Tomatoes and Allotment September 2016

I realise that its been a while since I reported on my tomatoes and also what has been going on at the allotment. I’ve decided that its not sensible to run two different blogs, particularly since I’m growing tomatoes (successfully) at the allotment, so I’m going to join both blogs into a single one and put it all together in one place.

 

Read More …

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Simple Cordon or Multiple Leaders for Indeterminate Tomatoes

In the UK, it is normal to grow Indeterminate Tomatoes as a Cordon with a single stem trained up a wire, string or cane, removing all the sideshoots and stopping the plant when it gets to the top of the greenhouse or polytunnel when about five trusses have set.

The reason for doing this is to make sure that the plant puts as much energy as possible in to ripening the fruit because of the limited amount of sunshine that we experience in the UK.

I have always questioned this approach, noting that in North America, tomatoes are frequently grown in “cages” and left largely to their own devices.

In 2016, more by accident than design, I was able to compare the results of having one, two and three leaders. We were away in the early summer and so the plants didn’t get their usual care and attention and when we came back, I’d got three plants of the same variety which had grown one, two and three leaders all on their own with no help from me. (We actually been to Vancouver and I saw some outdoor tomatoes growing and had what could be called “Outdoor Tomato Envy”. The plants were growing as vigorously as plants we grow in the polytunnel, were much greener and heavily laden with fruit which was ripening quickly. The only reason that I could give was that the sun is much more intense in Vancouver than it is here).

However, I digress. I pruned back the plants, putting up additional supports for the extra leaders and removing additional sideshoots so that I’d got three reasonably tidy plants. As expected, the plants had five, eight and ten trusses, all about the same size which essentially meant that the plant with three leaders was producing roughly twice the weight of fruit as the single leader plant. What was slightly unexpected was the way in which the ripened. I had assumed that the trusses on the plants with multiple leaders would ripen later than the plant with just one leader. However, this was not the case. The first truss on all the plants ripened at about the same time, as did the second and third. Then it got a bit more confusing as the additional trusses ripened in between the third and fourth trusses on the first plant and again with the fourth and fifth trusses.

What I conclude from this observation is that when a plant is vigorous enough to create additional leaders early on, overall the plant will produce a greater weight of fruit starting at the same time and going on longer.

Whether the additional leaves shade other plants in the greenhouse and delay the fruit ripening, I can’t say. But what it does suggest is that the rigorous removal of sideshoots at the early stage of a plants growth is not necessary and possibly reduces the overall crop from an individual plant.

 

I’m going to try again next year to see if I can get more information. Read here to see more information

 

PelicanPlants

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July – Mid Season

As I suggested in my last post back in April, I had good intentions to post regularly. However, there hasn’t been much to say. The weather through May, June and early July has not been encouraging the tomatoes to grow and ripen with a dry May, wet and cool June and the weather continuing in that way so far in July.

So whilst there are tomatoes setting and growing on the plants, we’ve yet to see any signs of fruit thinking about changing colour. The plants are growing and the quantity of rain has meant that my dripper system running off a waterbutt which fills from my flat roof has not run out of water since the beginning of June.

My Raspberry Pi temperature sensor (see here for more details) (which has been running since mid June) has also shown that the temperature has drifted up and down through the day and night with the minimum temperatures falling to 8.5C for a couple or three nights in late June. However this shouldn’t be enough to cause any problems.

And, to be honest, that’s about your lot. Based upon previous years, I don’t really expect tomatoes until late July or early August, I will continue monitoring the temperatures and am planning to buy a Pi Zero to run a second set of temperature sensors (and possibly a camera to take a picture of the inside of the polytunnel every day).

 

Hope you are enjoying your tomatoes

 

PelicanPlants

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2016 – Tomatoes Started

Following on from my post last month, I have sown most of the tomatoes I plant to grow this year. The ones that are still waiting are the two F1 Hybrids (Mountain Magic & Crimson Crush) that are going to be grown only outdoors at the allotment. So that gives me 28 varieties for the polytunnel and (perhaps) greenhouses at home. Substantially fewer than previous years.

If you go to my list (here) you’ll see that I’ve also reduced the number of beefsteak varieties that I am growing. The reason for this is that many of my plants will go to my daughter to be grown outside (in a relatively blight-free area of the country) and the outdoor season in the UK is not long enough to ripen beefsteak.

Anyway, the seeds were sown at the end of March and went up on top of the cupboard in the kitchen next to the boiler where they germinated (quickly) and are now doing the in-out daily movement to keep them warm at night (in) and in the light in the day (out into the greenhouse). Mountain Magic & Crimson Crush will be sown next week or the week after to delay them as much as possible so that the weather and soil has chance to warm up before I take them to the allotment. Last year I got Crimson Crush as plants from Suttons and, despite hardening them off at home and waiting until early June to plant them out at the allotment, they really suffered with the cold at first. So my plan this year will be to wait until the 2nd or 3rd week of June before planting the outdoor tomatoes at the allotment. That means I need to try and delay them as much as reasonable.

