Welcome to the first Newsletter of 2014 … the start of a new tomato season is just around the corner!

With only around six weeks to go until the middle of March – a very good time for sowing tomato seeds in the UK – if you haven’t yet decided which varieties to grow, here are a few suggestions (right).

Which Varieties?

Piccolo
Piccolo

I guess that many of us would grow them all if we had enough space! I find choosing easier if I start by making a list of the ones I won’t grow again this season. There’s nothing like personal experience to find out which varieties do well (or badly) in your own part of the world.

Of course it depends greatly on the kind of summer we have. A very good summer, as we had last year, can take us by surprise. Instead of concerning ourselves with blight and the other wet weather diseases, after six years of wet summers, most of us in the UK had an excellent harvest!

This gave our plants the opportunity to show what they could do … if they didn’t perform well in 2013, maybe it’s time to give a few other varieties a try.

Weather Dependant
The difficulty is knowing if we are in for a wet season, and therefore choose blight tolerant and early varieties, or a dry season and go for the more professional, fussy ones that only do well if conditions are good … it’s a bit of a gamble!

If you are like me, you may decide to grow a selection of varieties for different weather conditions (hedging your bets) in the hope that whatever happens you’re covered.

Organics
There’s never been a better time to grow tomatoes organically.

There are more organic seed varieties available this season and organic composts too.

Seed and Cutting CompostUntil recently, the selection of organic seeds in the UK was very limited but now it seems that more seed retailers are jumping on the organic band-wagon …. “wagons roll!”

Of course if you wish to be truly organic, you’ll need to germinate seeds in an organic medium and use organic potting composts throughout the season.

You’ll need to feed with organic food and if necessary, spray with organic (or home made) sprays if plants are attacked by aphids or disease.

Because soil microbes eat the organic material and turn it into food that plants can absorb, it’s important not to sow too early because conditions are too cold for soil microbes to develop.

Lots more about organic growing in the coming newsletters!

On A Budget
We grow tomatoes for different reasons including taste, health, the love of it etc.

Some gardeners grow vegetables to save money – it’s always fun to add up how many tomatoes we grew during a season and how much they would have cost in the supermarket – if we could buy them at the quality we grew them!

Each week, we’ll have money saving tips, and if you have any, please leave them in the comments below.

For now, a few yoghurt and food containers could be very handy in March and April.

Useful options for those on a budget!
Useful options for those on a budget or who like to recycle!

 

The Sow-Along
This season there’ll be a sow-along using the money saving tips. With the most basic equipment, we’ll make it as simple as possible for everyone to join in – starting March.

Also in the newsletter this season, there will be sections on:

  • Beginners Tips
  • Containers
  • Auto Watering
  • Nutrients – Organic and Synthetic
  • Technical Tips

There are many new products on the market including watering valves and different types of containers designed to optimise growing conditions – and designed to get us to part with our money! We’ll look at a few and see how useful they are.

Plant nutrition (feeding tomatoes) is a fascinating subject and will be regularly included.

Then there’s the biology bit – not very helpful unless we can apply it in a practical way. Next week we’ll start with leaf stomata (the holes mainly on the underside of leaves) and how we can improve foliar feeding and help protect leaves at the same time.

Past newsletter information can be accessed from the menu bar at the top of the page, as the weeks go by. The idea is to make the information topical and relevant for the time of the season.

See you next week when we’ll delve a lot deeper!

Regards,
Nick

PS If you would like to make a comment below on anything to do with tomato growing, it would be great to hear from you!

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Gardener’s Delight – an old favourite that did very well last season. A good balance of sugar and acid but not as sweet as some of the newer varieties.
Sungold – very sweet and it has become a favourite cherry with many gardeners.
Black Cherry – looks great, tastes great … lovely!
Sun Cherry Premium – like Sungold it is very sweet and prolific.
Rosada – I’ve yet to try this one but it has a very high Brix (sweetness) rating – Sungold is 9.3, Rosada is 10.5 (stats from the RHS).

Red Alert – my top cherry/bush variety and the taste is as good as any other of its type.
Sweet Olive – another bush variety with a good reputation.
Maskotka – very similar to Red Alert but slightly later to mature.
Tumbler – can compete with Red Alert for taste and earliness if grown in a large container.
Tiger Tumbler – great things are expected this season!

Legend – one of the few medium/large tomatoes of the bush type.
Black Sea Man – another bush variety … we’ll see what it can do this season.
Oregon Spring – one of my larger favourites, and surprisingly early for its size.

