Saving seeds for next season
I think that 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 tomatoes on the table around mid June – one or two of us even earlier!

I like to take seeds from my earliest fruiting plants, choosing the biggest fruit of course. I’ve been doing this for around five or six seasons with Red Alert, taking seeds from the biggest fruit each season. I now have slightly larger tomatoes on my Red Alert plants than when I first started, and thankfully they taste just as good.

It’s never too early in the season to start saving seeds
Of course if you want them to grow true to type, you should save seeds from open pollinated varieties. When seeds from F1 hybrid tomatoes are sown the following season, you never know what shape, size or flavour you’ll get!

Open pollinated varieties are the ones to save seeds from, and if it doesn’t say F1 or hybrid on the seed packet, it’s probably an open pollinated variety. Also, F1 seeds are a lot more expensive – some can cost around 50p each … you would certainly want those to germinate!

A few seed saving tips
A quick browse around the internet will produce conflicting information regarding how long they should ferment for. I like to ferment mine, keeping them in a glass container, for around five days then use a tea strainer before setting them out on coffee filter paper.
The paper doesn’t stick to the seeds like kitchen roll but still absorbs moisture well. Let them 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.

Saved seed from the previous season is usually very vigorous and indicates that some of the seeds we buy aren’t quite as fresh as they should be!

Stem thickness on tall varieties and balanced growth
If you look at the stem of a tall variety, you’ll probably see that the thickness changes (or diameter to be more precise). Some parts of the higher stem may be thicker than the lower stem. The stem displays the growing conditions and the amount of nutrients (especially nitrogen) a plant received at various stages of its growth.

The stem nearest the soil may be thinner than above showing that the plant was started in less than ideal conditions. There may be sections above where the stem becomes much thicker showing very good growing conditions and probably too much nitrogen. In an ideal growing situation, the stem would be a consistant diameter or thickness – except towards the growing tip of course. Stem thickness is one of the ways to help measure the balance between vegetative and generative growth – between growing leaves or growing fruit!

It doesn’t matter too much if we are only growing plants with four or five trusses, but if we want to grow plants that carry more trusses of medium or large fruit, it’s good to be able to control the stem thickness and keep a plant in balanced growth.

Top Waterers
It’s always good to make notes about what worked well or didn’t work well during each season.

The reservoir systems did best in the hot weather, out-performing even the smart valves and the auto pot system. The reservoir systems include the Quadgrow planter, the Hozelock waterer and the pot in a bucket set-up shown in a recent newsletter. There’s something rather nice about making a reservoir set-up using a bucket, two pots and a strip of capillary matting. It’s much less expensive than the Quadgrow and four buckets will hold more water than the Quadgrow reservoir too.

The Smart Valve
Smart valves work very well in normal weather conditions but couldn’t cope with the weather being so warm and dry. The people at Smart Tech are working on this issue and should have a solution for these unexpected weather conditions.

The Auto Pot System
One of the issues with the aqua valve (it runs on the wet side), is developing a good root system at the final planting, before the valves flood the trays. As soon as the valves are in use, the soil is often kept too wet for the initial stages of root establishment in a large pot.

In order to get roots off to a good start when transplanting into pots, it’s best to water thoroughly, then allow the soil to run almost dry before re-wetting. This encourages the roots to grow more quickly in search of water as the soil dries out – allowing plenty of oxygen back into the soil at the same time. This is one of the big “do’s” for developing a good root system when growing in containers and grow bags.

Aeration as the weather turns cooler
It looks like this is going to be a blight free season for most of us who are in the UK, although we have had quite a lot of rain lately. To keep the greenhouse or polytunnel well aerated, it’s best to remove plants when they are no longer producing fruit to create better growing conditions for those that are.

That’s it for this week – I hope you are enjoying the best tasting tomatoes!


10 Responses

  1. Lauren
    | Reply

    Does brown patches on leaves indicate blight?

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Lauren, It depends … I would need a photo to say for sure, but if your plants have experienced rain lately, it’s probably blight, especially if the brown patches extend to the edges of the leaves.
      Remove effected leaves and spray with Dithane, Synthane, Bordeaux Mixture or asprin.

