Success with Tomatoes
10th Mar 1999
I haven't had much success over the past few years with tomatoes, and I must admit that it's probably becasue I haven't been giving them the same attention than I used to years ago when I staged some winning exhibits. The attention to detail with tomatoes is just as important as it is with all the other show vegetables and will amply reward you in the end with some super specimens.
I have always sown my tomato seed during early March and I have managed to harvest fruit for our local county show during mid August from such a sowing. I sowed mine last weekend and with the National Vegetable Society Championships this year being held once again in September on the weekend of the 11th and 12th I should have plenty of fruit to pick from.
The new F1 hybrid variety Solution was broadcast sown on to some Levington F1 seed compost making sure that each seed had enough space around it to develop properly; the seed were then lightly covered over with some fine vermiculite and placed in a propagator to germinate. The tomato seed are large enough to allow you to do this with no problem and I feel it does help from day one to give attention to such fine detail.
Over the years I have altered my growing methods as newer innovations come on the market and very often this can be my problem as some of the newer ideas are not necessarily the best. Generally though, since I decided many years ago now that I would revert to using Gro bags they have been the basis, in one way or other, of growing them. My best method was through using plastic bottomless ring culture pots on top of the Gro bag giving me more volume of compost for the plants to grow in as well as making it a lot easier to water and feed all the plants.
The only real problem with this method is that the root system is inevitably curtailed by the bags themselves and unless particular attention is given to watering on a regular basis you will have problems. Many readers have written to me complaining about a disease that manifests itself as a black spot underneath some tomatoes when they had been grown using the system above. The black spot of course was not a disease but a condition called blossom end rot which develops because the plants had an inadequate water supply at some point when the fruit were swelling.
This year there is a complete change after talking to a fellow grower who grew them in a raised bed. Now my floors are all concrete so I have constructed a box to fit the length of the greenhouse and the width of one side which is twelve inches deep. I figured out that twelve inches depth of growing material is adequate when you consider that a flat Gro bag is hardly 4 inches deep. The edges were made from some old scaffold boards and are strong enough to prevent too much bowing out at the centre.
The box was constructed during early February so that once completed, I could then use it as a basis for supporting my temporary staging which holds all the multitude of plants that I have at this time of year. The bottom had about six inches of well rotted horse manure and then added on top was spare sterilised soil and Gro bag mixture that I had left over after completing my onion beds. The soil was thoroughly mixed in my concrete mixer to a fifty fifty ratio with Levington Gro bags. Drainage will be no problem as the concrete floor was formed with a slight fall towards a drainage hole at the far end. About two weeks prior to planting I shall add 4 ounces of Vitax Q4 to the yard run of bed working it in to the soil and Gro bag mixture only.
Prior to carrying out this work I took some advice from Charles Maisey who is probably the best tomato grower in the Country and is always the one that you have to beat if you intend winning the red card. The first thing he warned me about was the coldness of the concrete which could be detrimental towards good growth so he advised me to cover the bottom of the box with some Teram. This is a civil engineering woven material that's used to cover over muddy ground on construction sites. It will keep the concrete warm whilst at the same time allow any excess moisture to drain through. I eventually managed to get a piece to cover the base of the box from a building friend of mine.
As the base is concrete, at the end of the season, the whole growing medium can easily be shovelled out onto the garden and the whole area cleaned up with a strong dilution of Armillatox.
The planting box, as I have decide to call it, will be planted with two rows of plants in a staggered or domino fashion so that they all have as much light as possible around them. Only time will now tell whether or not I am going to be successful but I'm sure I will have some vigorous growing specimens with less risk of any blossom end rot with the plants having a free root run.
During the growing season I shall give you some snippets of useful advice that I shall get from Charles Maisey which will undoubtedly help you towards growing an even better quality crop than perhaps you have in the past.