Reverse Season Sowing
Two seasons ago, I started a few seeds and took a few cuttings in August to see how far I could get the seedlings through the winter. To my surprise they survived and even fruited in the late winter and early spring.

To do this, you will need to grow a small (dwarf) bush variety such as Micro Tom, Minibel, Vilma, Sweat’n’Neat and Heartbreaker etc.

The idea is to use the relatively long daylight hours of late summer to get the seedlings off to a good start. Then keep the plants on an indoor windowsill or in the porch/conservatory through the winter. Choosing a small bush variety that ripens early is important for tomatoes in February – not as many fruit as you would expect through the summer, owing to the low light conditions, but tomatoes nevertheless! Give it a try … it’s good fun!

Bato Buckets and the Earth Box
There are so many ways to grow tomatoes and it’s never too early to consider the options for next season. Here are two growing methods based on the reservoir system.

Bato Buckets, also known as Dutch Buckets, are becoming a popular way to grow tomatoes with very successful results too!

Bato Bucket

Basically, a Bato Bucket is a large pot with a reservoir in the bottom. There is an overflow pipe that takes the water/nutrients back to a water tank and the solution is re-used and pumped around again.

Perlite is one of the most popular mediums for this method, partly because the perlite can be flushed, cleaned and used again.

The Earth Box
Another reservoir container system is the “earth box”. This is more traditional in the sense that it uses soil and I’ve heard that the results are very good.

Earth Box

Both systems are easily copied by a DIY enthusiast – next season we’ll be making our own versions!

Grow Bags of Perlite or Coco
On the subject of growing media, grow bags of 100% perlite or 100% coco shell (coir) are also becoming popular in the hobby market – they’ve been used by professional growers for years.

Coir holds a lot of air and has a very good capillary action but it is more difficult to clean and re-use, unlike perlite.

Coir Block

Reflecting on the season
Now is a good time to reflect on the season’s results and decide what improvements can be made for next season.

I grew far too many plants (again!) this season. Growing fewer plants but with more tomatoes is actually easy to achieve. It’s also easier when it comes to setting up a holiday watering system!

Fewer plants means more light, better aeration and less chance of disease.

Varieties for next season …
Being choosy over which varieties to grow is also important. Of course it’s good to try a few new ones like Indigo Rose … it looks great but I have only tasted one tomato so far owing to its late ripening … how is your Indigo Rose?

Indigo Rose
Indigo Rose – looks fabulous but the tomatoes are still rock hard!

I played it safe this season by growing a lot of cherry varieties, but the medium and large varieties that I did grow, did very well owing to the great weather. Black Sea Man and Eva Purple Ball (both large varieties) were excellent.

If you would like to, let us know how the season has been for you!


20 Responses

  1. kaldip
    | Reply

    I have an allotment in Gravesend Kent.The tomatoes last year ok this all good blight and I cut them to die.Been around allotment site and everybody toms plants have blight.Also some of my toms plants in my garden.May be a bad year for toms.

  2. David
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,
    As always I find your newsletter very interesting, it will be very interesting to see how you get on with your tomatoes grown in your DIY versions of the pots you talked about here. next year!

    I’ve only grown two varieties this year – ‘Gardener’s Delight’ (I grow a few plants every year as I love their taste & they are prolific!) & ‘Sunstream’ (a small heart shape/plum type of tomato). I got the seeds for this variety from some tomatoes that were substituted in our online shopping just before Christmas. I liked the very sweet taste of the tomatoes & decided to save the seeds from one of them. These I sowed in the greenhouse on the allotment, about March time I think, & they germinated very well indeed. From the start I could tell they would make strong plants & so it turned out to be.

    Instead of going through the usual process of transplanting the seedling into ever bigger pots before planting out I did only one transplant later putting the (slightly) bigger plants directly in the prepared beds in the first days of June. Both varieties took to the change quickly & soon got under way I put this down to the warmer soil than normal after a mild winter. They very quickly grew into big plants, especially ‘Sunstream’ proving to be exceptionally strong plants. I harvested my first tomatoes from this variety a full week at least before ‘Gardener’s Delight’! They were firm, sweet fruits. I noticed that as the plants got higher the trusses became ever longer!!

