Tomatoes have always been one of my favourite fruits.
Little cherry tomatoes picked in the sunshine and eaten straight from the vine are simply THE best thing ever.
So it was no surprise that these little bundles of tasty goodness made it on the the list of vegetables and fruit to grow at the allotment this year.
However, I’ve not always found growing tomatoes to be a simple thing. Sometimes I’ve missed the sowing window and by the time they’ve developed fruits it’s autumn and there’s no chance of them ripening (hello green tomato chutney). On other occasions the pollination in the green house has been sketchy at best and I’ve had the saddest of tomato salads made with both of the tomatoes that developed.
The thing I’ve found hardest to manage though is stopping the skins from splitting.
But what’s splitting?
Well, let me explain..
Tomatoes are full of water, it’s what makes them so delicious and juicy. The general rule of thumb for watering most fruit and vegetables is to give your plants a good deep watering once or twice a week rather than a little and often. This encourages the plants to develop good root systems and prevents them from rotting.
This is where I’ve fallen off track with tomatoes. I’ve usually grown tomatoes in grow bags and found it really hard to tell if they’ve got enough water.
If you over water them, the water will either just run out of the drainage holes or flood the bag and rot the roots (rookie error number 1). If you grow them outside, how do you know if any of the rain fall has done the watering for you? If you err on the side of caution and under-water them, then try and compensate with a HUGE soaking, the skin of the tomato can’t cope with the sudden extra water supply. The tomato skin tears to give way to the extra water that the fruit is taking on and the tomato essentially bursts out of their skin.
This is splitting and it’s what catches me out every year.
But why is it bad?
Tomatoes that split can be prone to taking on disease which may pass on into the plant, plus once picked, they won’t store very well at all. The part that splits will generally rot first and who wants to eat rotten tomatoes?
This year I’m determined that it’s going to be different, so I’m trailing three different ways of growing tomatoes….
The first method I’m trialing is in hanging baskets.
I’m growing a tumbling tomato variety which is going to be small in size and is best suited to growing in small containers. I’m watering them more often than my other vegetables, 3-4 times per week until the water is flowing out through the basket drainage holes. Baskets and containers can dry out much quicker than grow bags, but with the basket only being small, it is much easier to tell when the compost is dry at the roots enabling me to give them all the water they need. Well, that’s the theory anyway!
The second method is planting directly into the open ground.
Ok, I know this is a massive risk, especially here in the north of England, but I’m putting all of my faith in the rich, moisture retentive clay soil I have at the allotment. Prior to planting out, I hardened off the plants and enriched the soil with a bag or two of compost. I’ve watered the plants at the base approximately twice per week, less so when it’s rained.
The last method I’m trying is Ring pots in grow bags.
Ring pots are watering systems that help regulate the amount of water the plant takes up, ensuring that they receive just the right amount of water whenever they need it. I planted one tomato plant per pot straight into the centre ring. I wanted to make sure that each plant developed a really good root system so I removed the bottom set of leaves and planted them really deep, filling any space in the centre ring with compost. Then, all I have to do is water into the outer ring. The underside of the ring has spikes with holes in which go through the plastic grow bag and deliver water directly to the roots. When all the water has been used, you simply refill the outer ring. Easy!
I’ve managed to fit 3 ring pots and their plants into one standard sized grow bag. I also made a bamboo cane support for each plant to tie into.
So that’s the Great Tomato Experiment.
Which way the tomatoes grow best is yet to be seen. At the time of writing, the tomatoes in baskets have masses of flowers and a few tomatoes have already developed. The tomatoes in the open ground are growing well but have decidedly less flowers that those in the baskets. The plants in the ring pots are really healthy and are looking super strong.
I can’t wait to see how they all do.
I’d love to hear how you grow tomatoes, and if you’ve ever tried any of the methods I’m using this year.
Happy gardening folks !