It’s been an unusual season to say the least!
Having made plans to avoid blossom end rot, blight and a host of other problems and diseases, I felt quietly confident that I was about to experience the most successful season ever!

Well, “many a slip twixt cup and lip” was a saying my Grandfather often used, and unfortunately the unforeseen happened – dull weather for around three months at the most crucial time of the season!

I did learn an important tip about light levels and feeding.

  • When light levels are low, tomato plants transpire less, so feeding can be increased.
  • When the weather is warm and bright, plants transpire more, so feeding should be reduced.

Why – and what is transpiration?

Transpiration happens when water evaporates from leaves and is replaced by water absorbed by the plant’s roots.

The more water that is absorbed by the roots, the more food a plant takes in.

During bright sunny periods of weather, plants absorb more water/food. This means there is a danger of over-feeding, so the amount of nutrients we give our plants, should be reduced.

When the weather is cool and cloudy, plants absorb less water/food so under-feeding is a possibility and nutrients can be increased.

I’m not suggesting that every time the sun goes in we dash out and feed our tomato plants, but during periods of consistent weather, bad or good, we may be over or under-feeding without realising.

Tomato Plants & Circulation
Something else I have become more aware of this season is the sensitive vascular system tomato plants have (their plumbing) and how easy it is to clog-it-up!

This relates directly to over-feeding and the possible build-up of minerals in a plants system, causing poor circulation and toxicity. Water can evaporate from the leaves but the mineral nutrients remain in the plant. The result is similar to a central heating system – the pipes become clogged-up and the system becomes less efficient or even stops working.

In humans this could be compared to blood clots or (with nutrient build-up becoming toxic) blood poisoning!

Hydroponic growers are able to measure the amount of food in the water they use with an EC meter. Soil growers have to be careful not to be too generous with mineral nutrients.

As always, it is better to under-feed rather than over-feed for the reasons above.

Watering Seedlings
Seedlings should be given very little water – almost to the point of wilting! That’s the practice of some growers according to an old tomato growing book called “Tomato Culture” by W.W. Tracy – you can Google it.

Of course you will need to be careful not to leave thirsty seedlings in full sun and dry soil if you are at work all day. However, it’s a fact that too much water or even a moderate amount will prevent a healthy root system developing in seedlings and young tomato plants.

Another point I would like to mention is about the old subject: “roots need air” but they need more of it than many people realise – it surprised me too! There are now air domes available to sit in the bottom of a large pot under the soil into which air is pumped – just like an air stone in a fish tank but for your roots not your fish!

My suggestion for next season is to create as many air pockets in the soil as possible with perlite and other growing media such as coconut/coir. Also, make sure that water can drain away easily – it is better that less water is available than too much which can make the root system unhealthy.

That’s why the autpot system is so useful (see last week’s newsletter) – it gives the correct amount  automatically!

Some soil mixes also contain friendly microbes that attack bacteria and fungi that are harmful to plant roots – these are called soil inoculants and are an extra guard against root disease – often caused by over-watering.

That’s it for this season – thank you very much for all your comments and tips.

I look forward to next season, which will be the best ever (unless my Grandfather’s saying has anything to do with it!).

I may send out the odd email over the winter period, but the newsletter will begin again in February.

Best wishes,

26 Responses

  1. Ibrahym
    | Reply

    Hi NICK,
    Thanx for all you are doing for us. ive tried the variety called maxim but its doing wonders and am soon harvesting in my greenhouse.

    Though some bit of wilt in a few some advise pliz, thax

  2. mike
    | Reply

    Hi Nick. Thanks for your reply. I have actually come across that link before but the sticks are not separate. As it is I need to go to SPECSAVERS! Here’s a link to the farm I was talking about….it quite clearly states they are BAMBOO STICKS! I obviously didn’t read it correctly….something about the brain reading what it’s looking for. And the sticks in the photo looked plastic. Back to the drawing board…’ll be bamboo again next year! Regards, Mike.

  3. mike
    | Reply

    Hi Nick. Overall probably the worst season in my 30 years of veg gardening. Let’s hope its a one off! Off topic from toms, I saw somewhere about a runner bean farm which used about 800k bean sticks. They looked plastic. Any idea where they can be bought from? Thanks, Mike.

  4. ray jenks
    | Reply

    billiant site, growing along with your ‘ news letters’ is like having a knowledgable friend
    by your side.
    thank you Nick. all the best.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Thanks Ray … I’m pleased that you have found the newsletters helpful!

