Nick Chenhall at GleeMonday morning, my wife and I set off to Glee at the NEC. It’s a garden show with lots of products being promoted for the gardening trade.

We were lucky to be invited but felt a bit “out of place” with our huge visitor pass around our necks saying “Tomato Growing”, but after a few conversations with the reps. on different stands, felt a bit more at ease.

The first thing that caught my eye was the natural soil conditioning products such as friendly fungi and rock dust. If you don’t know what rock dust is, and I didn’t either, but here’s a video that explains its benefits.

I shall definitely give rock dust a spin next season and add it to the “organic tomato tips” section of the website – coming soon!

One of the highlights of the show for me was the AutoPot easy2grow system which is used by both professional and home gardeners. The beauty of this system is its water valve. It lets 20mm of water into a tray to water the pots, but allows the water is be used up before watering again.

This means that plants go through a wet/dry cycle, letting air back into the root zone before being watered again. This keeps roots and plants healthy – we all know the value of air in the soil!

However, the subject of watering can be confusing when it is regularly stated to “keep soil just moist”. This of course is impossible to do because as soon as it is watered it is not moist – it is wet!

Here’s a brief look around a greenhouse using the AutoPot system showing the great results from such small pots!

An issue with a wet/dry cycle is that peat is difficult to re-wet once it’s dry and some soils compact easily and won’t allow a good amount of air back in, as the water is used-up.

Grafted Tomato Plant
A Grafted Tomato Plant at the Suttons Stand

That’s why a good soil mix is important. Perlite is great added to peat and other soils and there are a number of alternatives to perlite such as coco or coir. These help keep the soil (substrate) aerated even when wet, giving roots lots of small air holes. Plants thrive when their root zone is highly aerated and I’m very surprised at the results of the autopot system, growing plants in just 8.5 ltr pots!

So my takeaways from this show are:

  • Re-mineralization of the soil with rock dust.
  • Root inoculation with friendly microbes (more next week).
  • The wet/dry cycle – we know about it but it’s having a method that works well that counts.
  • Improving soil aeration and optimizing grow bags, pots and containers.

There are many products that are used in the world of hydroponics that are ideal for the home-gardener too. Also, a lot can be learned from the way plants are watered and fed in hydroponics, and some of the methods applied to our soil growing too!

Here’s a link to a series of videos that you may find interesting: http://www.grodan101.com/growing-tips/videos

Next week is the last newsletter of the season.

17 Responses

  1. ben parkinson
    | Reply

    I always grow yellow tomatoes different varieties and I water every day yet I still get splitting is there a yellow plant that is not prone to this
    regards
    ben

  2. jess allaway
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,
    We have done pretty well up here in north west Argyll (for a change) and although the weather has taken a turn for the worst these last couple of weeks, most of my tomatoes are now cropped or nearly ripe – even, believe it or not, the Brandywine!.
    I have tried the SEER rock dust for a few years now (on fruit and veg outside) but have to say I don’t see any difference. When I enquired at my local granite quarry they sent their dust for analyzing and told me it was as good if not better than the SEER stuff, so I would be able to buy it by the trailer load if I wanted. Haven’t used it on my tomatoes (all greenhouse) because SEER actually say, if I remember correctly, that it is very much a long term soil improver and, of course, my tomatoes get fresh compost each year. Would like to know if anyone else has had luck with it.
    I’ll probably give the local stuff a go next year. Maybe the problem is that we are on raised beach here – very light sandy soil – and any goodness perhaps just leeches away.
    Anyhow, good luck to all of us for next year! Have enjoyed the blog very much and all your advice Nick.
    Best wishes,
    Jess.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Jess,
      Thanks for the info about the rock dust, it’s good to get your opinion and hear about your experience.
      My Brandywine is still to produce ripe fruit along with quite a few other varieties but the sunny weather we’ve had here in the West Midlands lately has kept the tomatoes rolling into the kitchen.
      Best wishes and thanks for all your comments this season!
      Nick

  3. Dave
    | Reply

    Hi Nick
    I look forward to your news letters, regarding tomatoes, at first my 14 bush and 12 hanging toms looked like they would not produce any thing, and was going to chuck them all out, then SUN SHINE and they have been great, so far 198lb and still a lot more to come. I am also growing sweet peppers and hot peppers, 40 plants and they are loaded. I have also had great potatoes
    so far and planted 9 more ready for xmas. I have a 14.6 x 8.6 greenhouse and only grow in buckets or old paint tubs with a hole in the bottom with capillary mating 4in out of the bottom and inside the bucket up to the root bottom , then I sit them in the big black plastic trays and keep them all in about 1in of water with tomorite added. Cant wait for next year.
    Dave

