For me, this is the most exciting time of the season.
Tending the seedlings and making plans about the tomato growing equipment I’ll be using such as the pots, trays, watering and feeding methods to use.

Some plants will be grown using organic methods, others will be grown using home-made DIY reservoirs as well as the quadgrow, hozelock waterer and autopot systems.

In The Shade
A couple of plants will be grown in the shade to show that tomatoes can be grown without direct sunlight – I’ll be choosing those varieties carefully! So don’t be put off if your garden is shaded from the sun.

Best Use Of Space
There’s never enough space, however big the greenhouse, tunnel or garden is, so growing the varieties that you know will perform well in your garden will probably produce the best results.

Varieties that are most likely to do well include:

Sungold, Black Cherry, Gardener’s Delight and Moneymaker. I expect that you could add to this list in the comments below!

Last Season’s Top Varieties
The poll held at the end of last season put Sungold, Moneymaker and Marmande as the most popular varieties in each class.

I’m lucky because I have a garden full of all sorts of tomato growing equipment, a lot of which was given to me for free by manufacturers for me to test. However, It’s more of a challenge to use the bare minimum and most basic equipment – that will really test your tomato growing skill!

This season’s sow-along will be as simple as possible, using as many bits and pieces that are already in the kitchen. All that’s essential will be seeds and a small bag of seed compost … starts next week!

Getting More Air In Container Soil
I mentioned about root capping in last week’s newsletter. This happens when surface roots become so pot-bound that they form a cap of tight fibrous roots at the soil surface. Oxygen is prevented from entering into the root area below and the gasses that are given off by respiration are prevented from escaping.

It is particularly important for those feeding organically that there is plenty of oxygen in the root system because soil microbes need oxygen too!

It’s possible to use air pots and smart pots, lots of perlite and even drill holes in the side of standard pots and containers. Another option that has been around for some time, although not often mentioned, is the air pipe or air tube.

The Air Pipe
This is a pipe that goes into the soil with holes in the side. It allows more oxygen into the root area and gasses can get out. Particularly important when using tall pots with a depth of soil around 9 inches or over.

Air Pipe allows oxygen into the roots.
Air Pipe allows oxygen into the roots.

It’s really inexpensive to make but you do need to be handy with a drill , or know someone who is!

Here’s what you need …

  • A 2 metre overflow pipe from Wicks costing under £1.00.
  • Cut into six lengths of around 33 cm each (12 – 13 inches).
  • Holes drilled in sides with a drill.


Shallow Pots
An alternative is to use shallow pots with a larger surface area and up to 50% perlite mixed into the soil.

As mentioned last week, grow bags have the advantage of a large surface area, but they too have their disadvantages.

Air dome increases oxygen in root zone – for large containers and pots.

It’s interesting that the autopot makers have developed an air dome which allows a fish tank type of air stone at the bottom of a pot to provide more oxygen.

They say that it increases yields by up to 130%. This shows how important oxygen is for successful growth.

Whether you grow your tomatoes directly in the ground or use containers of some kind, a well aerated root area is one of the most important things you can provide for your plants.

Aldi will be selling vegetable plug packs at £1.99 (including tomatoes) from Thursday 20 March.

The next three or four weeks are the best time for sowing tomatoes in the UK. If you haven’t started yet, you may like to join me next Saturday on the Sow-Along page.


PS Comments welcome as always below.

It’s good to sow in small batches rather than the whole seed packet at once.

Sometimes, if temperatures become too hot in the airing cupboard or remain too cold for a few days (even indoors), seeds may fail to germinate and you’ll need to make another sowing.

Tomato plants are sub-tropical and vulnerable to frost.

You cannot leave tomato plants and seedlings out overnight until all danger of frost is past which in most areas of the UK is estimated to be around mid to late May.

White reflective surfaces are a great help when growing seedlings – the extra light helps prevent them from becoming leggy.

The temptation is to over water seedlings – once they have germinated, they probably won’t need any more water for a week or two.

Buying plug plants is the easier option but not as challenging though!


13 Responses

  1. Rhys Jaggar
    | Reply

    43 days to first truss with Maskotka plant sown in February!

    Tomato flowers in March?? Whatever next????

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Rhys,
      That’s very good going!

  2. Robert
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,

    Regarding use of a white reflective surface (‘Easy Tips’) to increase light around seedlings, would aluminimum kitchen foil work? Foil will reflect the entire light spectrum, although maybe a diffused light via a less smooth white surface would be more effective for this purpose. How do you think ?

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Robert,
      Foil will work well too … the best light spectrum for seedlings is blue light then red light for flowering.

  3. Rhys Jaggar
    | Reply

    Unbelievably, my early sowings are now enjoying their third day outside in the sun, having been potted up to 15cm pots on Thursday. Last year, I was putting plants in the middle of the house to get them as far away from outside walls as it was so cold in the March nights!!

    Have sown everything but the Sungold, Red Alert and Apero cherry varieties which will be sown in early and late April to provide cherries for September, along with two strains for competitions which may not work outside but hey, we try!! 12 strains now either in 8cm or 15cm pots, along with two pepper plants which are going well too.

    Going with 11 successes from last year along with 4 new ones: Ferline, Sungold, Red Alert and Apero. I get the impression that these aren’t the most risky of strains!!

    I must say that my yields were much higher last year using Perlite, so I’ll be going that route again.

    Keep up the good work, Nick. Always enjoy reading the newsletter.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Rhys,
      That’s true … we’re having some great weather for March at the moment and it’s nice to have some early seedlings to put in the sun.
      I wouldn’t be without perlite – it makes such a difference!
      I’m pleased you enjoy the newsletter.

      • stephen clark
        | Reply

        i use perlite too when potting up in stages but cant use it when transfering plants to growbags, i wonder if any manufacturer has come up with the idea of growbags with added perlite, just a thought

        • Nick
          | Reply

          Hi Steve,
          I usually add a handful of perlite into my grow bags directly below each root ball.
          An advantage of a reservoir like system like the Hozelock is the space between the bottom soil of the grow bag and the top surface of the water. Roots grow down into the water and the space between soil and water provides plenty of air for the roots.

          • stephen clark

            brill advice Nick ill try that

  4. mick w
    | Reply

    Hi nick Like the air pipe idea,also good for even watering and feeding .Maybe use two pipes?

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Mick,
      The air pipe does help water more evenly especially if pots are stood in trays, and helps prevent saturated soil at the base.

  5. jess allaway
    | Reply

    Hi Nick, thank you for another very interesting newsletter. Already thinking how can I DIY a combined air pipe and air dome! Just love those kind of challenges, so no time to waste – I’m off to the shed!

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Jess, now that’s a good idea!!

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