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 ...