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The Annual Invasion of the Half Ripe Tomatoes
Member Name: jammaker49
Date: 12/04/02, updated on 27/05/02 (5664 review reads)
Advantages: Nothing beats the taste of home-grown
Disadvantages: Take up quite a bit of time, and space!
Latin name, Lycopersicum Esculantum, no vegetable garden would be complete without some variety of tomato in its midst. They may be grown out in the open air, or under glass in a greenhouse. They also grow very successfully in a grow bag on the patio, or even in tubs.
Tomatoes grow best at temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. They do not flourish well at temperatures of less than 16 degrees, and above 81 degrees. Therefore, our climate in the United Kingdom is well suited to good growth. They also require copious amounts of water, on a regular basis, in order for the fruits to swell and ripen. The plants will not tolerate frost at all, which means they must not be planted out in the open until all risk of frost has passed.
Plants which are intended for greenhouse growth can be started each year in March. Plants intended for outdoor growth are best left until late April, as they cannot really be planted out in the open until June at the earliest, when all risk of frost has gone.
Fill flowerpots with garden compost, or special potting compost, leaving about an inch at the top. Put about 5 seeds on top of the compost, then cover with another inch of compost, water well, and cover with glass. Cling film could be used if glass is not available. Make sure that the soil does not d
ry out completely.
The seeds may take about 4 weeks to germinate and begin growing. Once the seedlings are about 2 inches above the soil, they need to be pricked out, and each one planted in its own pot. I find a teaspoon helpful here. The plant and its tiny root system can then be lifted with minimum disturbance, and placed gently into a hole made in a pot of compost, and pressed in. The plants will need to be kept watered at this stage, and placed somewhere where they will benefit from the warmth of the spring/early summer sun.
When the plants reach about 12 inches in height, and the first trusses of flowers are beginning to grow, they can be planted into the ground in their final “home”. A garden cane should be stuck in the ground beside each plant, so that as it grows, it can be tied in to keep it upright. It amazes me just how quickly the plants grow at this stage, and several tying in sessions will be needed.
CARING FOR THE PLANTS
If side shoots begin to grow (at the points where the truss bearing stems meet the main stem) these need removing. This ensures that the strength of the plant goes into the main trusses which will soon begin to show.
Some varieties of tomato can be grown as tumbling plants, where they can be planted in tubs or even hanging baskets, and allowed to “tumble” over the edges. Side shoots from these varieties can be left to grow, and these plants need no canes for support.
In greenhouses, the plants will obviously grow much quicker than outdoor varieties, and will also be much taller. They can be supported by growing them up strings, which can be fixed to the greenhouse roof, allowing the growing plants to climb up them.
For garden varieties, allow the plants to grow 4 trusses of flowers, and then pinch out the growing top shoots to limit growth. The plants will normally be about 3 feet tall by this stage. For greenhouse plants, there is no need to limit
height, so allow the plants to grow as tall as you can easily reach to pick the fruits when the ripen.
For grow bags, allow 3 plants per grow bag, and limit height to the four trusses. Double staking may be necessary, as the canes cannot be stuck in very deep, and as the weight of the tomatoes grows, they will need the extra support.
Whilst flowering, all varieties of tomatoes will need copious watering. A grow bag alone will tolerate upwards of five gallons a day when in direct sunlight. If allowed to dry out, the flowers will drop, and no tomatoes will form.
It is at this stage that the plants will need “feeding”. Tomatoes need high levels of phosphorus, and low levels of nitrogen, so a weekly feed of a specialised tomato feed, mixed with water, is vital to ensure a healthy crop. This can be done with a watering can, or a special reservoir which can be attached to a hosepipe. Be careful not to have the jet on too fiercely in the latter case.
ONCE THE FRUITS START TO SWELL
Whilst the fruits are still growing, they will still require a lot of water, and weekly feeding. However, once the fruit shows signs of ripening, watering should be cut down. If too much water is given at this stage, it can cause the skins to split, as the flesh swells faster than the skin can grow. They will still need regular watering, but just not as much of it.
