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Tomato growing systems

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Post by Chilli-head on 10th March 2015, 11:38 am

In another thread, I digressed a bit from describing my propagator, to talk a bit about tomato growing systems:


My old dad is a bit of a heirloom tomato fan.  I think he has tried every growing system there is, short of hydroponics.

Initially he grew them in border soil in the greenhouse until (inevitably ?) he ran into disease build up problems.  Then he tried digging out the beds and replacing the soil with steam sterilised soil each year.  This was a gigantic effort,  so next he tried using spent mushroom compost - and ended up with more mushrooms than tomatoes ! Next came a system where you set up straw bales instead of soil,  spread on a chemical cocktail (potassium nitrate,  magnesium sulphate and iron sulphate I think).  The bales start to decompose quickly and hot up like a hotbed.  You then make holes on the top of the bales and plant your tomatoes in them.  The problem here is that the height of the bales reduces the height of the plants before they hit the roof.

Then he tried ring culture, with bottomless pots (rings of roofing felt stapled together).  Then growbags (too shallow), growbags cut in half and stood on end. Now he uses those flower buckets you can get for nothing or next to nothing from co-op etc, filled with growbag compost.  I've rather lost track of what worked the best ...

I have already declared my method, based on ring culture as described by the RHS here, and I also grow some outdoor cherry types in patio pots and hanging baskets.  I use a tomato feed from Chase organics normally,  when I remember Embarassed

If you grow tomatoes, how do you do it, and why ? And is there anything you struggle with ? For me, it is keeping the watering and feeding uniform enough to avoid blossom end rot, especially on the plum types. Oh, and blight on the outdoor ones, but that seems to be beyond my control Question
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Post by TamaraNicole on 10th March 2015, 2:29 pm

Great topic CH!

I have decided this year to grow my tomatoes in pots and take them in and out with the weather conditions. My neighbour does this and she has the greatest tomatoes ever!

Currently looking for à spot "inside" for them. Looking into small lean on greenhouse solution.
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Post by Ploshkin on 10th March 2015, 3:54 pm

I never grow tomatoes outdoors now - either they get blight or decimated by strong wind.  Up until last year we had had 7 really poor summers in a row & I just gave up on some outdoor things.

My tomato growing method for the last few years has been fat grow bags in an unheated greenhouse with 3 grow pots or bottomless pots filled with compost on each bag to plant in.  I have had consistently good crops in terms of quantity with very few watering problems like blossom end rot (I occasionally find I have a susceptible variety) but, and it is a big but, my tomatoes are always a bit bland tasting.  I find cherry tomatoes better than larger ones.  Sungold always taste fantastic, black cherry are pretty good and I found one last year called Fence Row that was also good on flavour.  I know the problem - it is lack of sun not just from poor summers but because we live down in a hollow and we don't get the early morning or late evening sun.  I have experimented with sodium lights in the late afternoon / early evening (not horticultural ones as they are just too expensive - just cheap outdoor ones from Screwfix) but I wasn't scientific about it so don't really know whether or not they made a difference.  I'm looking forward to finally getting my polytunnel (not this year again now) because it will be in a higher spot with full sunshine hours and will be interested if I finally get tomatoes with a taste.
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Post by Dandelion on 10th March 2015, 9:28 pm

This is interesting reading - lots of things to try. Anyone else spot the CH family interest in horticultural experiments??
My methods could be described as 'hedging my bets' - I grow a few tomatoes early, which I raise in big pots in my shed which has a PVC roof, so is light and quite warm. As Tamara Nicole says, these pots can be moved in and out depending on the weather. I don't think the fruit develops its full potential either in flavour or size when it's grown in pots though.
I also grow outdoor toms, which haven't been too bad for the last few years, though there was one season just before this (can't remember which) which was pretty disastrous in terms of blight. My raised beds are in sun for much of the day in the summer, if the weather's good!
I like the idea of fat grow bags - I will probably need to replace my tiny greenhouse in the next few years, so I could try this.

