Fully resistant strain for blight-free tomato growing in 2016
When it comes to blight-free tomato growing, Thompson & Morgan has it covered. Having promoted the world’s first late blight resistant outdoor cherry plum as Vegetable of the Year 2015, the mail order specialist has named fully blight resistant Tomato Mountain Magic F1 as its Vegetable of the Year for 2016.
Blight is a rising problem for UK growers, especially for plants raised outdoors, due to increasingly wet and humid summer weather – conditions the fungal disease thrives under. Mountain Magic F1 has been developed with outdoor growers in mind, meaning gardeners don’t have to invest in costly greenhouses to carry on growing the nation’s favourite grow-your-own vegetable.
Mountain Magic F1 is a cordon-trained variety ideal for sunny veg patches and borders, as well as grow bags and patio containers. Combining the rich flavour of heritage varieties with modern F1 hybrid disease resistance, this tasty tom has everything going for it! Not only does it have good resistance to early blight, it carries the late blight-busting Ph-2 and Ph-3 genes, giving it protection against all current British strains including Pink6 and Blue13, the most virulent to hit UK crops. It also has in-built genetic resistance to both verticillium and fusarium wilt as well as skin cracking.
The variety joins last year’s introduction, Romello F1, a compact, blight resistant baby plum variety. Fruits weigh 16-18g and grow towards the outside of the plant for easy picking. Romello F1, makes the ideal cherry tomato for salads or picking straight from the vine, alternatively treat it as a mini plum for the perfect pasta sauce. Romello F1 retails at £3.99 for six seeds.
Mountain Magic F1 is truly all-purpose – eat it from the vine, slice for salads, salsas and sandwiches, or use as a cooker or sauce base. Mountain Magic F1 retails at £3.99 for five seeds.
Both blight resistant varieties are ideal for an April sowing under cover, for planting outside in early June.
Thompson & Morgan Vegetable Product Manager Colin Randel said: “These two tasty toughies cover a range of kitchen uses as well as offering the antidote to blight problems on the veg patch. There isn’t a better duo for risk-free outdoor growing. Mountain Magic certainly deserves its title of Vegetable of the Year for 2016.”
Find out more about Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ F1 Hybrid by clicking here
As daylight starts to dwindle from the June solstice onwards, thoughts are more of growing and harvesting than of sowing. Yet the later summer months, August and September, alongside those of early autumn, are still bright enough for growing a handful of hardy crops.
Lettuces, quick-maturing and tolerant of cool temperatures, are a good example. Certain varieties can be started now for a late autumn or early winter harvest. Others, like the well-known “Arctic King” or the cos variety “Winter Density”, can be sown in September and October for lush spring pickings.
I’m gardening in a ruthlessly small urban space. I have about fifteen pots, a metre by half-a-metre raised bed, and a mini greenhouse. Most of that space is now standing bare. So in this blog I want to share some advice about the lettuces I’ll be starting from seed. The hope is for a harvest before, and soon after, the year’s end…one that also makes use of all those leftover plastic pots!
What & When to Plant Lettuce
There are four main types of lettuce: cos, butterhead, loose-leaf, and crisphead. Cos and crispheads – the most popular variety in the UK is “iceberg lettuce” – both form tight hearts and take longer to mature. The butterheads, so named for their waxy leaves, and loose-leaf varieties tend to be quicker growing and can often be harvested in as little as ten weeks after sowing.
I’ll be growing cold-weather tolerant butterhead and loose-leaf varieties for a late autumn crop (October through November), and winter varieties of crisphead lettuce for an early to mid-winter one (December through February). Other slower growing varieties, like Robinson’s, Winter Gem, and aforementioned Arctic King, can be planted now and will mature in time for spring.
Lettuce for a late autumn crop (Oct-Dec): Any cold-resistant, fast-growing butterhead or loose-leaf. I’ll be trying Tom Thumb, All the Year Round, Marvel of Four Seasons and Valdor. I’m also going to see how Lollo Rosso fares.
Lettuce for early/mid winter crop (Jan-Mar): Crisphead varieties able to withstand cold temperatures, like Robinson, Match and Winter Purslane.
Lettuce for an early spring crop: Slow-growing and cold-hardy: Arctic King, Winter Gem, Winter Density.
Lettuce in cloches
Because I’m mainly growing outdoors, I’m a little wary of the colder weather that can set in from September onwards. My simple home-made cloches are comprised of bamboo canes and polythene sheeting held together by twist ties.
