Am I celebrating? I certainly seem to be a one-woman tomato fiesta. If I was on a desert island I would hope that I had tomato and basil seeds sufficient for several years. Fortunately, I am not yet on the island and I can confirm that I will celebrate British Tomato Week (May 15-21) officially, and as long as there are tomatoes on the plants I am growing this year. During British Tomato Week and all through the summer there are events organised by the British Tomato Growers Association (www.britishtomatoes.co.uk).
For my part, I hope that by the end of the month, weather permitting, I will be planting out into the ground, growbags and other containers, my own fine collection of tomato plants.
Each year I tell myself that less is more, but here I am again with tomatoes I just cannot resist. I started off with three plants of an heirloom tomato, Auld Sod, which are doing very well. You may remember I purchased these plants and some seed of the same, plus seed of Red Grape Sugar Plum, Japanese Black Truffle Tomato and Jaune Flammé Tomato from Heirloom Tomatoes Ltd (www.heirloomtoms.org) when I went to the Edible Garden Show earlier this year. I should have stopped there but no, I didn’t.
I have a small, but beautiful collection of seedlings at various stages. They were sown into trays and jiffy pots and kept in an indoor greenhouse/propagator. Now they are hardening off in a very makeshift temporary growhouse/coldframe. I own up to having sown the following: Yellow Stuffer, Black Russian, The Amateur (Thompson & Morgan Heritage Collection); Sweet Baby, Gartenperle and Venus (Thompson & Morgan www.thompson-morgan.com); Tropical Ruby and Chocolate Cherry (Marshalls www. Marshalls-seeds.co.uk), Little Sun. Sweet’n’Neat Cherry and Sweet ‘n’Neat Yellow (Suttons www.suttons.co.uk); and then Cherry Falls, Sparta F1 and Gardener’s Delight (Mr. Fothergill’s www.mr-fothergills.co.uk). There is a just discernable pattern – I am keen to try small patio varieties, as well as dark-coloured tomatoes and yellow ones…
Anyhow, they have been sown; some are growing on in various places indoors and in the makeshift greenhouse but I cannot wait for the first fruits. When they are ready to harvest, most of them don’t actually make it back to the kitchen, as I do what a small friend of mine does, I “straight-eat” them off the bush.
But there is more: in addition I have on order some grafted tomatoes. I grew several of these last year and although I won’t give up on seed-sowing, paying a bit more and waiting for the tomatoes to arrive, might be the sensible plan as time goes on. Good tomato varieties are grafted onto strong-growing rootstocks. The resultant plants are vigorous, producing larger plants and heavier crops. They will grow well without heat, so I am trying them in the hottest part of my garden in containers or direct in the ground. They start to crop earlier in spring and keep going over a longer period into autumn. The other benefit of the grafted varieties is that they have greater resistance to diseases.
When I plant them out into the ground or containers, I need to make sure that the graft union is just above the soil level. Whether they are in the ground or containers, grafted plants need regular watering to prevent the roots drying out.
For any tomato plants, once the first flowers show, I will apply a liquid feed at least twice a week. I won’t nip out the side-shots of the bush, tumbling and compact varieties, but the vining or cordon types and the turbo-grafted tomatoes need to have the side-shoots nipped out when the are about 1in long. These tomatoes are grown up canes, and are tied in at intervals up the cane to support them.
Then I will just have to hope that I have basil ready to harvest to make that veg garden marriage made in heaven of tomatoes, basil and olive oil… served hot or cold….
Photos and text copyright Barbara Segall 2011