I’ve been experimenting with tomatoes this year – which types to grow, how to grow them and how many we need. “Tomato Alley” – my name for the long row of outdoor tomatoes – got felled by blight last week. It’s an ugly disease, and spreads really rapidly.

Early in the second week of September, over night, the ‘Gold Nugget’ tomatoes started looking far from healthy.

blighted gold nugget tomatoes

At this point there was little to no sign of blight elsewhere. I don’t know what would have happened had I been able to clear the affected plants immediately. I do know what happened because I didn’t…

blighted tomato alley

Four days. That’s all it took. ‘Gold Nugget’ and all the ‘Red Tumbler’ and ‘Yellow Tumbler’ cherry tomatoes growing in pots around the patio were devastated. However, not all tomatoes are created equal! By contrast, the plum tomatoes, ‘Olivade’, were lightly kissed by the blight:

blighted-kissed olivade tomatoes

The large knobbly ‘Marmande’ tomatoes showed slight blemishes.

blighted marmande tomatoes

Best of all, true to it’s reputation as a blight-resistant variety, ‘Ferline’ was almost untouched.

blight-free ferline tomatoes

Like Mark, who recently posted about his own blighted tomatoes, all the affected plants – plus the apparently clear ‘Ferline’ ones – were bagged up and taken to the rubbish tip, as were all obviously affected tomatoes. This left us with a few ripe or nearly ripe fruit, and lots of green tomatoes.

last outdoor tomatoes

At this point the greenhouse tomatoes were mercifully clear, so we stopped leaving the door open during the day for ventilation, relying on the roof and side vents, and crossed our fingers, hoping the blight spores wouldn’t spread. It was all going well until today, when TNG noticed that lots of the greenhouse tomatoes (mostly ‘Gardener’s Delight’) were sporting a furry coat:

botrytis hits greenhouse tomatoes

Not good. Botrytis, or something like. So more clearing of plants, leaving only the still apparently healthy ‘Ferline’ and ‘Olivade’ tomatoes that I had grown inside just in case I got blight on the outdoor ones… I don’t know how long they will last, but it certainly means the year’s tomato experiments are at an end a few weeks before I was hoping.

A sorry end to the tomato-growing year, but I have definitely learnt a lot.

Sprawling tumbler

For instance, I won’t be growing ‘Red Tumbler’ or ‘Yellow Tumbler’ again. It sprawls untidily out of the pot, dragging fruit on the ground. Hard to pick, and although the plants produced lots of green fruit (the yellow one more than the red version for some reason), a lot never ripened. Most importantly, they don’t taste that great, or not in comparison to ‘Gardener’s Delight’ anyway. They would work better in hanging baskets, but then they would need more watering, and for me, not worth the effort.

Blight-free gold nugget

‘Gold Nugget’ (shown above in happier days), is clearly not blight resistant (!) but it does taste good. I’d grow it again, but as a cordon. It is supposed to crop well whether you pinch out the side shoots or not, and we certainly got a heavy crop, but they are really hard to pick grown like this, and look really untidy. So, sadly, my experiments with lazy tomato growing are at an end. By which I mean that if I do get lots of side shoots sprouting all over the place, it will indicate unintentional neglect rather than planning!

We really liked ‘Olivade’ (makes great pizza topping roasted with garlic), ‘Ferline’ (good in a sandwich) and ‘Marmande’ (also nice roasted, but great sliced with feta and mint and drizzled with olive oil and a little chilli). Top prize for taste has to go to the eternally – and deservedly – popular ‘Gardener’s Delight’. Sweet, juicy fruit that explode in the mouth with flavour. Heavy cropping too, but definitely a greenhouse variety.

I was also experimenting with what to grow the tomatoes in. I used the same compost for all of them – an organic peat-free compost designed for tomatoes. Growing them in a grow-bag held on it’s side by short canes cable-tied to a mini greenhouse frame worked really well, inside and out. I used 2l pots with the bottoms cut out to provide even more soil depth and to make watering and feeding easier. Growing them in 10l pots also worked well, but the big advantage of the mini greenhouse method was that there was a ready-made strong frame to tie them in to. Even the strongest winds left them intact.

