In this blog series, we will hear bi-weekly top tips from expert tomato grower Terry Marshall. Terry was given his first garden for his 7th birthday and has been gardening ever since. In those days most gardeners were ‘organic’, although the phrase had yet to be coined. After a conventional horticultural college education, he eventually became a commercial glasshouse grower specialising in tomato growing. Alarmed by the ever increasing use of pesticides and herbicide's, he decided to return to his organic roots, in Bingley, where for 40 years he has been a freelance organic gardener, researcher, speaker and writer.
Terry’s Top Tips, 2. Sowing and germination.
Flavour, that's what it's all about! - The second instalment of author and expert tomato grower Terry Marshall’s top tips...
Having chosen your flavoursome varieties, it is time to get sowing. Many of those beguiling varieties that are now available, work out at 30 to 40 Pence and even up to 75 Pence per seed so 100% germination is essential. Anything less makes each plant expensive so let’s look at how to do this.
Although tomatoes will germinate over a range of temperatures, researchers tell us that 20 degrees centigrade is the optimum temperature for the maximum number of seeds to germinate.
A maximum/minimum thermometer is an invaluable aid to tomato growing. With one, local temperatures can be checked, serving to determine just where is the best place to germinate your seeds. The ideal is a thermostatically controlled propagator but for the past forty years I have used the airing cupboard for early crops with the door open 3 inches. I’ve found it maintains a constant 68 Fahrenheit or 20 degrees Centigrade. Dalefoot Seed Compost comes in a 12-litre bag so it is easy to bring a bag into the house and bring it up to temperature a day before sowing.
Fill a clean tray with moist Dalefoot Seed Compost, level and gently compress it. Sow the seed spaced 5 centimetres apart and 1 to 1.5 centimetres deep and cover the seed with fine compost. Water gently with tepid water and allow to drain. Then, place where it is possible to maintain as nearer temperature to 20 degrees centigrade.
Given good conditions, many modern hybrids may germinate in four to five days if an airing cupboard or a dark place has been used. Do make sure to check the seed tray at least twice a day after the first four days. Forget to do this and in 24 hours the seedlings could become very thin white little corkscrews which is undesirable. Once germinated, place the seed tray in as light a position as possible as near to 20 degrees by day and 13 degrees at night as can be maintained. Keep the top of the compost moist with tepid water or a water spray, taking care not to over water.
Next time; propagation, pots, light and temperature.
Terry’s Top Tips, 1. Getting started, choosing tomato seed
Warm, sweet, succulent tomatoes…sun ripened globes of delight with their blend of sugar and acid and that distinct smell. The very thought of them lifts the spirits on a cold winter's day. So, lets make this a reality…by making 2021 the year of our best tomato crop ever...
The difference between a heavy crop of delicious fruit and a mediocre one is by using our personal facilities to grow a crop within the natural laws that govern the plant. We will look at these laws and how they apply as the season progresses.
With so many varieties of tomato available which ones shall we choose? After carefully reading the details of variety, size, colour, flavour, early or main crop, disease resistance, cordon, bush, dwarf or family preferences!
Broadly speaking, cherries along with early varieties, given good growing conditions will produce ripe tomatoes 15 to 17 weeks after sowing. Some of the larger beef steaks will take a month longer and in a poor summer 22 to 24 weeks before the first fruits are ripe.
For many years, I started the season with ‘Stupice’ an old Czech variety which will produce ripe fruit 16 weeks after sowing and grow at lower temperatures than most other varieties. Another very useful variety is ‘Red Alert’. This 18 to 24 inch tall plant can easily be grown in a 10 inch pot or container and can be moved around to make take advantage of any odd spot with good light and warmth early in the year. Later it can be pruned back to produce new growth for a second crop in autumn.
Next time…Sowing and germination