 

48 Responses

  1. Douglas
    | Reply

    Hi ,
    Im trying a variety this year called “Black Opal”.Its supposed to be an offshoot (excuse the pun) of Black cherry. Apparently its much tastier and supposedly the heirloom version.Anyone else tried it? Just about fitted it in the greenhouse together with one of each of alicante ,ailsa craig and shirley plus 2 sungold ,and some kind of plum shaped tomato (lost the marker and cant recall the name) and 2 cucumbers and 1 pepper.Never had this number of plants before in one season,only managed it by replacing the water bowls i used previously with big dinner plates which are shallow,and means ill have to fill more regularly I guess .

  2. Sachin Agarawal
    | Reply

    I want to access old newsletters, but how?

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Sachin,
      All the newsletters from this season are available from the drop-down menu at the top of the page – click on “Newsletters 2014”.
      Previous seasons newsletters are here https://www.tomatogrowing.co.uk/newsletter/
      Nick

  3. Valerie
    | Reply

    Hello everyone.I am a newby to this site but not to growing tomatoes.Last year was annus horiblis as my toms seemed to suffer everything alive or dead but mainly from “tomato moth”? I do hope this year with your advice I will have a few blemish free tomatoes.I am now waiting to transfer to their final pots and would like to try ‘dirt pots’ if I can source them.Can you help?

  4. Anthony
    | Reply

    Hi Nick, Thanks for first newsletter… Just need to say “thanks for your interest shared with us, I love the vid clips, and website”: Good to be part of TG: I have made a start with my `Indoor Grow“ and this is a first attempt: I am fortunate to have a large `Bay Window` in my recently moved to Flat, which has full sun from 9-5: Following your video, I sowed 6 seeds in a propagator…there on the windowsill as I type… enjoying the warm temps of `Day 2` variety `MiniBel` …It is so good to have Spring here at last in Swansea: UK:

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Anthony,
      I’m pleased that you find the videos and website helpful.
      Minibel is an ideal variety to grow in a bay window and should provide you with plenty of cherry tomatoes from July.
      My wife and I have had a couple of great holidays in the Mumbles – it’s a lovely part of the world.
      Nick

  5. Helen
    | Reply

    Hi Nick
    Nice to be back. I was on here a few years ago.
    I live in Rhodes Greece, so my planting season starts about 6 weeks earlier than UK
    I already have my 1st seedlings ready to be repotted
    I look forward to your newsletters and advice on growing

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Helen,
      Nice to hear from you again – I hope you have a great season!
      Nick

  6. Derek
    | Reply

    GREAT TO HEAR FROM YOU NICK!! It almost feels like a big bear getting up from hibernation 🙂

    I followed you through last year and I find your knowledge quite valuable.

    I look forward to the experiments section this year and I’m really interested in what you will be saying next week concerning leaves and folia feeding!

    Here’s to a great new season!!

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Derek,
      I’m please you found the newsletter helpful!
      Let’s hope we have a great season.
      Regards,
      Nick

  7. steve clark
    | Reply

    hi Nick,
    am looking forward to a better season than last but am going to try a couple of those hozelock growbag watering systems, has anyone tried these and if so what are your thoughts,

    heres to a new season everyone

    steve

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Steve,
      Good to hear from you again and I hope you have a great season!
      They do look good and a lot less expensive than the auto pot easy2grow and the quadgrow planter systems.
      However, they only have a 15ltr reservoir which in hot weather will be used up in less than a week by three large plants. Also, grow bags tend to come in different sizes so check that the dimensions are compatible when buying grow bags.
      Having said that, they do provide water and nutrients 24/7 which is going to produce very good results.
      Cheers,
      Nick

  8. Angie Southern
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,
    This is my first year receiving the newsletter so I’m looking forward to all the tips. You can never have too many ideas.
    This year I’ve decided to cut down on the number of plants so I can remember more about each one I grow rather then grow tons and loose track. I’m always make notes and take pictures but I think less may suit me better.
    This year I will be growing 6 in the greenhouse and 6 outside.
    Anna Russian, Britains Breakfast, Bularian Triumph, Camp Joy, Clibran’s Victory, Cluj Yellow, Druzba, Eva Purple ball, Ghost Cherry, Moneymaker, Northern Delight and Pink Ping Pong.
    Fingers crossed and have a happy season.
    Cheers,
    Angie.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Angie,
      You’ve certainly have a good selection planned … some of those varieties are new to me!
      I hope you have a great season.
      Cheers,
      Nick

  9. alan hall
    | Reply

    Nick, Where can we buy just a few seeds of your suggested tomato plants

  10. David
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,

    It’s good to get your newsletters again. I echo John Davies sentiment – it really does seem as if spring were round the corner trouble is February is a traitorous month – it can be sunny & warm, tempting us to get started sowing & then all of a sudden you get a very cold spell, even giving us snow & ice! I let myself be tempted last year to sow early & lost most of my seedlings. Even those that did survive became so drawn & lanky they also keeled over & died. A later sowing on the other hand did reasonably well despite the cold start to the summer. Those 3 weeks of extreme heat in July saw them grow very well.