  5. Derek Warren
    | Reply

    Hi Nick.
    I’d like to thank you sincerely for the advice I’ve received from you excellent site, as you say it’s not been a very good year for the tomato growers but never mind there’s always next year.
    I am, like a lot more growers left with heaps of green tomatoes but as I write I have a big pot on the stove filled to the brim with green tomatoes in preperation for my Green Tomato Chutney.
    All the best Nick.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Derek,
      It’s the time of year for green tomato recipes – fried green tomatoes are quite nice!
      Let’s hope we have a better summer next year.

  6. Buster
    | Reply

    Thanks Nick. Your Newsletter has been a joy to receive.
    Lots of good advice with encouragement to experiment.
    My best tomato this year was Ferline. Not a great crop but a solid fleshy tasty tom. Superb sliced & lightly salted on hot buttered toast!!

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Buster,
      Ferline did quite well for me too this season considering the weather. Another similar variety worth growing is Orkado F1 – on trial offer this season from Thomson & Morgan.
      Lets’ hope for good weather next season!
      Best wishes,

  7. Mark F.
    | Reply

    Thanks Nick for all the advice.

    This has been my first year growing Toms in a greenhouse and I feel that I have leant so much. (but still lots to learn)

    I planted seeds in a heated prop. from Jan. onwards and I then used additional heat from March to May (costly -approx £100 for a large 4x3m greenhouse but cheaper than golf. This meant that I have been continously cropping from 1st June onwards (Toms, Peppers, Cucumbers and aubergines). I have enjoyed heaps and heaps of Toms all summer and not just at the end of the Summer. (cheaper than Golf!) I still have lots of green ones on the vine and will not start using heat again so am hopinf for a warm October. I stopped the growing tips on all but garderners delight at the begining of Sept.

    Gardeners delight were lovely. Grew in a cordon, moderate crop but lovely flavour and acidity. Still grewing now.

    Tumbling Toms planted later, March, great crop but taste wise lacked a little, compared to Gardeners Delight.

    Large Marmandais. Cropped well, great for roasting and cooking with. Lovely caramelized flavour when roasted which works great as a roasted tom soup or for sauces. Not great to eat uncooked.

    Ferline F1-grew these later with a view to moving outside due to their blight resistence. However summer so poor, did not move out. A real revelation. Really large fruit and good equally as cooking or eating raw. A great flavour if left to finish off for a few days in the kitchen. Will grew these as a beef Tom substitute next year. Vigorous thick stems on plants.

    Ailsa Craig-only started growing well when light levels improved. Moderate crop with good Flavour.

    Notes for next year. Don’t overwater early on. When I reduced watering root systems developed better. Growing lights on my Xmas present list. Its no good having heat without light.

    Feeding-used Chempack economy Tom feed (20pct Potash) and followed their advice to feed at every watering after formation of the second truss. I did an occaisional no feed watering. This seems to contradict what everyone else prescribes. Perhaps it is a low feed doseage? It worked for me but ….

    Next year-Shirley, Ferline, Sungold, Garderners Delight aand one Heirloom variety-perhaps a Russian Black variety-I would welcome anyones suggestions.

    Thanks again Nick.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Mark,
      It’s good to read about your growing season – it looks like you have plenty of experience and success!
      You are right about grow lights – it needs both light and warmth to get a good crop.
      Ferline did well for me too but none of my plants were as successful as last season when we had a better summer.
      If we get a half-decent summer next season I think we’ll see a big improvement in the amount and taste of the tomatoes – can’t wait!

  8. Catriona Ferris
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,

    Thank you so much for another excellent year of useful information & well timed pep-talks!! It’s been a funny old year, but actually my crop has done surprisingly well in the end (East Ayrshire). Every time I go out to my greenhouse to “bring a few in” I end up with 3-4 punnets of them – despite repeatedly forgetting to water them all season & deliberately feeding them less than previous years!! The main glut is over now, but last year they were still ripening at the end of October so I’ll keep them going a while longer.

    Of the bush varieties the best producer by far this year (and last year) was Maskotka & I can highly recommend this bush variety. Good sized cherry toms, sweet but not too sweet & the volume per plant is amazing! Garden Pearl did well, but the individual fruits were smaller than usual plus the greenfly & botrytis spores seem to love them more than the other types for some reason…

    Red Alert did well & tasted great as always, but in my opinion they are very large plants for a “bush” variety (& the fruits are the largest “cherry” tomatoes I’ve ever seen!!) After last year’s experience, I decided not to try to keep them compact & grew them up 6ft bamboo canes like my cordon types (but I don’t side shoot them).

