I love growing tomatoes at the allotment. In the early years, I grew outdoor varieties with some success. In my second year, I had 16 plants (they all looked too good to throw on the compost heap!) and they all grew like crazy in the good weather. I was regularly taking home 2 full carrier bags of fruit. There was a lot of roasting, pureeing, souping and freezing that year! Not to mention startled neighbours!
The weather in recent years has not been kind to the tomato or the tomato grower and now I grow them under cover in the polytunnel, using grow-bags. The biggest challenge of growing undercover is that ensure they get enough water: too little or irregular watering will result in blossom end rot and/or splitting. Neither are the end of the world, but the fruits do look a bit less appetising.
Here’s my guide (developed through trial and error) to create an environment for happy and productive tomatoes. Only 6 plants this year. I have 3 Super Marmande, a juicy beefsteak but which needs a long growing season – my PB on producing ripe beefsteaks toms is 4, so room for improvment. I have another 3, all cordon type – Alicante and Shirley (standard round tomato types) and Sungold, a fabulously sweet, yellow/orange cherry type. My challenge this year is to persuade the family that an orange tomato is normal – my lot are very conservative.
I use large bottomless pots sunk into the grow-bag. This gives the plants room to spread their roots and increases the capacity of water storage in the soil. I use the pots as a template for cutting the right size holes in the bag. Make sure that the soil in the grow-bag is fluffed up – otherwise it has the same consistency as set concrete.
Set up the rest of the support system. This bag is for the Marmande, which I keep to four trusses so the plant can put its effort into ripening the fruit. The grow-bag frame holds everything securely in place, even when the plants are in full production.
Add compost and fertilizer so the pot is about quarter filled. The aim is to bury the plant up to its first true leaf. This encourages additional roots to form and creates a stronger, more resilient plant. I’m trying out new fertilizer this year; it didn’t smell of anything – I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing but I’ll find out in a few months.
Tomato plants are ready to go in to their final growing position once the first flower truss has set. If they are transplanted any earlier, the plant will just carry on growing and throwing out more leaves.
I use ceramic drip-feed water bottles, one per pot. During the summer, this means that if necessary I can get away with watering every other day. That makes a big difference, particularly if it has been a long, hot day in the office.
That’s the Super Marmande’s done.
The front row has a super posh water tray from Hozelock. I got two on sale during the winter – the other one is under the cucumbers. This tank holds about 15l of water and will keep the plants happy for about four days. For this tray, I use wire stretched from a pole between the crop bars and tucked under the plant’s roots. Once the pot is full of compost, it is firmly in place all season. As the plant grows, I train the stem around the wire to self support. This means that the plants can grow 6-8 trusses.
These plants had all thrown out side-shoots. As these are grown as cordons – just the main stem with trusses, these need to be pinched out.
Pinching out is just that – nip out the shoot between the leaf and main stem. Easy…
Bob Flowerdew is ruthless in his approach to tomato production. It’s the fruit not leaves that we want, so chop them off. Or rather just keep enough for photosynthesis.
What varieties are you growing this year? What’s your method? Happy growing.