  2. Rhys Jaggar
    | Reply

    Things that have worked very well for me this season:

    1. Early sowing of Maskotka and Black Cherry – the Maskotka has just about completed its first wave of fruiting (170 fruit) and has been creating a new batch of 20 – 30 the past fortnight. The Black Cherry has been happily yielding 6 – 10 fruit per day since the start of August, unlike last year, when I was struggling to harvest the abundant fruit ripe. I sowed both in the first week of February and, although the Black Cherry suffered a bit from fungal damage to leaves in April, it has grown on very well. Both are expected to yield > 5lb of fruit during the season.
    2. Using the biodynamic sowing calendar for Super Marmande and Black Russian – both producing abundant numbers of fruit early and now well into harvesting phase. The Super Marmande limited its vegetative growth compared to last year, so the main stem didn’t fracture, but nearly 40 beefsteak tomatoes were the result. Black Russian will also produce more than 40 fruit, more than doubling last year’s first effort.
    3. Using RootIt first growth product, which I bought from Nick after he talked about it in one of the newsletters. I fed my 8cm pots one dose of this product and the responses were uniformly magnificent. I will definitely use this on all my plants next year going from 8cm to 15cm pot growth cycle.
    4. Using Maxicrop organic growth stimulant on plants in 15cm pots – this ensures further rapid growth early in the season, giving the plants sufficient foliage to take advantage of the long days from the middle of May onwards.
    5. Doubling Tomorite dosage on beefsteak tomato strains – I regularly fed 1000ml of full-strength Tomorite daily for 3 weeks to my beefsteaks and the response in terms of stimulating early fruit growth was tremendous.
    6. Maximising sunshine hours for all plants until fruit set is complete: for me, this involves walking plants around the garden during the day, or shifting them between windowsills early on. This makes a very significant difference if your plants can get 10 – 14hrs sunshine vs 6 staying in the same place. Because this year was so sunny early on, I’ve not bothered from the middle of July as the growth was so far advanced compared to normal that harvesting has been going on happily without doing so. Last year, with the later heat, I was doing so right throughout August as well.

    What didn’t work so well:
    1. I tried using my own rotted horse manure (well, it rotted in my garden rather than at some commercial site) and it probably wasn’t quite as good as the commercial stuff. My Sub Arctic Plenty plant never really thrived on it, although I will get plenty of smaller-than-usual fruit this year. The Ailsa Craigs, Shirleys and Alicantes are also less productive this year, albeit still an eminently reasonable crop for both.
    2. Growing Red Alerts in 15cm pots without a reservoir. Despite watering twice a day, they dried out too easily, so I just put them on trays with permanent water coverage and they are semi-OK now.
    3. Rhizopots without vertical string support – the bags are great for aeration but the support sticks struggle to support heavily laden plants (most of my Rhizopot tomato plants have ‘laid themselves down’ without it affecting yield). Also, the pots tend to cause a bit of blossom end rot due to the inability to rig up a good reservoir system. If the watering and support issues can be overcome, they are a great way to get oxygen into your plants’ roots.
    4. Trying 4 leaders on a Glacier plant – although I got 150 tomatoes and about 6lb, this is not as effective as using a traditional cordon leader. Nonetheless, this is another strain which will give you early tomatoes if you desire them (harvest started early July after an early February sowing).
    5. Trying to germinate seeds outside in a plastic mini-greenhouse, even in late April/May. It was just a test, but germinating indoors always works, so I’ll stick with that.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Thanks for that Rhys … you are a mine of useful information!

  3. ron
    | Reply

    I will retract my previous message about Red Cherry they are now ripening and the green back seems to disappear ,they are also larger than Gardeners Delight.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Ron, I grew Large Red Cherry a couple of seasons ago – they did take a while before they started to ripen, but the green shoulders ripened too – fortunately!

  4. Mick Loughrey
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,
    Your newsletter has been very helpful, thank you.
    I used 12 liter black plastic pots to grow my tomato plants this year. I cut up an old garden hose into suitable lengths and cut holes in them to use as air pipes. I grew 6 brandywine beefsteak, 6 Roma plum, 3 Sungold cherry, & 6 Alicante plants. I placed each potted plant in a black plastic tray to avoid wasting feed and gave each plant half strength tomato feed every time I watered. Although the plants were sitting in tomato feed a lot of the time I had a great crop and not even one tomato with blossom end rot. I think this was down to the air pipes.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Mick,
      I’m pleased that you have found the website helpful – sounds like you’ve done very well!
      I find the air pipes very effective, especially in large tall pots.

  5. Rob
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,

    Thank you for another fascinating newsletter. In a previous newsletter, you advised removal of the centre leaf branch when three branches appear between trusses. You also advised removal of lower leaf branches up to the first truss of tomatoes. My plants have benefited massively from your advice, thank you.

    Would you also advise removal of leaf branches up to the second truss when all tomatoes have been picked from the first – and so on up the plant?

    On a separate note, I have just spent a happy day making 20 air pipes in readiness for next year’s plants. Count me in with the totally obsessed!


    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Rob,
      You can remove leaf branches up to the second truss when the tomatoes on the second truss are beginning to ripen.
      The rule is to remove leaf branches up to the truss with ripe tomatoes. However, if you have a plant with only five trusses, I wouldn’t remove above the third truss at this stage of the season. In September you could go higher to encourage ripening.

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