Tomatoes in the Greenhouse
19th Apr 2001
At this time of year I'm often amazed how I manage to find fit everything onto my two greenhouses and two polytunnels, particularly now that the bedding plants are taking more and more space as they are pricked out into individual trays.
I shall therefore be glad to plant up my tomatoes any day now as well as giving away the surplus ones to friends. There's no doubt that tomatoes certainly need more bench room than many other plants as they very quickly grow on under good growing conditions and before you know it, they will be tall and leggy unless given extra room to develop.
Shelf Life Variety
I am banking in the main on a recently introduced variety in my catalogue called Solution, even though this newer shelf life variety was only introduced two years ago it has already won at the highest level. The beauty for the exhibitor of these vine ripe or shelf life varieties is the fact that the fruit stay firm on the plant for days after it has turned red. This obviously has great advantages for the exhibitor as he can leave the fruits on for over a week prior to making a final selection and those tomatoes would still remain firm. Another great advantage of course is the taste, I honestly believe that these vine ripe varieties are certainly tastier than some of the more traditional types.
My tomatoes are currently in 4 inch square pots and are spaced out on the bench so that the tips of the leaves are barely touching each other giving me sturdier, stronger plants to select from. These days I only plant fourteen, in two rows, along my twelve foot long greenhouse having made a mental note of Frank Mercers advice to give each plant more room in order to prevent botrytis from affecting both plant and fruits. The point is that you are much better off with less plants, they will be more likely to remain disease free consequently giving you more tomatoes to pick from.
Even the master at growing them, Charles Maisey admitted to me that he also took Franks advice last year after reading it in my column and after two successive disaster years with botrytis, Charlie reduced the numbers he was growing by half and last year was again as unbeatable as ever.
Wooden Form Work
A couple of years ago I had a strong wooden form work made to grow them in, it's made from old scaffold boards and fits along one side of the house and measures just under three foot wide. This actually comes in very handy during the Winter months as well as I simply raise it above the floor onto some brick pillars to form the framework of a strong bench.
The bottom of the framework sits on the concrete and this in turn is covered with some capillary matting then a layer of some rotten manure, this will then be covered with top soil; and finally with Gro bag material. The peat based compost and soil will be well mixed together and should sustain the plants well should they become under stress. The plants will be planted quite deep, usually with the bottom leaf nearly sitting on the compost. The first truss will usually be just formed on the plant which means that I can get the other trusses to follow fairly close to each other. As I normally stop mine when they have reached the glass, this is an important consideration.
Immediately after planting, every plant will be given about a pint of water each, depending on the moisture content of the bags, if they are wet then only half a pint will be given. This is really just enough to make sure that the compost is in immediate contact with the root system and no more water will be given until the plants are seen to be really growing away.
Covering the glass with some Cool glass or similar material is a must if you are to get fruit that are totally unmarked. Many times when I have been judging I have seen top quality tomatoes, for shape and uniformity, being down pointed because of faint hairline cracks around the upper surface which can be caused by the direct rays of the sun.
Adequate support is a must as well and strong canes are positioned just behind the plants immediately they are planted and attached to strong wires running the length of the house. Do makes sure that these wires are in good condition, there"s nothing worse that a wire snapping under the weight of plants that are full of tomatoes, it can mean a seasons work ruined in a matter of minutes.
Parsnips seem to have taken an exceptionally long time to germinate for me this year, mine went in on the 20th of February and were just popping through the compost on April the first. That is nearly six weeks and the longest period I can remember in all my years of growing. Some years I have had them through in a fortnight, even ten days under glass at Bangor in ideal growing conditions. We have had some disastrous weather over here, rain, cold, snow and Ice, we've had the lot, let's just hope we have a lovely warm Summer to compensate for the bad Winter.