Tomatoes - The Second Most Produced and Consumed Vegetable Nationwide
26th Feb 2005
One summer vegetable that I really wait for with great pleasure is the first ripe fruit from my tomato plants to form part of a really home grown salad. There's no doubt that our breeders and growers produce some lovely tomatoes for our supermarkets, but they are as nothing compared with eating your own fruit, straight from the truss. Tomatoes are the second most produced and consumed vegetable nationwide and really fall into three categories or groups:
The indeterminate varieties is the first group, these are generally the ones most of us would grow and need supporting up a cane or some strong twine.
The second is the determinate variety which are usually the bush type, they generally need less attention and you can leave them to their own natural growth habit.
Patio or Pot
The third is the patio or pot varieties which, as the name implies, are much smaller specimens and easier to handle.
Growing Your Own
If you are going to grow your own, then decide which sort of tomato you like, there"s nothing stopping you growing three or four different kinds until you really find the flavour that suits you. The availability is enormous, there are some quite large fruited varieties such as Beefeater down to the smallest Cherry such as Sweet Million. In between you have the various sizes of plums and what I would call the normal or medium sized varieties such as the Moneymaker. Marshalls do a Greenhouse Collection of four kinds from the Beefsteak size down to a small yellow cherry.
Not only do tomatoes taste good when they are well grown, they are also good for you as well. Recent scientific research points out the real benefits of one of the fruits key nutrients, lycopene. Lycopene is rich in the protective antioxidant betacarotene which the body in turn consumes into the allegedly life prolonging vitamin A. Lycopene is also known to protect against breast cancer as well as helping out us males. If we eat plenty of tomatoes a day, we should have a much lower incidence of prostate cancer. However do keep the tomatoes on the plant until really ripe as lycopene doesn't develop in under ripe fruit.
This brings me to the varieties that I like which are Cedrico, and Classy, both are from the indeterminate group. Different to the old faithful Moneymaker and it's kind, these modern varieties posses long shelf life genes. These genes haven't come about through genetic modification but rather through normal hybridisation. The beauty of these is that you can keep the tomatoes on the plant for a week or more after they appear to be ripe, simply because they keep firm, on and off the plant, for a much longer time. This naturally makes them perfect if you fancy your chances at the local show simply because of the judging criteria. A judge will look for firm well ripened but not soft specimens, therefore you can select your fruit from a much heavier crop giving you a much wider choice. However, before we get to a show situation, we need to sow the seed any time from now, and preferably with a little bit of heat in your greenhouse to prevent any frost damage.
Growing from Seed
Tomato seed are large enough to be handled individually so space them out on top of some fine seed compost to ensure that each emerging seedling has sufficient space to develop properly. Tomato plants are notorious for extending themselves upwards, getting weak and leggy, particularly when they are positioned too close to each other. This applies throughout their various potting stages and they need to be well spaced out on the bench to keep them sturdy. Cover the seed over with some fine grade Vermiculite which allows the emerging seedlings to pop through relatively unhindered. Water the compost from the bottom by floating the seed tray in another container, and preferably, moisten the Vermiculite on top by using a fine sprayer. Because the vermiculite particles are so light, the force of water coming through a watering can will often dislodge the material leaving the seed exposed and without adequate cover resulting possibly in poor germination.
At this time of year tomatoes need warmth to germinate and if you have a propagator, then germination can be as fast as within seven days. I never cover the seed tray over with a pane of glass, I much prefer to inspect it on a daily basis and give the surface a light spray if I feel the vermiculite is drying out. You can also germinate the seed in a warm room such as a conservatory or a windowsill inside the house. When germinating inside the house, you do need to be particularly vigilant in turning the tray around daily so that all the seedlings get as much light as possible to fall on them. Prick the seed out into small 24 cells per tray or 3inch pots, again try and keep them warm. The young tomato plants can be vulnerable to a cold chill. Severe cold will stop them growing in their tracks and will literally give the plants a blue hue from which they will take a long time to recover. However, it's well worth the risk as the resulting plants from the seed germinating now will produce fruit from the end of July onwards, just when the weather is warm and salad days are truly with us.