jeudi 15 avril 2010

Let's talk about Tomatoes!

April is rush hour for fruit and vegetable growers. One of the favourite crops that are easy to grow are tomatoes. I grow cherry tomatoes because my family love them and it saves us money. It is very satisfying to see you child reaching out and picking a ripe tomato that you have grown and popping it in his mouth.

Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) are annual plants which means that they only last for a season. There are three types - indeterminate (mid size, non bushy), shorter (semi determinate) types and the bush (determinate) types. Tomatoes are best grown at 21 - 24° and do not grow well under 16°. They do not tolerate frost and need a lot of light. In UK, most tomatoes are grown in greenhouses but in France, they are easily grown outside with no cover. The beauty of tomatoes is that they are easily grown in containers.

If you are growing from seed, sow 6 - 8 seeds in a 8 - 10cm pot using a general purpose compost or one specifically for tomatoes/fruit and veg. Good drainage is important as waterlogging is a prime reason for seed failure. Seive the compost to get rid of large lumps. Place the seeds individually on the compost surface, allowing plenty of space between them. Lightly cover the seeds with seived compost and water well and gently. Prick out (gently remove) the plants when they have their first set of 'true' leaves and place each seedling in a 9cm pot alone, slightly deeper than before. Once the last frost has passed, you can plant them outside in a grow bag, the ground or a large pot.

My wise neigbour tells me not to waste my time with tomato seeds. He buys in young plants from the garden centre. When buying, avoid leggy plants. Plug plants should have perky leaves and not look yellow or dry. Pinch off the lower leaves as they are often first to develop fungal problems. Pot them up straight away, each in a 9cm pot or a window box. Water regularly.

Lots of gardeners grow tomatoes in the ground so the plants are slightly less dependent on you to water them. Or you can use a growing bag where the roots can spread out. Or large pots. Don't overcrowd your plants - they need good air circulation. Water plants regularly and check the compost daily. Pinch out the top of cordon varieties after five to six trusses (clumps) of fruit have formed. Plant outside once the threat of frost has passed.

Planting in a growing bag - loosen the compost in the bag after making a slit down the length so the roots can grow easily. Gently remove the young plant from its pot and plant. You might want to plant a marigold in with each tomato. It is said that marigold roots benefit the tomatoes and their smell deters whitefly. Add a cane or stake to support and water daily. Growing in a grow bag prevents plants from being infected by soil-borne diseases.

Planting in a large pot - This allows you to move them around or drop them off with a neigbour who'll kindly take on the watering task if you're going on holiday! Use a 1.1 litre container, place some crocks in the bottom, fill with compost, add a cane to support and remove sideshoots as they appear to keep the energy going into the top of plant and fruit production.

Feeding - tomatoes like a good feed which maximises the crop. Wait until the fruits have started to form and use a specially formulated tomato fertiliser. Don't overfeed, follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Reccomended tomatoes
Cordon: Dombito (beefsteak), Gardener's Delight (cherry), Golden Sunrise (yellow), Mirabelle, Olivade, Shirley (medium round), Sun Baby, Tigerella

Bush - Alfresco, Plumito, Tumbler, Sleaford Abundance, Rornado, Totem

Pick fruits as they ripen, which is around 7-8 weeks after they are planted. Cordon types can be harvested 10-12 weeks after planting. Tomatoes freeze well.

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