    I won’t be growing ‘Marmande’ again this year, not so much for not cropping as for them being virtually tasteless. I grew one plant in a cold greenhouse, 3 plants on my balcony at home & another 8-10 plants on my allotment. The fruit from the GH was insipid though they were nice & smooth & a good size. On my balcony they were equally tasteless. The fruit from the allotment had a little more taste but not much. I did get some very big fruits but a lot never had time to ripen & even some of the ripened ones at home were insipid. I got more fruit than I knew what to do with. They make very poor sauce – all water & no substance!

    ‘Garden Pearl’ did VERY well even though they succumbed to blight before I could harvest as many as I would have liked. The plants had 100s of small fruits! Not bad tasting either, this is one I’d like to grow again!

    I was also quite pleased with ‘Gardener’s Delight’ which produced some very tall plants, one must have reached 6ft before I pinched out the growing tip! They also made lots of trusses with lots of fruit, I’ll definitely being growing it again this year. It has a taste I very much like!

    ‘Moneymaker’ did extremely well considering how late I put out the only 4 plants that survived the cold spring & start to the summer. These were planted between Pumpkins in a bed that had a “ton” of horse manure dug in only a few weeks earlier. I’ve never seen tomatoes grow so fast! They easily reached 5ft + & would have continued if it hadn’t been for the blight that put an end to them! I also got at least 3 trusses of big toms from each of the plants though I had to throw a lot away as they had blight. They were planted out as very small seedlings at the start of July. They were killed by blight in October.

    Sorry for being so long winded – I get carried away sometimes.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi David,
      It’s good to hear about your results last season – you can be as long winded as you like!
      Considering the amazing amount of fruit that can be produced from cherry and medium varieties, beefsteak toms are often not worth the space and effort. Unless of course you’ve found a particularly good one that performs well in your garden.
      Garden Pearl is a cherry that I grow regularly and has always been reliable.
      I’ve been hearing good things about relatively fresh horse manure and your experience is another confirmation.
      However, too much nitrogen can cause a reduction in flowers and fruit, delay ripening and reduce taste. Because the growth is softer, plants can be more vulnerable to diseases such as blight – although I’m not suggesting that your plants had too much nitrogen.
      Regards,
      Nick

  11. Frank
    | Reply

    Great to have you back again.
    Am looking forward to all your brilliant advice and tips.
    Frank

  12. Javier
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,

    As every year, your first newsletter is the oficial reminder for me that the spring is just around the corner (at least in Spain). This year your newsletter arrived while I was placing the Cherokee Purple sprouts on the starting mix. I prefer to start the germination in wet paper (easier to select only the viable ones). They are now placed outdoor in a sunny and warm place. (sleeping indoor at night)

    Many thanks for sharing your knowledge with us another year.

    Regards,

    Javier

    Cherokee Purple sprouts: http://flic.kr/p/jFZZeo

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Javier,
      It’s good to be back again for another season and also very good to have someone from Spain on the newsletter. You are obviously going to be a few weeks ahead of those growing in the UK.
      Which varieties do you find do best in your area of Spain – are there any local ones?
      Regards,
      Nick

  13. John Barrett
    | Reply

    Nick,
    Good to have you back. Time to kick the chickens out of the greenhouse where they have taken shelter during this wet winter. They all sit on one side in the sun [if any] so I have a good supply of manure one side and very little on the other. It will be interesting to see if tomato yield matches the manure pile.
    Regards John

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi John,
      I found chicken manure to be very successful though I have only used it in pellet form.
      Let us know how you get on with your experiment!
      Regards,
      Nick

  14. sonny
    | Reply

    hi Nick
    thanks for the tips as this is my first year growing. got 2 green houses and going to try tomatoes. and few other things, so i need all the tips i can get . thanks.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Sonny,
      I’m pleased you’ve join the newsletter and hope you have a great season!
      Nick

  15. michael Johnson
    | Reply

    Hi-Nick, I just cant understand all this fuss made about (well rotted horse manure)-the longer it is rotted the worst it becomes, by the time it is black there is no N.P.K. left in it so the feed value is worthless ? the only benefit the plants can obtain from it perhaps would be a few microbes out of the decomposing rot,

    I had far better results with horse manure less than two weeks old,when the N.P.K. is much higher, horse manure does not burn the roots as other manures tend to do, and used almost fresh it gives much better results.

