Tomatoes and Large Exhibition Onions
24th Aug 1998
My results with tomatoes over the past few years have been variable to say the least as I have striven to change and modify various aspects of growing, always with the view of improving the end result. I suppose one drawback of writing articles for a leading gardening paper is the fact that you are constantly expected to improve and push the horizons on some aspect or other of the cultivation of various vegetables. With tomatoes I have tried many different options for growing the plants as well as trying out numerous new varieties that the breeders always say are better than their predecessors. Once in a while, this can prove to be highly beneficial as I find newer varieties that seem to gain in popularity with other exhibitors such as Choice and Ferrari. On the other hand some turn out to be excellent varieties for the kitchen but incapable of making a top- flight exhibition cultivar.
My growing technique has varied from ring culture in the traditional manner to a form of ring culture where the gro-bag takes over from gravel or grit as a base and utilising whalehide bottomless pots, plastic ones as well as proprietary ones with a self contained water reservoir. In the end I have to admit that the method I used many years ago with a plastic ring culture pot on top of a gro-bag with another smaller bottomless pot sunk into the bag as a water reservoir seems to be the best system.
This year, having reverted back to the old system, the crop is excellent with plenty of large sized fruit in abundance and perfectly clear of the effects of whitefly. Even though the yellow sticky traps were utilised during the early part of the season, they were actually removed later on as there was no sign at all of a single whitefly on them. I was confident in removing them because two years ago, the old soil that I had in the greenhouse borders underneath the benches was removed and the whole surface area in both greenhouses was concreted over. Since that time I have had no recurrence of the whitefly which used to devastate my tomato crops; constant spraying with various insecticides was the norm. The reason for the improvement is not the concrete in itself but the fact there are no weeds there any more hence there is nowhere for the pests to overwinter. Coupled to this is the fact the whole structure was thoroughly scrubbed down with Armillatox as a cleanser during late autumn. I have grown only 12 plants this year; four Ferrari, four Choice, two Cheetah and two Chaser. I had grown both Choice and Ferrari before with excellent results; indeed both of them have won classes at the highest level. However Chaser, with its beautiful spreading calyxes, looks very promising as well and could be an addition to my catalogue this coming autumn.
The one point to remember when growing tomatoes in a confined receptacle is adequate watering; as the plants grow to their full size and become ladened with large trusses full of fruit, they take an enormous amount of water. My father had some excellent plants early on and continued to water them on a daily basis but during mid season, blossom end rot appeared on the fruit of the top trusses which is a sure sign that the plants have been under stress at some point through lack of water. They suffered in other ways as well with the fruit being smaller than they should be for exhibiting. Tomatoes growing in gro-bags or in other root-containing receptacles need watering at least twice a day and on very hot sunny days as much as three times a day. Liquid feeding with a low ratio of nitrogen and phosphates but high in potash should be continued at every watering to maintain good growth and optimum fruit development.
Large Exhibition Onions
The other week I paid a visit to the outskirts of Wrexham to see how Ken Davies was getting on with his large exhibition onions during a summer when we have had very few sunny days here in the North West. Ken had some excellent onions last year when he won the Welsh Open Onion Championship with 5 onions of his own seed from a strain developed by Mick Bradley from Henley on Thames who is a top onion grower in his own right. Ken was also third in the National Vegetable Society Championships at Malvern for a dish of six lovely specimens. This year his two onion beds were the best I have seen for many years; he had approximately 90 onions in total and the uniformity within the beds was tremendous. The smallest onion was 19" in circumference with the majority around the 22" mark and obviously still growing with clean, pest free tops. These were also from the Mick Bradley stable and the uniformity within the bulbs offers Ken a golden opportunity to be able to stage some terrific onions once again this year; he's certain to be amongst the cards at the highest level.