Caption: Red Alert tomatoes
Caption: Akron Tomatoes
Flavour - that’s what it is all about. That wonderful taste of home grown organic fruit and vegetables. Although I grow a wide range of vegetables and fruit, for me there is nothing to beat the taste of succulent, sweet, sun ripened tomatoes picked straight from the plant. Their juice, that exquisite blend of sugar and acid, wrapped up in that unique musky tomato aroma.
To produce the best fruit a tomato plant needs access to a wide range of major and minor nutrients, minerals and trace elements and this is where Dalefoot Composts come in. With their unique blend of composted bracken and sheep’s wool the Dalefoot range of composts has produced some excellent crops of tomatoes for me - in both heated and cold glasshouse crops and outdoor plants here in Airedale, Yorkshire at 53 degrees North.
Of the many varieties that I grow each year the season starts with ‘Stupice’. From a January 1st sowing, given a sunny spring, it will produce ripe fruit some 16 -17 weeks later. Stupice is an old Czech variety and is reasonably cold tolerant, so that once in their large pots heat is only needed during very cold weather. This variety used to stop growing after 6 trusses, but last year, planted in 30cm (12”) pots of Double Strength Wool Compost™ they continued growing to 8 - 9 trusses tall.
Each year I grow some of the latest varieties and also some Heritage ones, bearing in mind that cherry types take around 6 -8 weeks from fertilized flower to ripe fruit, standard size around 8 weeks, while the larger beef steak type take 11 - 12 weeks plus any spells of poor weather during this time.
Your ideal sowing date, is when, in your greenhouse you either know or can estimate when there will be several hours on several days in the week when your greenhouse temperature is in the 18 - 24°C (65-70°F) range. This is the date when the first trusses need to be in flower to ensure successful pollination and fertilization. Go 8 weeks backwards from this date and sow on that date. Thus sow early March for early May flowers. If you sow too early for your site and facilities there will be no pollen, too late and you lose valuable growing time, particularly in the North.
Many modern varieties are expensive so to get a good germination fill a clean seed tray with moist Wool Compost for Seeds without compressing it. Sow the seed spaced 5cms (2”) apart and 1 - 1.5 cms (1/4- 3/8”) deep. Water gently and allow to drain, cover the seed tray and keep as near to a temperature of 20°C (68°F) as possible. Once germinated place the seedlings in a position with as much light as possible and in a temperature of as near 20°C (68°F) during the day and 13°C (55°F) at night as can be maintained.
When the leaves of the seedlings are starting to touch, pot them on into next size pots filled with Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, carefully lifting the entire root ball around the seedling. Place them in as light a position as possible in a temperature as near as is practicable to the above.
When half of propagated plants are showing their first flowers it is time to plant them all into their final pots. They grow well in containers of Wool Compost for Vegetable and Salads or for very particularly vigorous varieties try the Double Strength Wool Compost. For plants growing in the greenhouse or outdoor border beds, replace a spade full of soil with a spade full of Double Strength Wool Compost at each planting position. They will then get off to a flying start!
Less water is needed when growing in Wool Compost™ but the plants should be kept uniformly moist.
Good crops of tomatoes can be grown outdoors in the North in sheltered locations. Strategically placed containers of Wool Compost™ can yield excellent crops as can a sheltered border. My ‘Ferline,’ and the latest ‘Blight resistant’ varieties will grow to 4 - 5 trusses here in Yorkshire, during most seasons.
The secret to outdoor tomato growing lies in propagating well developed plants. From a mid- March sowing they usually have the first truss setting by the time the last frost has gone and they can take full advantage of the early summer weather. Whatever weather the coming season brings, strong healthy plants raised and grown in Dalefoot composts have the potential to create heavy crops with that luscious, unique tomato flavour.
Editors note: Terry Marshall has been growing tomatoes, both privately and commercially, for most of his life. He is the author of ‘Tomatoes’ which details the history and development of the tomato plant with a range of growing methods to yield bumper crops.