As the fruits swell, make sure the trusses are tied up, and kept off the ground. Sometimes so much fruit grows, that the plants can become really weighty. Without support, they will drag on the ground, and the slugs, snails and other insects will make short work of the fruits! We will not use slug pellets, but a handy tip to deter the slugs is to place a ring of holly leaves under each plant. I wouldn’t like to be a slug crawling over holly! It won’t deter every single slug and snail, but it will keep out quite a few.
As fruit ripens, remove from t
he plant, complete with stalk, and store in a cool place.
AT THE END OF THE SEASON
Before the first frosts, remove any remaining fruit, and wrap individually in kitchen paper. Store in a box in a darkened place (the cupboard under the stairs is ideal). Check weekly, and remove any fruits that have ripened, or show signs of rot. We have had fresh tomatoes at Christmas by doing this.
Pull up the plants, which by now will be turning brown, and burn. This will ensure that, if any plants contacted a disease during growth, it won’t be left to transfer that disease into the ground over-winter.
TYPES OF TOMATO
There are endless varieties of tomato, but here are some that I have grown, in various ways.
Minibel. This is a tumbler variety, that can be grown in pots or tubs, and produces numerous bite sized red tomatoes.
Pixie. These are also container grown, but tend to be somewhat larger plants than the Minibel.
Moneymaker. The classic red tomato, grown in the cordon style using garden canes for support.
Golden Sunrise. Also grown up canes, but producing medium sized, yellow tomatoes. Beautifully sweet.
Sunglow. Cane grown, these produce orange coloured tomatoes.
Gardeners Delight. These can be container or garden grown, as bushes, needing no pricking out of side shoots. The produce dozens of tiny tomatoes, ideal for simply popping in the mouth! I eat these like sweets!
Big Boy. This is a beefsteak variety. Sliced, these are ideal for sandwiches, or fro putting on burgers at a barbecue. They can also be scooped out and stuffed to make a main course meal.
Tigerella. This is a deep red, with an almost tigerish stripe in the colouration. A nice salad garnish, due to its unusual colouring.
ME AND MY TOMATOES
As we have an allotment, we have the room for several tomato plants, and usually try to grow three or four different varieties each
year. I have already sown this year’s seeds, which are being kept on the patio under glass, to take advantage of any heat from the sun during the day. If there is a frost risk, we bring them in to the conservatory overnight. I have grown as many as 50 plants in one year, but half a dozen plants will keep the average family in tomatoes for several weeks.
As the fruits of our tomatoes show signs of ripening, I remove them from the plant, and line them up along the window ledges in the conservatory to ripen in the sun. The conservatory resembles something out of science fiction during the summer months, and the children christened it as “The invasion of the half green tomatoes!” As they fully ripen, we then transfer them to the fridge until needed, or utilised in some way. Friends and family are also kept supplied, as we grow far more than we need!
WHAT TO DO WITH ALL THESE TOMATOES
Luckily we like salads! So many of them are used in the course of our daily meals. I also keep a bowl of tiny tomatoes in the fridge, and help myself to them all day long. It doesn’t beat chocolate, but it CAN help the waistline!
I have also invested in a juicer, and when I become over-run with ripe tomatoes, I juice a number of them, and freeze the juice in ice-cube trays. They then get packed in plastic bags in the freezer, and I have a handy source of flavouring for soups stews and casseroles all through the winter months.
I also make a fat free Ratatouille which freezes well. Put a couple of pounds of chopped tomatoes in a large saucepan, with a chopped onion, three or four sliced courgettes and a tin or two of sweetcorn. Simmer until the onion is soft. Allow to cool, then freeze in single portions.
Green, unripe tomatoes can be used to make chutneys. Beefsteak tomatoes can be used as a sandwich filler, or scooped out and stuffed to provide a hearty main course, or a starter, depending on size.
As you can see, there is more to the common tomato than simply a red salad vegetable. All varieties have their own unique flavour, and all add colour to any amount of dishes. They are relatively easy to grow, once the seeds have germinated, and each plant produces enough fruit to warrant their inclusion in any garden.
Have a go. Try and find one of the more unusual varieties. My own favourite is the gold coloured Sungold. It is sweet and juicy, and eaten straight from the plant, still warm from the sun is like eating pure sunshine.
I certainly wouldn’t be without my trusty tomatoes.