Inside the greenhouse I used the mini greenhouse frame again, two of those grow rings you can buy that both give you extra soil depth and separate places to apply feed and to add water, and my ‘Heath Robinson’ self watering method.

self-watering tomatoes

I can’t really claim to have noticed much of a difference in cropping with the different methods, which makes sense since they all ended up with about the same quantity of compost. However, the self-watering tray makes looking after them really easy. Just keep the bottom tray topped up with water and they will take what they need to keep them happy, and the feed goes in the top where the feeder roots are concentrated. I think that’s my preferred method now, at least inside the greenhouse.

I put off posting about the tomatoes because I was so fed up with the blight attack – and my inability to nip it in the bud early. But it’s not all bad. We’ve had a great crop of interesting tomatoes this year, and although most of the rescued fruit ripened well indoors, I couldn’t resist trying out a ‘Green Tomato Chutney’ recipe from the book I won in a draw from Michelle@Veg Plotting. Of course I couldn’t bring myself to stick to the recipe, so it got a little more garlic and a couple of our home grown chillies too, but even straight out of the pan it tastes delicious. I plan on having some with ham at Christmas…

green tomato chutney

Better yet, my nemesis plant, basil, finally grew for me this year. I cleared it at the same time I cleared the tomatoes, and made fresh pesto.


So delicious, all the more so for it having taken me 5 years (yes, FIVE!) to get to this point.

I doubt I will be growing tomatoes next year, as we will have the house on the market in the Spring and will hopefully have moved by the time they would be starting to fruit. I’ll miss picking sun-warmed ripe tomatoes and eating them as I wander round the garden, but once we are settled, there will be more experiments with tomatoes. And basil…

35 thoughts on “Tomatoes 2011: The results are in

  1. Very sorry to hear about this. Blight is just awful (as I learned this year) and it takes no time for it to spread. I’m amazed that you were able to pick some fruit green and get it to ripen. I tried this, even washing the fruit down first to get rid of spores, but they still rotted. Good to hear there are some varieties that have some resistance as I was under the impression none were.

    1. Hi Marguerite. I had to watch the green fruit carefully and chuck everything that started to show signs of blight developing. I am hoping that just washing the fruit will work for the ones with a light dusting of botrytis though.

  2. Hi Janet,

    Sorry to hear you have blight :/
    My Tomatoes are still going strong, and we usually have them well into November and December – at which point they’re practically no longer ripening but, still alive none-the-less.

    This year I only have Gardener’s Delight, and have been enjoying cheese with my homegrown tomatoes and lettuce (and the odd spring onion) for weeks now… Om nom nom.

    If next year you’re busy moving during tomato-planting time, you could always at least buy some small plants from somewhere so you still get to enjoy them later in the season once you’ve moved :D

    1. *jealous*… I’d really hoped to have tomatoes into November this year, but my efforts to protect the greenhouse from the blight spores just encouraged the botrytis. Ah well. I’ll still have a few ham and tomato sandwiches to enjoy – lettuce too if I remember to pick any. Which reminds me, since I now have room in the greenhouse, I might as well sow some winter lettuce…

      I’ll certainly think about buying a few tomato plants if the timing looks as if it will work – everything is so much up in the air at the moment, I’m trying to work out if it is worth putting onions in at the plot for next June, but had no idea if we will be here to pick them…

  3. Blight is a real problem and has put us off growing tomatoes outdoors – it even sneaks into the allotment greenhouse but so far our garden greenhouse usually escapes (touch wood). This year though the really dry conditions seem to have kept blight at bay on the plot. I guess the fact that the potatoes had hardly any top growth helped too as it died down really early.

    I still haven’t succeeded with basil!

    1. Hi Sue, glad to hear that your plot is blight-free. One of my plot neighbours seems to have a good crop of outdoor toms, so I am guessing that ours is fairly clear of it too. I am still shocked at my basil success – less water appeared to be the key!