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Dave,
      Sounds like you’ve got a very good system going and the results prove it!
      I’m looking forward to next season too and trying out a few different ways to grow etc. Let’s hope for a better summer.
      Cheers,
      Nick

  4. fred
    | Reply

    i am pleased to see that i was not the only one to have a bad year growing tomatoes,it was my first year with auto pots and i was wondering what went wrong as my cucumbers using auto pots were terrific i am looking forward to next year now with more optimism
    Fred

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Fred,
      Pleased that your cucumbers did well – a lot of my tomatoes are just starting to ripen – lets hope for an Indian summer!
      Regards,
      Nick

  5. douglas
    | Reply

    Hi Nick
    after my earlier woes I actually did quite well late this year,…..just wondered whether next year is there any real hope of growing tomatoes with NO chemical aids at all…..no bottled tomato feed etc….just natural fertiliser and if so what exactly?
    regards

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Doug,
      I’m pleased that you got some results – half of my plants have yet to produce ripe fruit.
      They do sell natural tomato feeds in bottles, but if you want the bottle-free way you will need well rotted manure and other rotted compost and wood ashes for the potash. Having your own wormery (worm composting) is becoming very popular too. It’s a big subject and I will be investigating it early next season.
      Regards,
      Nick

  6. Sue Heyer
    | Reply

    Hi Nick, I too want to thank you for the interesting newsletters and your advice, which has been most useful. My tomatoes grown from the heritage seeds I had ordered from the Canaries have come on beautifully, much to my surprise. Lovely big tasty tomatoes and no blight or any other diseases. I have 6 plants in a raised bed underneath a plastic tomato “house” 2.50m x 60 cm with roll-up front, back and sides. Front facing east is open all the time, and the back (west, where the rain which you Brits send over (lol) comes from) gets zipped down as soon as rain is forecast. Sides remain closed. I gradually removed the leaves from the bottom up as the fruit swelled, now there are only a few leaves left on the top and the toms are ripening faster than we can eat them!
    So thanks again for all the tips and greetings from Switzerland.
    Sue

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Sue,
      I’m pleased that you have found the newsletter helpful.
      I watched a program on the TV last night about Switzerland – you have a very beautiful country!
      It is pouring with rain (again) as I write, and if you would like some we’ve got plenty!
      Sounds like you’ve had a very good season – it’s great to see the plants loaded with tomatoes and be rewarded for all the hard work over the season.
      Regards,
      Nick

  7. John Higgins
    | Reply

    I have had great success this year with Ailso Craig and money maker,in fact the best crop for a few years??,the yellow and black ones I got from you have done very well indeed,,I introduced some “elderly friends ” to them and they were very surprised and pleased with the taste,never having seen them before they could not believe that they existed

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi John,
      I’m very pleased that someone’s had success, what part of the UK are you in and did you use grow lights?
      Regards,
      Nick

  8. mary norcott mrs
    | Reply

    i have chucked my tomato plants away, as they did not do very well at all, tiny little green tomatoes, which did not grow into big tomatoes, Gardeners Delight, will not grow any more tomatoes or strawberries, they are so cheap now to buy in the shops, i find it (for me) not worth the effort, i shall concentrate on my flowers in future.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Mary,
      Everyone I’ve spoken to has said how bad it’s been…who would have thought that we could have around three months earlier in the season without any sunshine!
      Best wishes,
      Nick

  9. Dr Mike Holmes
    | Reply

    Just a quick thank you for you efforts over the season. I am new to the site this year and have foung it both informative and interesting. I hope you do it again next year.

    For me this has been a very mixed year in the garden and in the greenhouse too. Lousey “spuds” and onions / leeks, and the tom’s have not been as good as normal but that’s gardening isn’t it.
    Again thanks.

    Mike Holmes

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Mike,
      I’m pleased that you found the website helpful and I shall be back again next year, all being well!
      This has been a dreadful year for growing tomatoes according to the opinion of many growers, mainly because of the lack of sun. Let’s hope next season is better.
      Regards,
      Nick

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