The choice of tomatoes (as always) is affected by seeds that I get from various seed swaps. This year I’ve had six or seven varieties I haven’t grown before, I’m still growing out my two varieties of “Oleron Yellow” (follow the link for a explanation as to why its in quotes), I’m growing multiple colours of cherry tomatoes to swap and I need to grow some varieties to keep the seeds relatively fresh so that they will germinate properly in later years. Finally (of course) I have to grow some of my favourites (this year I’ve chosen Summer Cider, Red Zebra and Bloody Butcher). Its amazing how hard it is to limit oneself to “only” 30 different varieties.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at, I will try this year and keep a more regular update of how they’re getting on. (The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions).

 

PelicanPlants

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OK – I Succumbed: bought some F1 Hybrid Seeds

I always plan just to grow Heritage and/or Open Pollinated seed and to keep them for myself so that I can increase the number of varieties I have.

However, if I grow them outdoors at the allotment, they always fail to Blight, almost regardless of what I grow. Last year, I grew a combination of Crimson Crush plants from Suttons Plants, Moneymaker and Alicante from my own supply. Whilst none of the plants had blight and none of the fruit that ripened had any either, nearly all of the green tomatoes that I picked at the end of the season got blight before they ripened up. I say “nearly all” and that’s my problem. Crimson Crush is supposed to be blight resistant to all of the varieties of blight in the UK so I don’t know if my “nearly” is that none of the Crimson Crush got blight or whether it was that Crimson Crush failed as well so I have to try again this year.

As a comparison, my plan is to grow Mountain Magic from Thompson & Morgan so I get a large tomato and a small tomato both of which should be able to avoid blight. I’m also going to be more careful to separate the different varieties when I pick them.

A reason why I’m going to grow more at the allotment is that I really don’t want to keep growing the large numbers of seedlings to grow 70+ different varieties in the polytunnel and greenhouses and want to give myself the opportunity to grow something different. However, I do want to make sure that I grow enough tomatoes to give me the volume that we seem to consume so, its more “standard red” tomatoes at the allotment with only around 24 plants in the polytunnel. Of course one thing I will have to do is to delay my sowing until April so that the plants at the allotment stand a chance. Last year, despite arriving as reasonable sized plants, the plants at the allotment went out too soon and were hit by the cold – so my plan is not to put them out until about mid June and to find some form of protection so that they stand a chance of growing. We shall see.

PelicanPlants

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November – thinking about next year

I’m gradually updating the website to include more varieties that you can buy as plugplants in the UK. My reason is that I’ve decided that I will grow some tomatoes from seed myself but that the unusual varieties that I haven’t grown before, I will buy in as pre-grown plants. This means I’ve got to get organised and decide what I want. The issue seems to be to find plants that are not F1 hybrids, nor are they ones that we have grown before. 

I’m also planning to grow fewer plants altogether than previous years because I want to grow some different things in the polytunnel which will mean that only one side (at most) will be available for tomatoes. 

Anyway, decision to be made.

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2015 In Summary

OK, the 2015 tomato season is now well and truly over, and we can look back on the year and look forward to next.

We always seem to start these reviews by thinking what a strange year it has been (maybe the point is that British weather is never consistent and so we have to allow for it). However, this year started with the decision not to grow plug plants for sale. There were two reasons, first

  • not having a temperature and light controlled greenhouse meant that is was difficult to manage the seedlings through their early stages, taking them in and out of the house at night was a pain and equally well on the sunny days when the temperature in the greenhouse rose to 40C and higher stressed the plants;  second
  • competition: more of the major nurseries are selling tomatoes as plug plants and their prices mean that its really quite difficult to make it worthwhile for people to consider us.

This decision made life simpler all round. Many fewer plants which I could sow at a time that suited me, transplanting to pots at the right time, etc., etc..

The weather was variable through the spring colder than some other years, particularly at the end of April where we had unseasonably cold weather for a few days with the cold continuing through May and into June although late June warmed up significantly. Early July was hot (with high temperatures affecting the plants in the polytunnel) but the end of July returned to the cooler and darker weather that we’d experienced earlier in the year. August remained cool, although with the odd hot day, which would bring about thunderstorms. Early September was bright and warm but by this time the growth of the tomatoes had finished and later in the month it returned to cooler conditions. So overall, not a good year for tomatoes.

We also reduced the number of plants that we grew, last year’s crop of 70+ kilos of tomatoes proved to be more than we could eat sensibly and our plan was to reduce the number of tomatoes to a more manageable quantity. We reduced the number of different varieties even more as we decided to grow at least two plants of each of our chosen varieties and even more of the two versions of Oleron Yellow that we are growing on to make sure that we had consistent growth in the various seeds that we had collected.