    I wa s very pleased to see just how many long trusses I was getting on both varieties – that is until those couple of very cold weeks in August came along to ruin the “fiesta”! The plants started to show the first signs of blight! I picked off leaves as I noticed them with the first signs but it just got beyond my control & so last Friday I picked as many green tomatoes as I reasonably could find free of blight the rest, including the very small forming fruit on the higher trusses, I had to leave on the plants. It practically broke my heart to see so much fruit going to waste! There was at least as much left on the plants as that which I’d already picked, including the green ones.

    Last year I grew some beefsteak ‘Marmande’ at the top of my plot, about 6-8 plants. I also grew one plant in the greenhouse on the allotment plus 4 or 5 on my balcony at home. Well a seed from the ones growing on my allotment germinated & bore 4 big toms. But they all caught blight & the plant & fruit had to be disposed of over a week ago. The curious thing about this plant is that the one seed germinated & grew to produce full size fruit in much less time than the other two varieties started off weeks earlier.

    I also found a plant growing on my balcony. I sowed seeds of ‘Gardener’s Delight’ on my balcony & up till the moment they flowered I thought they were all ‘Gardener’s Delight’ but one at that time behaved exactly the same as ‘Marmande’ did last year, that is it produced a VERY thickened stem at the time of flowering from which a mass of flowers appeared. Once a few flowers set fruit the plant continued to grow as any normal plant. It has only four big tomatoes with all the other flowers not having been fertilized but continuing on the plant. It hasn’t produced any more flowers/fruit since then though now I’ve just noticed some flowers forming way up high just below the point I pinched out the growing tip a couple of weeks ago!

    Most of my ‘Gardener’s Delight’ have up to six trusses filled with fruit though not nearly as good as on the allotment. In fact, yesterday I let our 2 grandkids pick the first of the (very) ripe tomatoes of this year on the balcony. They should have been picked at least a week ago but I was saving them so they could pick them when they came on Saturday (6th Sep) I wanted to get a couple of photos of them doing so & they like to “help” me on the balcony when they come round.

  3. Tony Manickam
    | Reply

    Hi Nick – thanks for all the great advice during the season. I am just starting with this tomato growing and I bought 2 Tumbling Tom plants from our local Garden Centre and planted them in a 2 pot auto-pot system at the end of May.
    I am amazed at the amount of tomatoes that these plants have produced.
    A question – the auto -pots have a black and a gold squares of material which go into the bottom of each container. Are these re-usable for next season or do I have to buy replacement sets.
    Anyway keep up the good work and I look forward to reading your next newsletter.

  4. Valerie
    | Reply

    Very interested in earth boxes Nick.I researched them earlier in the year but could not find any suitable boxes for DIY.The ones we tried had rather brittle plastic and didn’t take to kindly to the drill. I shall await your comments and instruction.Most of the ones I found were American and expensive . I shall definitely persevere with dirt pots but with perlite.
    Is there anything I can add to my green Johanna to increase the level of calcium? The compost in the GJ is very good and I mix it with soil and general purpose compost and I suspect the latter two were short of calcium.A little lime any good? In the meantime I am concentrating on my aubergines which are producing a magnificent crop this year!

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Valerie – a small amount of dolomite lime will add calcium and magnesium to the soil – ideal for tomatoes, but as with all soil additives, it’s best not to over-do it. It’s been a very productive season – thankfully!

  5. Rob
    | Reply

    Hi Nick, it was an excellent season for me, too. Indoor plants (Floridity, Rosada, Ambrosia, Sungold, Nectar, Sweet Million, Gardener’s Delight) all produced large crops of wonderful-tasting toms. Beefsteak plants (Brandywine) produced a reasonable crop of toms but with some splitting. Outdoor plants (Koralik) produced a reasonable crop too. Beefsteak and outdoor toms were an experiment this year and I probably won’t grow them again. Indoor toms are still ripening, although I have assisted the process by draping banana skins over the green trusses.