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Post by Chilli-head on 4th April 2015, 8:54 pm

Just to finish off this story; my tomatoes went out into their final positions today.  Here they are:



The lid of the propagator I built (shown here) has come off, but I can still use the heated sand bed.  The black pots are the plant tubs I scrounged from the local nursery, with the bottoms cut out.  They hold 15L of compost; I have used sieved garden compost mixed with a bit of vermiculite to open it up a bit, and a dash of seaweed meal.  I've planted them slightly deep so that the cotyledons are just above the compost level;  I'll top them up later on.  They will form extra roots from the buried stem, and it makes better use of my limited headroom.  They are about 12" high at the moment, and the buds of the first flower truss can just be seen.  I hope to be eating tomatoes by late June / early July.

Incidentally, the two plants at the back there are Amish Gold, from the seed swap.  Also present are Amish paste, Orange Banana, Rose de Berne, Red pear, and Royale des Guineaux.

Now the lid has come off, I need more heating.  Tomatoes resent temperatures below 10C, so as well as the thermostatically controlled heating cable, I have a fan heater set on low to  be safe.
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Post by Dandelion on 4th April 2015, 10:35 pm

They look really healthy CH

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Post by Ploshkin on 8th April 2015, 9:57 am

Wow, they're good. Mine are at the just germinated stage & germination doesn't seem to be particularly good with last years seed of all varieties. The couple of packets of new seed are fine.
I really must make a bit of an effort with heating one year & get some going a bit earlier. I like your warming cable & sand idea.
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Post by TamaraNicole on 13th April 2015, 12:23 pm

Wow CH, they look stunning! I think mine are not thriving at all looking at yours..
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Post by Chilli-head on 14th April 2015, 7:54 am

Those have been quite pampered with extra heat, and never allowed to become checked in their growth by potting on without delay when needed. They are intended for an early crop under glass - the outdoor ones are still in the seed packet, so don't panic if yours don't look like those !
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Post by Chilli-head on 29th May 2015, 10:31 am

I am having a good year in the greenhouse so far, despite being away from it a lot because of a busy spring wth work.

Anyway, this is what my tomatoes look like now.  The plants are about 5' high, and some good fruits have swelled, but we will need some sun to ripen them now.

This is Orange Banana


And Royale des Guineaux


The earliest I have had ripe tomatoes to eat is mid June; it is just about possible if we get a rapid improvement in the weather, but at the moment I think that late June is more likely.  Hopefully by then the broad beans will be ready, so that we can make the very delicious Warm broad bean and Feta salad.
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Post by Ploshkin on 29th May 2015, 10:56 am

There seem to be a number of green smilies but not one to represent green with envy.
Looking at your pictures you seem to have very even sized toms on the trusses. I usually get very variable sizes with a lot of fairly useless small ones. What is the secret? I suspect it is something to do with watering.
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Post by Chilli-head on 29th May 2015, 11:32 am

I have been taking much more care with both watering and feeding this year. The feed I have been using was the only organic feed in the garden centre when I needed some, it went by the inauspicious branding of "EcoCharlie", and is a general fruit and vegetable feed, not a specific tomato feed so has more nitrogen than is normal - this seems to have produced healthier plants and fatter fruits, despite the normal logic that a low nitrogen high potassium feed is preferred for tomatoes to promote fruiting without excessive growth.

I have also taken more care not to allow the nighttime temperatures to fall below 10C - cold temperatures seem to be a factor in getting an incomplete set along the truss. Last year I had whole trusses where the flowers just aborted.

The final measure is to be sure to photograph only the best trusses Wink
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Post by Dandelion on 29th May 2015, 7:06 pm

Eco Charlie - maybe a brand introduced by an ex-policeman used to using the phonetic alphabet?
What you said about nitrogen levels was interesting - maybe the old logic needs to be re-thought.

