Top Quality Tomatoes
21st Feb 2002
Last year was a particularly good year for me with tomatoes, winning the NVS National Championships at Margam Park with a lovely bright red dish of Cedrico F1. As I only have room to grow 14 on one side of my greenhouse I was extremely pleased to able to get such an even matching set from so few and at such a highly competitive level. Of course my wife will inevitably stake claim towards winning the red card as she was the one who made the final selection on our kitchen table and was also the one who staged them so well; I prefer to call it team work!
Finding a new tomato to be as good as Goldstar, the variety that was winning everywhere for so many years until it was withdrawn by the breeders, has taken me quite a while. The problem I had was that Goldstar was so consistently good and so easy to grow to a good size that nearly everyone was showing winning dishes all over the country. Incidentally, for the time being, I had to drop my plans for producing Goldstar as young rooted cuttings through a specialist Micro propagating company mainly on the cost basis and packaging. However the other draw back I felt was that I now had two or three tomatoes that were probably capable of standing on their own against Goldstar.
Ferrari, Cloe, Solution, Classy and Cedrico
I first introduced Ferrari and Cloe, and these were quickly followed by Solution and now I have another two who are going to be vying with each other for the top awards. Classy and Cedrico are undoubtedly top quality tomatoes and though Cedrico was the one I exhibited, simply because I had twelve of them and only two of Classy. At picking time though I could easily have matched the odd one of Classy with Cedrico as the quality and shape was equally as good.
Last year the tomatoes were sown at this time and I intend to do the same again as the Welsh Championships are going to be held at the same venue as the National was last year, so the timing will be fine. My main problem will be timing another batch for the National which will be held at the end of September, this year at Malvern, so this batch will have to go in around the middle of April. The reason for sowing so much later is that I have absolutely no room at all to grow an extra batch at home and I certainly do not want to halve the quantity. The second sowing will therefore be grown in my large greenhouse at Bangor University where there is a controlled heating and lighting environment.
Growing the last batch for the end of September will probably be a lot easier at Bangor anyway as the day length and night temperatures will be shortening considerably at that time so the plants will still be grown under lights at sixteen hour days with a minimum night temperature of 65°F. This should help to reduce if not eliminate the fine hair line cracking that I was getting from September onwards last year around the shoulder of the fruit from plants that were sown at this time of year.
Tomatoes are fairly easy to germinate and to grow on provided they are given the right conditions. A small propagator with some good bottom heat will give you very fast germination, I have seen my tomato plants germinate in days when given good bottom heat. Use shallow seed trays rather than deep ones as the heat permeates faster to the seed in shallower trays. I use Levington F2s for sowing the seed in and they will be sown individually making sure that I have approximately an inch or so between each seed. Fill the tray to overflowing with the compost and give it a sharp tap on the bench before using a straightedge to slide off the remaining compost from the top of the tray. Finally use a small flat piece of wood to gently flatten down the compost which will leave you with an eighth of an inch or so of room to sow and cover the seeds. Do not over compact the compost, the last thing you want it to resemble is a hard block of peat. Germinating seed need air within the compost to grow on healthily, over compaction can often destroy them or at best produce weak spindly plants that take weeks to recover.
Place the seed tray inside a bowl or tray with no holes in containing some water at greenhouse temperature, leave the tray there for a few minutes to take up the water. Once the surface of the compost starts to change colour to darkish brown or black you will then know that it is fully moist without having disturbed the sowing surface at all with the odd dribble from the watering can. Over the past few years I have had some marvellous success by covering the seeds over with fine Vermiculite rather that using the actual sowing compost itself. The Vermiculite can also be added slightly to excess and then removed carefully on to a clean area, for re use later, with a straight edge. Finally moisten the vermiculite through to the compost very carefully using a fine sprayer or a watering can with a dribble free fine rose.
One word of caution when sowing seed in a propagator, always remember that within a couple of weeks they will need to be potted on into a 3 inch pot or equivalent and most small propagators that I know of are far too small for this job as well as being much too warm making the plants very tender when being acclimatised later on. Always think ahead by making sure that you have at least a small corner of the greenhouse cordoned off with some bubble film with a small heater kept there to try and maintain a minimum night temperature of 55°F .