    I usually grow toms in 12litre pots over saucers. This year, I experimented with Growpots over growbags. I found little to choose between the two methods – except toms grown in Growpots seemed marginally more prone to splitting (Sungold) and BER (Floridity). I put this down to the difficulty in determining the degree of wetness of the compost in the growbag, even using the finger test. I will revert to pots over saucers for all my toms next year, but with the addition of air pipes.

    Thank you again for all your advice this year. I’m looking forward to growing next year’s toms more than ever!
    Kind regards, Rob.

  6. John Bowtell
    | Reply

    Just noticed the first touch of blight in the outdoor toms. Have removed two plants but I have had some excellent crops so won’t complain. (Suffolk)

    • Nick
      | Reply

      It’s been a great season – I’ve so many tomatoes that even the neighbours are getting fed up with the free doorstep delivery!

  7. jess allaway
    | Reply

    Hi Nick, Same here, Indigo Rose looks stunning but is still rock hard. Read somewhere that they are ripe when they become less glossy. Well I’m still waiting for that to happen (will have to be careful that the less glossy look isn’t just a layer of stoor!). Shame because I have three plants with a reasonable crop on each. Might give one a try taste today – their little foliage that’s left is becoming very curled and brittle. I suppose it was interesting to try them. My other “disappointment” was the air pots. Although, as expected, the roots were excellent, the crop was no better than the ordinary pots. I was hand watering so maybe they must have the drip system to do well. Am ripening off all those huge Purple Ukrainians in a darkish room and that’s going well. I notice those Bato Boxes are light coloured but don’t suppose the Pearlite inside would heat up anyway. All in all a great season! Thanks for all the advice this year.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Jess, It was interesting to try them and I’m very grateful to you for sending me the seedling earlier in the season. Maybe when they are very ripe they’ll taste fantastic!
      The air pots take a while to get used to, but if they did not improve your results, it probably means that you were already using a good growing medium containing plenty of air and watering correctly.

  8. John davies
    | Reply

    To quote someone, I grew far too many plants (again!) this season. I have trouble discarding healthy seedlings so tend to keep them all.
    The first to flower and to have the first ripe tomato was one of the ones I meant to discard, a Sweet Million, left to grow outside with no interference from me. It didn’t do well after that though and was purged soon after.
    Shirley F1 did very well the trusses all needed supporting to avoid them breaking off. (One did fall weighing 11/2lbs)
    So far I’ve gathered just over 90lbs from my 6×8 foot greenhouse and three Tumbling Toms in pots outside.
    They all seemed to take a set back when the weather changed in August but recovered quickly.
    I was fortunate to avoid any disease or pests this year considering the density of planting. I put it down to companion planting. Lots of marigolds chives and mint around the entrance and rosemary and thyme nearby.
    I will try to be more ruthless with the seedlings next year.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      It’s so easy to grow too many plants – I tell myself this every season but do I ever learn? No!

  9. Rhys Jaggar
    | Reply

    Season so far:

    Large Cherries:
    Maskotka incredibly early and productive – clearly you can start at any time depending on when you want ripe fruit. This year mid June saw the glut begin. Still going with the late harvest but I’m not sure the extra food and hassle is worth the 20% extra yield? 5lb+ is routinely attainable grown in a 30cm pot.
    Red Alert: similar size and shape to Maskotka. Incredibly quick to harvest, 5 grown in 15cm pots with over 1lb of fruit on the 4 plants which didn’t snap prematurely. Susceptible to skin splitting in the rain.
    Glacier: also golf-ball sized fruit coming early and abundantly. It takes more room than Maskotka or Red Alert and is slightly longer to harvest. A good reliable cold-tolerant strain though which yields 6lb+ season after season.

    Smaller Cherries:
    Black Cherry: sown in February and the harvesting times are much better than a mid March sowing. Harvested well over 200 toms to date and plenty more to come. 5lb+ is clearly attainable from 1 plant.
    Apero: sown early April and the crop is plentiful but only now starting to ripen properly. Good taste and high quality if you are into showing. 3lb is a realistic crop.
    Sungold: sown with Apero and quality is good but quantity rather lower – I will struggle to get much over 2lb of fruit this year. I”d choose Apero over Sungold personally.
    Riesentraube: an early March sowing means more ripe toms sooner, but I suspect this will do best with an even earlier sowing like February. Still plenty more to come through September and maybe even October if I took the plant inside. Reliable yields of 3 – 4lb per plant, although that might increase if you started the season a month earlier.