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Post by Chilli-head on 29th May 2015, 7:43 pm

My pet theory - warning, pure speculation, take with a pinch of salt - is that peat free composts these days, including my own made, have an excess of incompletely decomposed woody matter, which depletes the nitrogen as it continues to decompose.
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Post by Dandelion on 30th May 2015, 9:55 pm

That makes complete sense - my other half grew some tomato plants for the garden at school using commercial peat-free compost, and the plants have looked as if they were suffering from lack of nitrogen a long time before they outgrew the pots they were in. I've re-potted them in different compost (homemade, which has a little wood in it from the wood chips in the chicken run, but nowhere near the amount of wood waste you get in the commercial stuff.) I've also sprayed them weekly with seaweed feed, and they are just beginning to green up and get a bit taller. Maybe next year I'll add some pelleted chicken manure to the commercial compost and se if that helps.

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The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters.

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Post by Chilli-head on 30th May 2015, 11:24 pm

I wanted to add some hoof and horn to my homemade compost, but it seems to be no longer available ? Blood, fish and bone meal or chicken pellets seem to be my options.
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Post by Dandelion on 31st May 2015, 4:52 pm

I've just googled it, out of interest - you can buy it online from organic gardening suppliers, but I would imagine that's an expensive source. But it can't have been outlawed by the EU (yet...)

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Post by Chilli-head on 19th June 2015, 8:00 pm

The end result: our first tomato !



Picked yesterday, 18 June.  This one is Royale des Guineaux.  It has been a really good year for the greenhouse stuff so far for me.  So often the first tomatoes are a bit bland, not so this one, it was fleshy and well flavoured.  Not a bad size either  Very Happy

Oh yes - thanks Dandelion; I did persevere with seeking out hoof and horn on the internet and 5kg came in the post today.  I will try some on my squashes and try some in my homemade tomato and pepper compost blend next year.
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Post by Dandelion on 19th June 2015, 10:56 pm

I'm pleased to see it was an imperial tomato, not a metric one!!
The tomatoes in my greenhouse are still small and green, while the outdoor ones haven't even got flowers yet! I can still anticipate though...

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The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters.

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Post by Ploshkin on 21st June 2015, 12:23 pm

That looks a good tomato CH - glad it had flavour. You are both ahead of me, I had a peer yesterday but haven't got as far yet as even a pinhead sized fruit, it won't be long though. I can't complain as I only put the plants out a fortnight ago & they've grown really quickly, mostly on their third truss.
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Post by Chilli-head on 21st June 2015, 9:39 pm

Dandelion wrote:I'm pleased to see it was an imperial tomato, not a metric one!!
Ah yes. I still garden and cook imperially ! I am quite inconsistent about this; work is of course fully metric. But distances for running, and walking, it's imperial. Woodwork is metric for cabinet making, imperial for green woodworking, and general DIY is mostly metric unless inches are more convenient - doors for example are still imperial sizes.

That tomato was well ahead of the rest. It will be a few days until I get a second one. But how big they are this year ! Orange banana looks brilliant - five trusses per plant, all with a good mumber of fruits. Can't wait to taste them.
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Post by freebird on 22nd June 2015, 8:52 am

Ha ha - you might be younger than me, CH, but I think it's an age thing! I mix my measuring systems too, depending on what is convenient. I still think in pounds and ounces. Linear measurements - small are millimetres, larger in feet!
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Post by Ploshkin on 22nd June 2015, 12:54 pm

Me too. I'm not bad on linear metric but can't get my head round weights though I will use metric if that's what a recipe is in and it is particularly convenient that mls & grammes are interchangeable for water. I do find myself combining when estimating - e.g. 3 metres & a couple of inches. Puts me in mind of a child when I was teaching who asked me if she could have a ruler with filligretres on it.
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Post by Dandelion on 22nd June 2015, 8:29 pm

Ha ha ha!!!

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Post by Chilli-head on 28th June 2015, 10:14 pm

A truly imperial tomato !



This is an Amish Gold, from seed I got rom the seed swap.  It is a whopping 1lb 1 1/2 oz.  It took two days for us to eat it !  Not the biggest flavour, but a glorious peachy gold inside, all flesh with hardly any pulp and seeds.
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