    The very best manure I have ever come across is pure Elephant manure-very hard to obtain these days, years ago there was a travelling circus came to the city of Lincoln and I went down there to see if I could get any manure, and was told there was a sixty foot trailer over on the side of the field -where six elephants had travelled down overnight from manchester in it, and he said I could clean that out and keep what I found , by the time me and a friend had laboured for about an hour we got about half a ton, I put it all in a heap when I got home and it steamed and steamed for several days and reduced by half the volume- I grew the best of almost everything I planted that year-marvellous stuff.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Michael,
      You make an interesting point.
      We tend to think of fresh horse manure as potentially damaging to plant roots until it is broken down, but as you say, it does not burn roots. Owing to the high fibre, hay etc., it is better aerated so breaks down more quickly and encourages more friendly bacteria than cow manure for example.
      The usual advice is to let it rot down over several months before using it on the garden, as you know. However, if you’ve found that horse manure works well after just a week two, you’re first hand experience is valid.
      I’ll certainly try it on some of my plants this season!
      Regards,
      Nick

  16. Peter Goulding
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,
    Thanks for your newsletter which has brought Spring a bit nearer. Last year I grew Alicante and Golden Sunrise in my greenhouse and Tumbling Tom in pots outside on the patio. I was given a Sungold plant later in the year which I kept on the patio ( faces SSE).
    The Alicante seeds, Golden Sunrise and Tumbling Tom were sowed in a propagator in the first week of March and I transplanted them and due to lack of space placed them in an unheated greenhouse and due to the very cold March promptly lost nearly all of them and had to start again two weeks later.
    This year I have a parrafin heater for the greenhouse and intend to put it on for any cold nights.
    All the plants gave a good crop. The yellow Golden Sunrise were very good and had good taste and the Tumling Toms were prolific but I was very pleased with the Sungold which kept on producing fruit outside until the end of October and they tasted great. Sorry for the long winded message.
    Cheers Pete

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Pete,
      Sungold is an excellent performer as you know. Similar toms in its class are Black Cherry, Sun Cherry Premium and Piccolo – they’ll all do a great job and have similar growth habits.
      Cheers,
      Nick

  17. kevin potts
    | Reply

    Hi Nick I look forward to auto watering as we go on hol’s in the summer

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Kevin,
      It’s one of the biggest challenges of the season … how to water the plants when your away!
      Nick

  18. Buster
    | Reply

    Thanks for all your experience & advice Nick. Spring not far away!….. Reminded me to start cleaning all the gunge & detritus from the greenhouse to help give em the best possible start.

    Buster

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Buster,
      My greenhouse and tunnel look like a disaster movie – I must get down to it too!
      Nick

  19. Gill Hedges
    | Reply

    Hi Nick

    I will be looking forward to the beginner tips this season.

    Best wishes,

    Gill

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Gill,
      Plenty of tips coming your way – if you need any advice, just ask.
      Regards,
      Nick

  20. Jess Allaway
    | Reply

    Hi Nick, have been looking forward to the start of the newsletter. It’s always interesting to see how some varieties do so well for some of us and not for others. For instance I tried Rosada last year and got six fruits off it so won’t be doing that one again and a few years ago had a couple of Reisentraube which had hundreds and hundreds of fruit but they were about the size of a garden pea. Not sure which new ones to try this year but the tried and trusted Sungold. Red Alert and Black Cherry will be the mainstay. Will have a couple of Henderson’s Winsall beefsteak type but know I do need a good long spell of heat for those and that’s usually a tall order up here in the far north! Was very lucky with them last year, so who knows? Anyway as fishermen wish each other “tight lines”, maybe we can wish each other “heavy trusses” for the season ahead!

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Jess,
      You are absolutely right about regional variations in performance. I recently read about Red Alert growing in a hot weather part of the world and the results were very poor! It’s one of the few varieties that I can depend upon in my garden.
      Heavy trusses to you too!
      Regards,
      Nick

  21. Don
    | Reply

    Welcome back Nick, I’m looking forward to reading your newsletter again this year.
    I fell in love with “dark” Tomatoes last year, so will be growing more of the same this year. My new ones are…
    Brandywine Black
    Purple Russian Plum
    Cherry Roma
    Cherokee Purple and
    Sub Arctic Plenty.
    I’m also growing some from seeds saved from last year…haven’t quite decided which yet but
    Garten Perle …definitely
    Paul Robeson…maybe
    Black Truffle…probably
    Black Cherry…probably
    Indigo Rose….maybe
    Nyagous….definitely
    Had a great season last year, here’s hoping 2014 is as good.
    Great growing everyone !

