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.
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…
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:
The large knobbly ‘Marmande’ tomatoes showed slight blemishes.
Best of all, true to it’s reputation as a blight-resistant variety, ‘Ferline’ was almost untouched.
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.
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:
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.
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.
‘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.
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…
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…