It has been a mixed season around the UK.
If you grow outside and have managed to avoid blight, then you’ve probably had a good season.
However, August has been wetter than usual and If you’ve been in a particularly wet area, as I have, then your outside plants have more than likely been affected with blight.
Blight and BER
Avoiding Blight and Blossom End Rot are perhaps the two biggest issues when growing outside in the UK.
The ways to avoid blight are … grow under cover or grow Crimson Crush, Mountain Magic or Lizzano.
Avoiding Blossom End Rot is a bit more difficult. A reservoir system such as the Quadgrow Planter will give your plants the best possible chance with water available 24/7. Plum varieties and large varieties are more vulnerable to BER because they have more flesh to make, requiring calcium, inside the tomato.
Greenhouse, Polytunnel and Lean To
Growing under cover in a polytunnel or greenhouse will always produce good results. If you don’t own a either, a polytunnel is the least expensive option and a lean to shelter is very good if you have a wall or a strong fence to attach it to.
A lean to may only have room for three or four plants but you can grow a lot of tomatoes from just a few well grown, disease free plants!
The main issue with this and smaller greenhouses is stability in a strong wind – so they are best fixed to a solid structure.
Inside or Outside
Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to grow tomato plants in greenhouses and polytunnels but there is something rather special about growing outside. Some say that tomatoes develop more flavour when grown outside – I’m not sure how true that is, but plants definitely have to work harder and build up more resistance against the tougher conditions.
One very successful set up I’ve used is a polytunnel open at both ends. Doors can be difficult to fix in polythene which tears easily but you can easily add a cover to the loops with very strong bulldog clips.
The advantage with such great air flow is lower humidity and plants that are able to transpire well – release moisture through their leaves which allows a good uptake of nutrients. Growing in a greenhouse presents a different list of issues and challenges to overcome!
Saving seeds for next season
Many of us like to see how early we can produce our first ripe tomato each season. The totally obsessed, like me and quite a few others reading this newsletter, will have ripe cherry tomatoes on the table around mid June in a good season – the larger toms ripen later. The most vigorous seeds make the fastest growing plants and are the seeds taken from last season.
Saving seeds from open pollinated varieties
Of course if you want seeds to grow true to type, you should save them from open pollinated varieties. When seeds from F1 hybrid tomatoes are saved and sown the following season, you never know what shape, size or flavour you’ll get!
If you are not sure whether the variety you are growing is open pollinated, a quick search online should soon tell you. Also, F1 seeds are a lot more expensive – some F1 seeds can cost around 50p each … you would certainly want those to germinate!
Over the years, some varieties have been wrongly described. I once saw a packet with Red Alert F1 on the label, another with Black Cherry F1 and there was some confusion when Crimson Crush first came on the the market – it was available only as a pot plant. Just to confirm that Crimson Crush is an F1 hybrid.
A few seed saving tips
A quick browse around the internet will produce conflicting information regarding how long seeds should ferment for. I like to ferment mine, keeping them in a glass container, for around five to seven days then use a tea strainer before setting them out on coffee filter paper.
The filter paper doesn’t stick to the seeds like kitchen roll but still absorbs moisture well. Let the seeds dry for about four or five days before puting them into a suitable container. I use glassine envelopes – the kind stamp collectors use. However, if you use an airtight container, you will need to make sure that the seeds are thoroughly dry, otherwise they may release moisture and rot.
Keep them in a cool dry place.
That’s it for this season – I hope your plants are still producing and your kitchen is full of tomatoes!
Let’s hope we all have a great season in 2018.