I love growing tomatoes, eating them straight off the plant and the smell of the leaves and stems on your hands is a treat when you’re out in the garden. In the kitchen fresh in salads, or cooked they’re much better than tinned. We had half a winters supply in the freezer last year, they’re a little runnier than a tin, but usually that doesn’t matter.
I will get around 12 kilos off 8 plants this year, maybe not quite as many as last year but good compared to what other people have said about theirs.
HERE’S MY GUIDE TO GROWING TOMATOES (IN A POLYTUNNEL?)
Soil should be pretty good, they are hungry plants, we dig in some manure, approx equiv. to a 3 inch layer, digging seems to be better for us in the polytunnel. The soil is pretty poor generally, it dries out quickly and is crumbly and pale when it does. Sometimes I have added a bit more into each planting hole if I’ve got some spare. I have to make sure the soil is well wetted right through before I plant, because it dries out quickly (I will talk about mulching another time) if you leave dry pockets the water will never get through capillary action etc. see watering bit later for details.
About 2 foot apart when they have at least 2 sets of real leaves, not too big as they could be a bit stunted in the pot, I pull the roots out of the spiral they’ve usually grown into, end up breaking a lot, but that doesn’t seem to matter.
also see watering and supporting.
Supporting… In the polytunnel for the last 2 years I have used string to support them rather than canes, (I think that was a Bob Flowerdew tip) from the uprights of the polytunnel I have stretched some string above where I want to plant them. Then I tie a length of string long enough to hang from the string above and leave about 8 inches /20cm to bury under the roots as you’re planting out, it has worked really well. As the plant grows you just gently wind it around the string. For extra side branches I have tied them to added string just dangling, not as good, next year I’ll try burying a few strings with each plant…
Watering… Every other day, unless not at all sunny.
I sink bottles in when I plant so that using the hose on full doesn’t damage the soil structure, wash away too much soil around the roots and also when the plants get big you can see where to aim for!
What to do- a 2 litre “pop” bottle lid off, bottom cut off, neck down, buried about 3-4 inches/8-10 cm or so deep, in well dampened soil, make sure there are no dry bits. (Our soil gets so dry and powdery, once in this state water cannot penetrate at all well and it could stop a plant getting enough water.) Dig a hole push the bottle neck in hard, (hand in and lean!) back fill and firm around the bottle. Put in 1 or 2 plants by each bottle, this year I put 4 bottles in a row of 8 plants. Fill the bottle with water, it shouldn’t drain away, if it does the soil is too loose around the bottom. (Or you’ve hit a mouse run!) On the other hand it shouldn’t still have water in the next day! (You may have a stone in the neck.)
If the surface of the soil around the plants is particularly dry I give them a bit direct with the hose to moisten the soil then fill the bottle to make sure the capillary action can work around the roots.
The age old question… to cut off side shoots or not?
To be perfectly honest I’ve always been a bit lazy about that, sometimes I rub off the small shoots as I’m watering, but I find it difficult to go and take them off when they are big and flowering. The last couple of years i have “gone in” when they have got to impenetrable jungle stage and thinned out a bit, well a lot actually, this year about the middle of August. That’s when I took off a lot of the large leaves and the ends of each branch down to the truss with set fruit on them. I had about 6 branches on each plant, and I suppose about 3 – 6 trusses of varying sizes on each branch, the fruit are small but I’m assuming they are meant to be. Would I have got bigger or more fruit had I cut back harder? I might try that next year on alternate plants…
Feeding… irregularly would have to be the answer, I started this year with good intentions and did weekly comfry feeds for a bit. Then the smell got too much when the weather was hot, (yes it was -don’t forget!) I got round to getting some tomato food eventually and did that for a bit.
Growing in pots… I also bought a couple of gardeners delight when none of my seedlings got beyond first real leaf stage in the cold snap in April. I put them in pots with the aim of putting them on my “terrace”, they never made it out of the polytunnel and didn’t do very well at all about 15 toms in total. I think it was probably being in pots, not as much water available to them they’d probably prefer watering every day and the feeding… I really should have done more of that.
However the others have done so well I’m not at all bothered.
Next year I will try to…
Try cutting side shoots off at least one plant to see if the yield is better (for the time taken to do it),
Get some tomatoes to eat before August! I’ve been thinking and I have never had enough ready for the show, that’s always 2nd weekend in August. Maybe cutting side shoots off would mean earlier fruit?
TAKE PHOTOS! just looked through all this years and none of the tomatoes.