of a challenge.

The most abundant and highest yield bush variety was Hundreds and Thousands - 100s & 1000s. It is often the case that a small cherry variety will produce a huge crop, but I didn't quite expect this amount - the name lives up to the results!

Although this variety is on the small side of the usual cherry tomato size, its abundance and sweet taste makes it well worth growing in a large pot - kids will definately love them but will they make it to the kitchen before getting eaten?

A good place to get them in the UK is Tomato Seeds UK a new seed company that only sells this one variety!

More information about growing tomatoes may be found at: Tomato Growing and Tomato Growing Blog.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Benefits of a Greenhouse

As an enthusiastic tomato grower, if I were given two wishes I would choose ...

  1. To able to sow early and extend the season 
  2. To be able to avoid tomato blight.
Ok ... I know that's really three wishes but I'm greedy! Well, having a longer season would be a great benefit and I could stagger my sowings rather than have to sow all of my seed within a just a few weeks.

Of course, a greenhouse gives the gardener a lot of advantages, here are a few more ...

  • Protection from the wind - it is often the last thing we think about when growing tomatoes, but the wind can be quite harmful, damaging roots around the base of stems and blowing pots over.
  • Protection from too much sun - I can't help smiling when writing this one because sometimes too much sun is a far off dream! However, young tomato plants, especially in containers, can really struggle in heat until their root systems are fully developed.

You won't need a big expensive greenhouse to receive some of these benefits, as long as you can keep your plants out of the rain, you'll go a long way in helping avoid tomato blight.

More information may be found at greenhouse growing.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Developing A Good Root System

One thing that I have been guilty of is being too generous to my plants.

Too much water, too much tomato food ... basically killing them with kindness!

However, to develop a good root system, roots need air as well as water. Over-watering stunts their growth, and the soil, because of the added weight of water, becomes compacted.

Too much food too soon also has an adverse effect on root development because nutrient solution can build up in the soil and burn young roots. The same is true of having a solution that is too strong.

In the pic above, I've taken a Glacier (potato leaf variety) out of its pot and I hope you can see the nice white strong root ball.

This plant would be potted-on at this stage or put into its final position - depending on the time of year.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Know Your Roots

As tomato growing enthusiasts, we are often more concerned about what's happening above the soil than we are below it. However, a good root system can help overcome many of the difficulties that a tomato plant faces throughout the season. It's a bit like being extra fit and healthy before they drop you off in the middle of the desert and you have to find your own way home!

Here are some of the advantages ...

Better able to cope with periods of hot weather.
A large root system is able to draw moisture from a larger area.

Better able to cope with poor quality soil.
Tomatoes are heavy feeders - especially when fruiting - and require a lot of nutrient uptake. A good root system helps immensly.

Better able to combat disease.
A strong plant will be the last to go down with any one of the many diseases that tomato plants are affected by.

A plant with a good root system will fruit earlier and produce better quality fruit.
A good root system will allow a tomato plant to grow at its optimum rate.

The next question is ...  How do I help my tomato plants to develop a good root system?

Next post coming shortly ...