    Of the cordon types I’m a big fan of Sweet Million & Red Cherry cos they’re so easy to pick & are beautifully round & shiny. Very pleasing!! Gardener’s Delight did OK, but they are neither the heaviest croppers nor the tastiest fruits so I might give them a miss next year for a change.

    Anyway, just thought I’d give you the “Scottish Experience” in case it’s helpful at all – see you next year! 🙂

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Catriona,
      It’s good to hear about tomato growing in Scotland… there are quite a few folk north of the border receiving the newsletter!
      I have grown Maskotka often in past seasons and it has always performed well. Red Alert is a large plant, as you say, and inclined to get leggy as a seedling – a good idea to use the bamboo canes – I’ll try that too next season.
      It’s amazing how a variety can do well in one area and not so well in another but I guess there are so many ways to grow tomatoes that the plants respond differently to the growing conditions.
      Best wishes,

  9. Frank Cullinan
    | Reply

    Hello Nick,

    Just repeating what the other subscribers have said and many thanks for taking the trouble to write to us.
    Hopefully next year will bring a better summer for our plants and I can look forward to your words of wisdom and advice.



  10. Peter Taylor
    | Reply

    Hello Nick
    I have had my best year ever growing tomatoes in the poly tunnel. My thanks to you for all your advice and tips, looking forward to a successful 2013

    Kind Regards Peter.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Peter,
      Good to hear that you’ve had a great season – I can’t wait to choose the seeds and start the seedlings!
      Warm regards,

  11. phil
    | Reply

    Hi nick,many thanks for a great site,look forward to next year,
    Regard phil.

  12. Janet Cockerill
    | Reply

    Hello Nick

    Once again thanks for a very informative and entertaining site. My green tomatoes are all ripening well in a big bowl in the kitchen, next year I shall grow only varieties bearing small tomatoes- they ripen much faster if you grow outdoor plants like me.Have a good winter

    Janet C, Cambridge

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Janet,
      You are absolutely right about smaller tomatoes ripening early – in a poor summer they can be the only ones that are a success.

  13. Mark Mattocks
    | Reply

    Hi Nick. Thanks for all of your newsletters, and the valuable info. The weather being what it has been, I have had no blight or disease whatsoever. I am now enjoying the “Fruits of my Harvest”
    Lots to ripen yet. I grew a variety ‘Dr Carolyn Pink, the majority shaped somewhat like pumpkins, very sweet, almost too sweet for my taste, but must not complain.
    All the best, and see you next Tomato Year.

  14. MaureenLarkin
    | Reply

    Nick, I have found your tips most helpful and I have had some good tomatoes, but I still have some green (but healthy looking)ones on some of my plants. I have been picking them off and ripening on windowsill. One or two got cracks in them and my son had one plant with tomatoe blight,but – all in all – we have had quite a few good ones. Here’s to next season and thanks a lot for all your tips.

  15. joseph james
    | Reply

    A word of warning to new tomato growers for next season,if your handling the plant or the fruit without gloves make sure your hands are thoroughly washed afterwards as the green from them is a devil to remove from towels.My wife has taken me to task often over this,even when I’ve scrubbed them and I think they are clean enough to perform surgery. So beware.
    PS My yellow tomatos easily outperformed my reds and I’m looking now for a different tasty red for next season but not the very small variety and certainly not Gardeners Delight.Thanks for the informative monthly newsletter and all the best till next year,

  16. Kenneth Holmes
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,

    Many thanks for your very interesting newsletters, I’m sure that like I many people have benefited
    for your advice throughout the summer. I look forward to February when you commence again

  17. Lee Cook
    | Reply

    I just wanted to say ” THANKS” for all the good tips and information !!
    I have had pretty good results from my yellow toms this year and my beefsteaks are just starting to turn red, so I am looking to enjoy some BLT’s ( bacon, lettuce, and tomato, sandwiches ) before too long.

    Thanks again,

  18. veronica
    | Reply

    Hello Nick
    Just a short message to say Thankyou for all your tips and advice throughout 2012. I,ve learned a lot from it although my plants were a disaster as never before and I haven,t even eaten a single home grown tomato this year for first time ever, but this is not my fault or yours.A very powerful chap upstairs obviously decided what sort of weather He would chuck at us. Hopefully He will look more kindly on us next year! Fingers crossed. Wishing you a very Happy Christmas and prosperous New Year.Kind Regards, Veronica.

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