One mistake that we made was to not consider the colours of the varieties we had chosen to grow and as a result about half of the tomatoes we grew were yellow which has made them more difficult to save as sauces as a yellow tomato doesn’t produce the “right” colour.

However, all in all it was an interesting year, 58 plants of 28 different varieties (of which nine were new to us) and a total crop of just over 48kilos.

One of the plants that we grew was Crimson Crush. This was supplied as plants by Dobies and Suttons Seeds and is an F1 hybrid which is supposedly “Blight Resistant”. So we duly planted them out at the allotment along with a couple of other plants and … we got no blight at all. The tomatoes were attacked by slugs and really didn’t produce many ripe tomatoes. Then, after we’d picked the green tomatoes and put them in a drawer to ripen off, many of the tomatoes became blight ridden. What I can’t tell (because I didn’t separate the green tomatoes) is whether Crimson Crush was affected by the blight or not. All I know is that the plants struggled in the cold early on and went purple in October before I pulled them up.

The good intentions for 2016 include:

  • Making sure that I have a better look at the colours to make sure that no more than 25% of the plants are yellow; and
  • Making sure that I get a better balance of cherries, beefsteak and standard (1/3rd of each rather than 45% each of cherry and beefsteak and only 10% standard).

My plans for 2016 will include buying plants from other suppliers rather than seeds so that I can see whether they are better than growing my own tomatoes from seed.

Detailed Results

Beefsteak

Yellow Beefsteak

This year we grew Azoychka and Limmony. To be perfectly honest, its difficult to tell the difference between these two varieties and so only one will be grown in 2016. Limmony have consistently outperformed Azoychka for the last three years so the writing is on the wall.

Orange Beefsteak

We grew Summer Cider and Marvel Stripes and will possibly do so again in 2016. They are both excellent tasting fruit (Summer Cider consistently tastes the best) and they match together perfectly, Summer Cider (whilst late) is earlier than Marvel Stripes which takes over late in the season.

Red Beefsteak

We grew Abraham Lincoln, Chianti Rose and Crimson Crush. All were new to us. None grew over 1kg per plant (although Crimson Crush was grown outdoors so its a little unfair) but neither had a exceptional flavour so they won’t be grown in 2016.  (The only proviso on this is that we are planning to try and overwinter some Crimson Crush sideshoots to see if we can grow them on through to 2016).

Black Beefsteak

We grew three varieties (but only one plant of each), Black Brandywine, True Black Brandywine and Black Russian. None produced over 1kg of fruit and none tasted better than Japanese Black Trifele. So, there will be a different choice for 2016.

Cherry

Red Cherry

The red cherry varieties we grew were: Chadwick Cherry, Gardener’s Delight, Garden Pearl, Hundreds & Thousands and Koralic Red Cherry. The last three are determinate and we grow them so that we can use the bench space in the polytunnel for tomatoes. They all did well, with Hundreds & Thousands and Koranic Red Cherry each producing over a kilo of small tasty fruit. To be honest, the difficulty with Hundreds & Thousands is that the fruit are very small (under 2 grams) and so picking a kilo of fruit is a long winded process. Chadwick Cherry were much more successful this year than 2014 and there’s little or no visible difference between them and Gardener’s Delight.

Black/Purple Cherry

We grew Chocolate Cherry, Rosella and Brown Berry. Chocolate Cherry was new to us and has a colour and flavour almost exactly the same as Rosella although the fruits are slightly larger. Rosella and Chocolate Cherry are both prone to splitting and our favourite of these varieties remains Brown Berry.

Green Cherry

We grew Emerald Green Cherry for the first time this year and they were a bit of a disappointment. Like all green tomatoes, there’s a problem trying to decide when the fruit is ripe and these were too tart if picked underripe and mealy if picked overripe. The jury is out but overall, Green Grapes is probably preferable.

Yellow Cherry

The only yellow cherry tomatoes we grew were our “Oleron Yellow“. They were tasty as ever but we’ve definitely got two different varieties, one slightly darker than the other. Of the two the paler is the one we prefer.

Orange Cherry

We grew Orange Berry this year and it didn’t do very well, less than half the crop for the last two years. They still taste excellent but the total weight of fruit was a disappointment.

Standard Tomatoes

Red/Pink Standard

Our red standard tomatoes were Alicante, the Amateur, Bloody Butcher, Egyptian, Moneymaker, and Nectar Rose. Nectar Rose and Egyptian were new to us and Moneymaker we would not normally grow because we think there are others with a better taste. Bloody Butcher we grow because its always early (as they were this year). Nectar Rose and Moneymaker produced well, Egyptian and the Amateur less so. We will find an alternative mix for next year but will probably try Egyptian again to give it another try.

Conclusion

Another challenging but entertaining year and nothing to stop us trying again next. We will have fun and hope that you do as well.

PelicanPlants

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