  4. As I read down the post, I was thinking ‘oh no! oh no!’ and thought it was all going to be bad news – and after you had put so much work into them! I then began to be amazed at how many you are growing. A veritable farm! Then I realised we hadn’t reached the 101 plants section but 10 litre pots. Even so, you’ve lots! So glad some are ok and that you aren’t giving up for ever. Blight can blight one’s spirits as well as one’s plants.

    1. Hi Esther, sorry for the emotional rollercoaster – and the 101 vs. 10 litres confusion… I must admit I was briefly blighted in spirits, but I think I was lucky, in that we had already been eating lots of lovely outdoor tomatoes so it was better than losing everything before we had even benefited. I suspect that growing such untidy and congested ‘Gold Nugget’ toms didn’t help matters…

  5. Mine were okay one day and all badly affected two days later. I only grow a handful, this year all Gardener’s Delight, but would have liked a few more ripe ones that I did get. Maybe next year when whatever I grow will include some yellow ones such as Golden Queen.

    1. Hi Flighty, I haven’t come across ‘Golden Queen’, I might have to try that instead. Its is shocking how quickly it can devastate a plant, isn’t it. Lets hope we both have better luck with the next crop!

  6. Gardener’s Delight is my favourite too, just the right size to eat whole. Sorry to hear about your tomato blight, I was looking forward to the results of your experiments, still learnt some good tips from your post.

    1. Hi b-a-g, ‘Gardener’s Delight’ by the handful at lunch – so yummy, and will be so missed. Supermarket ones are just not the same. Glad you got something from the experiments, it was interesting that there was no discernible difference in growth or cropping between the different growing methods. At least it means I don’t feel I should rush out and invest in lots of those grow-rings!

  7. I have grown to love “Ferline”! Initially, when it was new, I was not impressed, because it does suffer quite badly from Blossom End Rot, but this is a small problem compared with blight, and Ferline does seem to keep going when others give in.
    I had the same issues as you with small yellow tomatoes – I had “Tumbling Junior Yellow, which were unruly, thick-skinned and the first to succumb to the blight.

    1. Hi Mark, glad it wasn’t just me with the tumblers – and yes, tough skins too. I was lucky and didn’t get any blossom end rot on my Ferline. Early on in the season I wasn’t particularly impressed by the taste, but they developed more sweetness later on, and roast beautifully.

  8. I hate to say this but I had no trouble with blight, indoors or out, everything ripened beautifully and I still have some Sungold (my absolute favourite) and tumblers left. I grew Tigerella again this year, which are very sweet, Consteluto Fiorentino big ridged cooking tomatoes and Gardeners Delight which did brilliantly this year, but they seemed larger than normal. I planted everything quite early and I think this helped as they cropped and finished before the blight season – it has been really dry here, perhaps that helped.

    1. I’ll forgive you Elaine – I had been lulled into a false sense of security, as I had no problems last year! Part of it might have been too many plants too close together. I must try ‘Sungold’ again, I tasted some grown by someone else, and loved them, but wasn’t thrilled with the taste when I grew them last year. I might have to look at Tigerella, they are so pretty, and if they taste good as well…

  9. Those Ferline Tomatoes are lovely! I hadn’t heard of that variety before. My Better Boys have never had blight either, although many folks in the area report blight problems–more some years than others. Blossom End Rot has been more of a problem for me–but not with Better Boys. Enjoy the harvest!

    1. What a great name for a tomato – ‘Better Boys’, sounds as if they are living up to their billing for you, too. It isn’t a variety that appears to be available in the UK. Glad to hear you are blight-free, enjoy the fruits of a good choice of crop.

  10. So sorry to hear about all your problems with blight, it must be so frustrating after all your efforts, I don’t grow any because they are bad for my arthritis. Was very impressed with your chutney and pesto, have never managed to grow enough basil to do that!

    1. Hi Pauline, I was amazed that the basil grew so well this year, someone left me a comment (I must find out who and thank them) that I should try less water, and it seems to have worked.

  11. Great post, though sorry your tomatoes were struck by blight. Had no idea it was that vicious, only 4 days to kill so many plants. I have never tried green tomato chutney, sounds delicious. May give that a go – though will probably steer away from original recipe just as you did! I do like garlic and chillies!

