We’ve had a great season in the UK and apart from a wet spell in August, the summer has been dry and bright.

Good weather enables us to focus more on growing techniques and performance rather than disease control. However, making sure that disease and aphids etc. don’t get a stronghold, will always be an important part of growing tomatoes.

I did get an attack of caterpillars but surprisingly, I haven’t seen one greenfly or whitefly this summer.

Growing techniques
This season has been the most experimental so far – trying out all sorts of watering methods, and using as many different containers as possible.

The best watering systems I’ve tried, without using electricity, has been the ones that use reservoirs, which include:

  • Hozelock Waterer
  • Quadgrow Planter
  • Dirt Box

Issues with the reservoir method
Every growing method has its advantages and disadvantages – for the reservoir system the main disadvantage is the limited amount of water that the reservoir can hold. The bigger the better – especially for holidays.

Capillary flow rate
Another issue, when using capillary wicks, is getting a quick enough flow rate of water to the roots above when the weather is very hot and plants need a lot of water. It’s best to use two wicks for each pot – of course as plants establish, roots grow down into the reservoir and are quite happy as long as the water reservoir is light-proof to avoid the growth of algae.  One of the problems with algae is that it competes with roots for oxygen.

These issues are easy to avoid and I’ll be showing how to make an excellent reservoir system for around £3.00 (three pounds) per plant in the newsletter at the beginning of next season.

Valves and trays
The “valve in tray” such as the autopot system also performed very well, it’s very similar to a reservoir system, but “smart valves” in trays struggled with the hot dry weather, to supply water fast enough. Issues with large trays include, keeping them light-proof and using more water than needed because of evaporation.

Two top cherries
I wanted to make a comparison between Suncherry Premium and Piccolo.
I found that Suncherry Premium is sweeter and contains more juice. Its high liquid content along with irregular watering means that it is also more likely to split.
Piccolo has a little less sugar and slightly more acid content. It is less likely to split, has a longer shelf life but the seeds aren’t available from retail outlets, however, seedlings are available online in the spring and early summer.
Unless you are growing tomatoes for the supermarkets, Suncherry Premium is in my view better. It is a sweeter “home-grown” tasting tomato. Like Sungold, don’t leave it too long on the vine otherwise it may split. Sungold and Suncherry Premium come from the same Japanese seed breeders.

Outdoor Varieties
It’s funny how some varieties just do better outdoors!
You might think that being grown under cover in a greenhouse or polytunnel, in a nice warm spot, would mean success for every tomato plant variety but experience shows otherwise.

So why do some plants perform better outdoors?

Advantages of outdoor growing

  • Better air flow – increases transpiration.
  • Plants receive some rain water – often slightly acid in pH and contains less additives than tap water.
  • More pollinators – bees and insects help pollinate flowers.
  • It’s less hot during the afternoon outside than in a greenhouse – high temperatures can stress many varieties, especially if grown in containers that dry out quickly.

Disadvantages of outdoor growing

  • Wet weather – blight!
  • Colder at night – but in the early spring you can move plants in containers into a greenhouse if a frost or wet weather is predicted.

I find that Red Alert and Tumbling Tom do better outdoors than in a greenhouse or polytunnel. However, most varieties perform better under cover.

Recipe page
Thank you to all those who have submitted a recipe – always happy to receive more … the recipe page will be ready shortly.


10 Responses

  1. ben
    | Reply

    Nick could you consider an article on yields? How many plants to grow to have pasta sauce (frozen) all year? How many plants would a typical family need? I’d love to hear views as I am hoping to get an allotment or garden soon.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Ben, It depends a lot on the growing conditions as yields vary considerably depending on the weather – especially if growing outside.
      Nine plants with three cherry, three medium/salads and three beefsteak varieties will keep a family in tomatoes in a poor season and in a good summer will supply the neighbours too!

  2. Rhys Jaggar
    | Reply

    My most surprising result of the year has been with one of my beesteak strains. Last year, I had 22 fruit which all came together in late August like a determinate strain. This year, I’ve had a slow and steady stream of nearly 30 tomatoes from late July until now, with still a few to ripen. I”ve no idea why that happened, but it does make planning harvest dates a challenge!

    Probably two more weeks of realistic harvesting and then it’s green things for chutney. I hit 100lb for the season this morning, going in to enter in the borough show, where the standard this year has gone up considerably – lucky to win anything with the tomatoes this year I think, despite my own standard having gone up. Potatoes are the only likely alternative source of glory, me thinks!

    All the seeds prepared for this year also – tomorrow is the day to end the fermentation and get them ready for winter storage. It’s a fruit day on the Maria Thun calendar tomorrow, so we’ll find out next spring if that has had any difference whatever, doing everyting on appropriate moon days. Speed to harvest has certainly been very good this year, but I suspect the sunshine had rather a lot to do with that also!

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Good to hear you are entering the borough show – more prizes on the cards?

  3. john
    | Reply

    Piccolo tomato seeds are available on ebay and amazon at very reasonable prices!

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi John, I’ve seen the picture on the packets (if they are the actual toms) and the variety they are selling are small plum shaped tomatoes – the real Piccolo is a round cherry. Also, many of the seeds from ebay and third party sellers on amazon are from people who save seeds to sell online. Piccolo is a hybrid F1 and the seeds from these tomatoes cannot be saved and grow “true to type” – the true Piccolo is a cross between two other varieties.

  4. John davies
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,
    Talking of outside v. indoor planting I had some surprising results this year. mainly in two Roma VF plants that I grew from some seeds that my wife gave me.
    One plant was grown in the greenhouse and the other outside. The one under glass grew into a squat bush and the outdoor plant was a normal bush four foot high.
    The strangest thing was the fruit. The under glass plant produced normal sized plum tomatoes, firm textured and not too watery, but a bit bland to taste.
    Outdoors the plant produced cherry sized plums, firm and sweet tasting fruit of similar texture.
    These two plants are sill growing fairly well and looking a bit healthier then the others which are all on their last few fruit now.
    I wonder if I can get the cherry type again next year or was it just a fluke?

    Keep up the good work,

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi John, Sometimes seeds from the same packet will provide different results. If you save some of the seeds from the cherry plum type, there’s a good chance of getting the same results.

  5. bill
    | Reply


    • Nick
      | Reply

      You’re welcome!

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