    Alicante and Shirley their usable reliable selves. 80 – 100 fruit and 6 – 7.5lb. Sown early March and ripening started mid August and is in full swing now.
    Ailsa Craig was less good than last year but still gave a satisfactory harvest of around 5lb.
    Sub Arctic Plenty did less well than last year but we got 60 fruit of less than usual size. Another cold-tolerant strain worth keeping for outdoor growing in the UK.
    Cedrico: an exhibitors’ strain I got from Medwyn Williams in Anglesey. Grew rapidly, vigorously and produced high quality uniform tomatoes in the first two trusses. Further trusses good to eat but less good for exhibiting.
    Zenith: similar to Cedrico, the fruit are a bit smaller but taste very good too. 18 weeks to ripe fruit for a salad strain is top speed. I’ll definitely grow it again.
    Ferline: high quality fruit but only 25 – 30 of a decent size per plant. Not sure if this usurps Alicante in my affections, especially as it is an F1 and hence expensive seeds. 4.5lb of fruit harvested this year.
    Tigerella: excellent quality fruit produced with a fine taste also. Definitely to be grown again next year. Seed germination from commercial suppliers was very poor: hopefully my own will do better next year?

    Super Marmande – incredibly early start to the crop and 30 harvested before August was out. The last 15 or so fruit are now starting to ripen with the starvation/drought regimen. A reliable beefsteak for the hobbyist.
    Black Russian: a fine crop after upping the dose of Tomorite to drive early fruit growth in July. The last quarter of the crop is still green and the future may be to prune the plant to 40 high quality fruit and then cull the plant when they are done.
    ‘Big Bush’: a dodgy provenance beefsteak sold as either Black from Tula, Bush Beefsteak or Black Krim (it is none of those three!) which nonetheless gives 20+ 6 – 12oz tomatoes in a season which can taste quite wonderful in soups. Another beefsteak that is a voracious eater of Tomorite in high doses and does better as a gorging gannet.

    All the beefsteaks will yield 7 – 9lb per plant.

    The season will see me get around 100lb of tomatoes from 24 plants, which provides a bounty for freezing, making sauce, enjoying soups and dispensing with canned tomatoes in cooking. It’s probably a bit much but you don’t know in February that the summer will be so amazing. It looks like ending up at around 50lb of salads, 25lb of beesteaks and 25lb of cherries, give or take.

    Rhizopots: if I can rig up a reliable reservoir at the base of the bags with a means to top it up through the season, the access to oxygen they provide is a great boon. They could do with a pretty rigid metal pole for support too though.

    Must have a go at trying to grow tomatoes inside in winter. Will Red Alert work as I’ll be harvesting some new seeds any day now??

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Thanks for your detailed update – as usual! Red Alert needs more root space than most cherry/bush varieties so for growing on a windowsill I would go for a dwarf/pot variety. I had good success this season with Heartbreaker and Vilma is very good too.

    • stephen clark
      | Reply

      hi Rhys i need your postal address to send your black krim seeds


  10. Janet
    | Reply

    My first year with a greenhouse, lots of tomatoes, tried 7 different ones, Sun Baby and Sungold did really well, also tried Black Krim, only tried one so far as not quite ready but a lovely tom. Have so many I am doing chutney tomorrow. I will try bush toms next year as had some trouble with them collapsing under the weight, I am a novice but have really enjoyed the challenge this year.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      This has been a great season for tomatoes and chutney!

  11. John Bowtell
    | Reply

    Really good outdoor tomatoes, mainly the cheap German Lidl seeds! In the green house loads of Tumbling Toms and in the old dog house – large open run with a roof to keep the rain off, good Cossack and Ferline.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      The seeds from Lidl are cheap but good … I grew a couple of their German varieties a few seasons ago with good results. It’s great to get results from outdoor tomatoes – the trickiest to grow!

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