I think a lot of people hear the word “cloche” and immediately think of an overly-expensive contraption. Making one at home is a simple task. Otherwise, you can buy cheap “tunnels” online. Equally, I’ll be adding some netting to protect against birds and caterpillars. Monty Don recommends it…so it must be right!
Growing Lettuce Indoors
If you’re growing indoors, on a north, west or east-facing window sill, then you obviously don’t need to worry about either cold or pests. Make sure to water regularly, as the need is greater indoors.
Getting the Soil Just Right
They like it moist, fairly nutrient-rich (but not overly so), and non-acid. I’m using the old soil in my pots so I’ll be adding about a third of fresh compost, a few handfuls of vermiculite and perlite to assist with moisture retention and drainage, and a half-strength slow-release fish, bone and blood-meal fertilizer. After about eight weeks (six weeks is normally given), if you haven’t added any fertilizer, you will need to start a feeding regimen. Remember that, because of the waning light, growth will be slower. Use a slightly more dilute version than usual.
Composted manure, because it’s high in nitrogen, which is responsible for stimulating foliage growth, is also a good alternative to compost. A high nitrogen medium will be an obvious benefit to any plant grown for their leaves.
All of that said, if you can only get your hands on is a bag of multi-purpose compost that will do the job. I’ve grown lots of plants, including lettuces, using the simple bagged compost from B&Q. My main worry is about is about not having the roots stand in cold water, as the roots can freeze.
Lettuces with tight hearts (the crisphead and cos types) should be harvested in one go by pulling. Loose-leaf and butterhead varieties can be harvested with a “cut and come” approach, in which leaves are snipped off about half an inch above the soil level, from which new growth emerges. With later-season growing, I’ve found it’s not always a good idea to take this approach, because light levels won’t stimulate much additional growth. I find it better to let the whole plant grow as big as possible then harvest in one go.
Herb gardens are becoming increasingly popular as gardeners discover how easy they are to grow and maintain. You don’t even need a large piece of land to grow your own herbs in your garden as they will happily thrive in beds, containers, windowsills and even hanging baskets.
When growing an herb garden it is worth thinking about which herbs you are going to use, annual, perennial or biennial. Annual herbs such as basil, coriander, dill and chervil are fast growing and may need to be sown at intervals throughout spring and summer to ensure you have a continuous fresh supply.
How to grow Basil
Basil seed can be sown from February to June, or for indoor cultivation sown throughout the year out of season. Basil requires sustained warmth so it is best kept on a sunny windowsill, in a propagator at a temperature of 15-25C (59-77F) or seal the container inside a polythene bag until after germination, which takes 14-21 days. When they are large enough to handle, transplant seedlings into 7.5cm (3in) pots and grow basil plants on in cooler conditions.
Perennial plants such as mint, thyme, sage and chive are slower growing than annual herbs and require more of a permanent location.
How to grow Mint
Mint is an easy to grow perennial herb, requiring minimal attention and returning year after year. Sow mint seeds indoors or under glass from winter to early summer. Place the seed tray in a propagator at a temperature of 21-24C (70-75F) and when seedlings are large enough to handle, transplant into 7.5cm (3″) pots and grow on in cooler conditions. Once all risk of frost has passed gradually acclimatise before placing outside.
Growing herbs in containers
Growing herbs in containers is the perfect option for those who are limited on space. They will be most convenient placed on the patio by your back door, where they are within easy reach when cooking. For larger herbs such as rosemary, make sure you use a larger pot so they are less likely to dry out. The best compost to grow herbs in is loam-based compost such as John Innes and feed your pot-grown herbs regularly with a balanced fertiliser throughout the growing season.
Top tips for growing herbs
1. Trimming herbs in the spring will encourage a flush of new healthy leaves.
2. Dead-head your herbs as the flowers start to fade to channel their energy into leaf growth.
3. In the autumn it’s best to leave any dead foliage on the plant to help protect it throughout winter.
4. Re-pot after a few years if your herb plants start to look weak and dry out quickly.
5. When harvesting herbs, remove foliage from the outside of the plant, allowing new leaves to develop in the centre.
Which vegetables will store and how long will they keep? This is an annual dilemma faced by many gardeners. Often the need for storage is caused by gardeners being too generous in their sowings and planting and creating their own ‘gluts’ and ‘surpluses’. Why plant 200 onion sets if you only use a single bulb per week?
Colin Randel, Thompson & Morgan’s vegetable new product manager, advises how best to store vegetables.
