All about Tomatoes

So it’s the turn of the Veg. Garden again to let you know what we’ve been up to recently, apart from watering and weeding! I’m happy to announce our first red chilli of the season! We started these plants off under glass back in December of 2012, planted them out in May in our polytunnels, they now stand at a height of about a foot and a half, and are dripping with beautiful cayenne peppers.

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Our Tomatoes are experiencing something of a growth spurt with all this lovely hot weather too. Whilst showing our apprentice how to care for them it occurred to me how many odd things they are prone to do, and how worrying they can be to someone unused to their habits. I myself was lucky enough to have a family that took growing veg for granted, and one of my earliest memories is the smell of Tomatoes in the morning as my mum would pull back the curtains. My dad would grow giant specimens on every windowsill in the house till late May, when they would migrate to a south facing wall. I’d like to show you a few examples of things I’ve observed over the years and hopefully provide you with some answers to your burning Tomato questions.

One of the most common problems people experience is fruit split, this is such an easy problem to cure as well. The cause of this is irregular watering and will become apparent after watering as the plant sucks up every drop of available moisture, and pumps it into every cell causing the fruit wall to split under the pressure. If you find this is happening regularly then it’s time to alter your watering regime, Tomatoes are thirsty plants and as most are confined to large pots or grow-bags, are at risk of drying out. One thing you could do is give the same amount of water but at regular intervals, like half in the morning, half in the evening to prevent the drought/flood cycle.

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Fruit split caused by irregular watering

One of peoples main concerns is Blight, there are several options open to the grower where this is concerned. The first defence is to choose a variety that is resistant. Tomatoes: ‘Ferline’, ‘Legend’ and ‘Fantasio’ are resistant but will succumb in ideal blight conditions. Personally I don’t grow Tomatoes outside, we only use the polytunnels as conditions are easier to control and maintain. The fungal disease Blight is spread by water splashes onto leaves, so always water the roots with a slow flow in order to prevent leaves getting wet. There is a little known scale to measure the optimum conditions for the spread of Blight called the Smiths Period. For more information about this visit http://www.blightwatch.co.uk/content/bw-Smith.asp

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Blight – a common concern

Another confusing condition can be Magnesium deficiency, seen on the lower leaves of the plant you will notice yellowing patches between the veins on the leaves. No amount of feeding seems to improve the condition and can even make it worse, that’s because the Magnesium ‘locks up’ in the soil and using Tomato feeds that are high in Potassium will exacerbate the condition, as plants will take this up in preference to Magnesium. An easy remedy to this problem is to apply Epsom salts as a foliar feed in summer. Mix it all up at a rate of 20g of Epsom salts per litre of water plus a few drops of liquid detergent, this acts as a wetting agent allowing the water to cling to the leaves more easily. Apply two or three times at fortnightly intervals, spraying in dull weather to avoid leaf scorch, or I prefer to water directly onto the roots of the plant, as with Tomatoes misting them increases the risk of Blight.

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Magnesium deficiency

Apart from regular removal of side-shoots, some defoliation of lower leaves to allow air circulation and a lot of water, Tomatoes are a very forgiving plant and an excellent choice for a beginner as they’re so rewarding. You can grow them in all colours, sizes and growth habits so with one perfect for everybody there’s no excuse to not give them a go!

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A Tomato that’s behaving

And finally, a picture of a typical daily harvest from the veg plot, bound for the kitchen

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Louise Nicholls (Senior Veg Gardener)

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