    1. Hi Petra, I can thoroughly recommend the addition of chilli and garlic – though it sounds as if we are kindred spirits on that score, they are two ingredients that make an appearance in most savoury food I cook! I was amazed at the speed of the devastation. I’ll know another time, pounce as soon as you see the first signs and maybe you will get to harvest more fruit.

  12. Hi Janet, it is annoying I never get notified about your post until the following day. However, worth waiting for as it is so helpful to all us vegetable growers to know how different varieties behave. I think blight in autumn in the UK is pretty normal; there was hardly a year when mine didn’t succumb. I’ll try to write a report about my experiences with tomatoes too. I’m interested about how you did your pesto. I usually just chop the basil and freeze it like that and make up the pesto as I need it. Did you have to cook it in the jars? Christina

    1. Hi Christina, I don’t know why there is a delay on the feed from wordpress blog posts, I agree, it is annoying! I assume other people find the post almost immediately by some other means, but email notification is my favourite way of keeping up with the people I follow.

      I’ll look forward to reading about your tomatoes – and am hoping you will do a greenhouse update some time too? I’d love to know how it has all gone, this first growing season.

      The pesto was stupidly easy. Bung pine nuts and garlic into food processor and blitz until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add handfuls of basil and pulse until mixed in failry well, and then run the processor on low while drizzling in enough olive oil to get a grainy paste-like consistency. Finally stir in grated parmigiana, add more olive oil if you want it more loose, and add lemon juice and black pepper to taste. Put it in sterilised jars and make sure there is a film of olive oil over the top to help it last longer. Delicious!

  13. Sorry to hear about the blight and the issues with the lazy tomatoes – interesting post! You’ve really gone for it – I need to do a round up of my own tomatoes, the last of them are tailing off now.

    Nice looking chutney (thanks for the link) and the pesto – wow!!!

    I hope you get sorted and moved before the bulk of the season is over.

    1. Hi Fay, yes, do post about your tomatoes, you got so many, growing them indoors. Moving is going to be a long drawn-out affair. Peter’s Uncle is ill so MIL will be off in US for most of October, November, December. FIL is winding up his business and then working for the new owner for a couple of months. We will put the house on the market in the New Year, but things are moving so slowly we will be lucky to sell by the summer, and be in to our new home (wherever that turns out to be) by next Christmas! Eeek…

  14. HI Janet, still a good yield from those that weren’t affected by blight :) And well done with your success with basil, those pesto look yummy!

    Good luck with the move, hope it goes smoothly :)

    1. It has been a great year for most of the tomatoes, so the blight didn’t blight my spirits as much as it might have done – though I do now have a bad case of tomato envy when I hear about people who have still-cropping plants!!

    2. PS We’ll need a lot of luck with this move – it all feels a long way of still, so much so that I am going to order bulbs as if we were staying another year, in the hope that it has some sort of magical effect on the log-jam of things that will otherwise make the phrase “The Year of the Move” an accurate description of it taking us all of next year!!

  15. Blight is just awful. That stinks that you lost so much of your tomato crop. Our garden was so terribly infected last summer that we were advised to let the garden rest for a year – I couldn’t get rid of it! Hopefully next summer, we’ll be able to have a veggie garden again.

    Thanks for all of the info on the different varieties. I tend to be a chicken about trying new tomato varieties – but blight resistant ones will be the only ones I plant from here on in. It’s too heartbreaking to watch your crops die like that.

    Thanks for the idea about the green tomato chutney – I’ll remember that for next year!

    1. Oh Denine, that sounds awful! No wonder you are going to be sticking to blight-resistant varieties. I hope you have a wonderfully productive vege patch next year.

    1. Revolting stuff. And I can’t even compost the waste. But yes, we did have a great crop before it took hold, so I can’t complain too much!

  16. So sorry about the blight that took your lovely tomatoes so quickly. Times like that make it very frustrating to garden.
    I was going to suggest fried green tomatoes but it looks as though you have found a great green tomato chutney instead!

    1. Hi Janet, I was planning on doing both, if only in homage to one of my favourite films, but the other healthy green tomatoes all ripened really well and got turned in to roast tomato pizza topping!

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