Sowing little and often reduces the wastage and ‘glut’ of the most popular subjects – lettuce, spinach, radish, spring onions, beets. Some of these, particularly the leafy vegetables, are unsuitable for storing anyway, as they quickly go limp, lose their freshness and eye appeal.
The most important thing to remember is ‘fresh is best’, that is why you are growing your own in the first place – for their taste, freshness, quality and nutritional values.
Freeze surpluses of shelling peas and sweetcorn, as they quickly lose their freshness and taste once picked. Frozen peas are one of the few vegetables that are worth buying in the supermarket as they are harvested and frozen very quickly, so maintaining their taste and nutrition. With broad beans, the green seeded varieties are less prone to discolouring in the freezer. French and runner bean varieties freeze exceptionally well.
Winter cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, savoy and winter cabbage are best left where they are growing, although need to be netted against pigeons. They can be dug up, leaving the soil attached to the roots and hung upside down by tying with string suspended from a beam in your shed. They will store for a good couple of months.
Lift the bulbs on a dry, sunny but windy day and leave them on the soil surface to ‘set’ skins. Do not rub these off. Carefully remove any soil from the roots, and store sound bulbs in slatted trays, used tights, polypropylene onion nets or tied in ropes and hung in the shed.
Maincrop beet, carrots, parsnip, swede, turnip,
These can be left in the soil, although soil pests and rodents may take advantage, and prolonged severely cold soil temperatures can affect the root texture and reduce quality and flavour. We suggest lifting some of your roots, twisting off the leaves and storing in boxes in layers of barely damp multipurpose compost, sieved soil or sand. Keep cool but frost free. Place a blanket over the boxes to keep them dark. Roots in boxes should not touch each other to avoid rots spreading and to allow easier air movement and moisture between the roots.
Leeks and trench celery
These really are best left where they are and lifted as required. The soil can be earthed further up the stems to protect them during the harshest weather.
Sound, dry, fully ‘set’ skin tubers are best stored in hessian sacks or thick paper bags and covered with a blanket to block out any light. Potatoes must be stored in cool but frost free conditions in the dark and will store for many months.
- Store only blemish free, sound, good quality produce
- Check stored produce regularly and remove any showing rotting or symptoms of disease
- Never store in polythene as sweating will quickly encourage rotting
- Sheds/garages should be cool but frost free, although using blankets for insulation and darkness may suffice
- Ideally some air circulation is beneficial for storing most crops.
How to successfully grow your TomTato® plants
We’ve had an amazing amount of interest in our TomTato® plants and news of the new innovation has spread throughout the world!
TomTato® is available to buy from the Thompson & Morgan website, but only to customers in the UK and only as plants. To help you get the best results from your TomTato® plants, we’ve put together a few FAQs with some top advice from our horticultural experts. We recommend bookmarking this page so that you can find it easily when your plants have been delivered.
- Are they resistant to blight?
TomTato® plants have good tolerance to blight. In the last few years of trials, none of the plants in our nursery were affected by blight.
- How do I dig up the potatoes without destroying the tomato plant?
The tomatoes will have finished their harvest period by the time the potatoes are ready to lift. This begins in August and goes through to late September.
- Are the potatoes a maincrop or a late variety?
The potatoes in TomTato® are a late variety. We chose this variety specifically so that the tomatoes are ready to harvest first, allowing you to harvest the two crops independently of each other.
- What type of plant feed should I use?
We recommend using Chempak® Soluble Tomato Food.
- Which compost is best?
Any general multipurpose type will be fine for growing TomTato®.
- How deep should I plant them?
Plant them deep enough to cover the graft point on the plant stem. As the potatoes begin to form, top up the container with soil or earth up the plants if you’re growing them in open ground to stop the potatoes being exposed to sunlight and turning green.
- Is the tomato a bush or cordon variety?
This particular tomato is a cordon variety that grows very quickly. You’ll need to tie the shoots to their support on a regular basis. Removing side shoots each week will also help to keep the plant healthy.
- How many potatoes will each plant grow?
You’ll get approximately 15-20 potatoes from each plant, which is about 2kg.
- What about watering? Tomatoes need a lot, but potatoes don’t.
As tomatoes are very thirsty during the main season (July and August) this will not be a problem – the main thing is not to overwater in the early stages before the tomatoes set fruit. Potatoes usually only suffer if they are developing in the bottom of a damp planter. With the TomTato® plants the potatoes set nearer to the middle and top layer of compost, from where the water will naturally drain.
There is really nothing like the taste of home grown peas.
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