It’s that time of year again when all keen gardeners and allotment plot holders with a greenhouse get quite excited about this year’s challenge of growing better tomatoes than last year.
Tomatoes take priority from most other crops under glass as the reward of fresh produce over the summer season makes the effort very worthwhile.
Good varieties to grow
Every year new varieties appear so we all like to try something new, but still stick to some of our tried and tested successful varieties.
In my Dundee greenhouse my hard to beat main crop remains Alicante though others swear by Shirley, and my best red cherry type is Sweet Million, and Sungold my best yellow cherry.
This year I have added Yellow Delight to my yellow cherry types and Red Cherry to compete with Sweet Million.
I don’t usually go for the plum or beefsteak tomatoes but this year I will try out Marmande, a large fruited beefsteak type with few seeds.
However seed catalogues list a huge range of varieties so every year you can try out a couple of new ones to put to the test.
For those lacking a greenhouse it is worth trying a bush tomato such as Tumbler, Montello, Peardrops, Hundreds and Thousands or Tumbling Tom in pots plunged into growbags (two to a bag) or in a hanging basket.
Up north it may be best to select a sheltered south facing wall to give them some warmth and protect them from cold fierce winds.
Sow seed in early March in shallow seed trays then about three weeks later they should be ready to prick out into small pots.
Grow these for another couple of weeks then transplant into bigger pots.
Wait till the first flower on the first truss has opened as a guide to when to plant into their final positions.
They can be grown in large pots, grow bags or border soil in a greenhouse or outdoors if sheltered and against a south facing warm wall.
If using the border soil in a greenhouse there is a chance of getting bacterial wilt disease after a few years.
However you can dig out the infected soil, sterilise the border and replace it with fresh soil.
This is very hard work, but a great exercise and growing tomatoes in soil results in a full flavoured crop that is hard to beat when picked and consumed fresh off the vine.
Bush and trailing varieties are left to grow naturally, but the rest are grown as upright cordons supported on canes or strong string tied at roof height to a strong support as there is a lot of weight once they all get into full cropping.
Remove all side shoots carefully as they grow and give the cordons a daily wee shake to assist self pollination.
Keep water off the foliage and give plenty ventilation to keep fungal diseases at bay. Start feeding with tomato fertiliser as the first truss fruits begin to swell and continue weekly.
Keep the plants well watered to prevent blossom end rot due to calcium deficiency as this mineral needs moisture to carry into all parts of the plant.
Cropping and use
Allow the fruit to ripen up fully before picking to gain the maximum flavour.
Fresh tomatoes fully ripe in a summer salad are just heavenly and the red and yellow cherry tomatoes sitting in a bowl on the table are hard to resist when walking by.
Even when crops are at their peak in mid season there is always a use for some tomatoes.
A bacon, egg and mushroom fry up needs some tomatoes, then pasta is enhanced by adding tomatoes and they are almost essential on a pizza.
As the cropping glut continues surplus can be skinned for a delicious tomato soup.
After this surplus can be frozen without any preparation to be used as required till the following years crops arrive.
Wee jobs to do this week
The first week in May is my traditional time to sow courgettes and pumpkins in the greenhouse.
I sow them in shallow wide pots then after germination, prick them out individually into small pots.
They will get potted up again after a couple of weeks as they grow fast and should be ready to plant out early in June when all danger of a late frost is passed.