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Don,
      Good to hear from you!
      You certainly have a good and mixed selection. I’m trying out a few new varieties too this season, including Black Sea Man. I have always had very good results from Black Cherry and Chocolate Cherry. One dark tom that didn’t go so well two seasons ago was Brandywine Black, but the weather was so bad it affected most of my varieties.
      Great growing to you too!
      Regards,
      Nick

  22. Rhys Jaggar
    | Reply

    Hi Nick

    Good to receive the first newsletter of the year – just on cue as I have made my choices for this season.

    My major experiments this year are:

    1. Preparing my own well-rotted horse manure – I found a local farm and used the green waste bags provided by the council to do several runs to collect weights I could lug down the garden – to get 1 cubic metre cost no more than £10 in petrol, probably less. If you get a tonne of compost delivered professionally, it’s about £70+.

    I hope to mix this with standard compost to improve yields, as our cleaning lady had fantastic results last season with my plant and her horse manure!!

    2. Trying Rhizo-pots from GroWell Hydroponics – these 30 litre pots are breathable fabrics and apparently the contact of roots reaching the pot edge leads to inhibition of the leading edge and stimulation of growth further to the interior. I’ve got 10 of those to add to my 10 30cm pots of traditional plastic so we’ll see how they go. I think they are a variety on the Airpots you talked about last year.

    3. I’m giving the Biodynamic Growing calendar a go to see if it works or not. This suggests specific dates for sowing, transplanting, potting on and harvesting for seeds. For a standard start time in early March, the dates are:

    Sow on 5th/6th March, transplant on 14th/15th, pot up to 15cm pot on 10th-12th April and place in final 30cm pot on 7th/8th May.

    For those who think that is slightly too early, a similar cycle can be worked out starting on 14/15th March or 24th/25th March.

    4. Growing some show varieties – I’m going to give Cedrico, Zenith and Apero a go for show purposes, as they seemed to be strains of choice for some national winners last year. I got the first two from Medwyn’s Seeds on Anglesey (ordered online) and the Apero I picked up at the RHS autumn show.

    5. Early start for some cold-tolerant varieties – this year my earliest plants will be Glacier, Sub-Arctic Plenty, Maskotka and Black Cherry and they will be sown on 6th February. I had very good results last year starting Shirley and Alicante this early, so hopefully these well known cold-tolerant varieties will do just as well.

    6. My main sowing varieties will be 3 beefsteak types, 5 salads and one cherry, Riesentraube, which I found to do well last year but sowing later on left it short of time to produce its full crop.

    7. Three cherry varieties sown in April – Red Alert at the beginning of the month and Apero and Sungold at the end of the month – the aim is to produce a late crop for September and early October (which of course requires no early frosts).

    I’ve bought my perlite and seed compost so am ready to go at the end of the week!!

    Looking forward to your newsletters once again and happy to contribute in any way you’d find helpful.

    Regards

    Rhys

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Rhys,
      Good to hear from you as always!
      The Biodynamic Growing Calendar sounds interesting – I’ll certainly check that out. Looks like you’ve been planning for a while and have the season well organised. I find seed sowing almost addictive at this time of year!
      Regards,
      Nick

  23. Richard
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,
    Looking forward to your newsletters.
    This year I am particularly interested in reports and tips on auto watering. I am going away for the month of July and hope to instal a cheap means of self watering in my polytunnel. I have two 40 gallon plastic drums that I intend to use to hold water. Hopefully, with the use of a timer, I will be able to manage to water about 12 – 16 plants until I return.
    Richard

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Richard,
      I’ve used timers to fill plastic drums, then run 6mm pipe to the pots and trays. I’ve also used the aqua valve and smart valves in trays attached to a tank with water and nutrients. They all seem to work very well.
      Regards,
      Nick

  24. terry
    | Reply

    Hi Nick, thanks for the first Newsletter of the season, I have been looking forward to that for some time.
    This year I am going to play it safe (I hope) and stick to Gardeners Delight and Sun Gold. Last year I tried growing some of the larger Tomatoes and it was not very successful over all, Really looking forward to getting started, and your next News Letter, Many thanks from terry

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Terry,
      I’m pleased you enjoy the newsletter.
      It can be a struggle to get a reasonable crop from large varieties – we just don’t have a long enough season in the UK. Oregon Spring has always been the best large bush variety in my garden, but pound for pound, cherry varieties seem to come out on top.
      Regards,
      Nick

  25. John Davies
    | Reply

    Nice to see you back in my inbox. It feels like Spring is just around the corner.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi John … won’t be long now!
      Nick

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