One of the main reasons for the increase in gardening activity at our house was to grow our own fruit and vegetables. As mentioned previously, we have 4 raised beds that have been neglected for a few years now and so it makes sense to restore and use them. They are in an ideal spot in the garden where the ground is relatively level.
The first thing that I wanted to grow was tomatoes. What could be easier right? Furthermore the Isle of Wight is quite famous for them (http://www.thetomatostall.co.uk/). Not as much as the garlic (www.thegarlicfarm.co.uk), but Island tomatoes are great.
In my head I thought that I’d dig over one of the raised beds (I’d already sprayed the existing 3 feet high weeds with Roundup), mix in some compost (not home-made, naturally), add some tomato feed, and plant the little, erm, plants.
I researched some tomato varieties that seemed to be ideal for me to grow so off we went to the garden centre – I was after Gardeners Delight (they sounded perfect!). My plan was instantly thrown out of the window as they only had one plant, and I wanted three. Oh well, what’s the worst that could happen? So I ended up with 3 different types of tomato plant instead, one of which is Sweet Million. And some canes as I thought I’d need them at some point.
Back home and armed with my trusty fork, I headed off to the raised bed. Now, this was a couple of months ago before we’d had any rain, and the soil was like concrete. Really hard. The soil appeared to be a bit like clay and, having been baked in the sun, it was as hard as a brick. I could break bits up, but I didn’t think that this would be the fertile and nourishing soil that the tomato plants would want to thrive in. A cactus might have survived…..
So, the next idea was a tomato grow bag. Surely this was the obvious choice? They even came with instructions which made it seem really easy. However, having looked at the depth of the tomato bag and the height of the cane I thought that I might have a problem with the canes staying up right so I located the bag next to some fencing where I could tie the canes higher up to make them more secure.
I cut out three holes in the top of the bag with my Stanley knife and popped in the new plants – I guess they were about 3-4 inches tall. I put the canes in and tied the plant to the cane and the cane to the aforementioned fence. Then I watered thoroughly, as I understand that tomatoes need a lot of water. The issue with growing in the bags though is that the water just kind of runs off and they don’t hold that much liquid. The consequence there is that it seems to dry out pretty quickly. I think ideally, and I’m happy to be proved wrong, the bag needs to sit in a tray of water, but it might be that this would mean that the soil would become waterlogged. Is this a bad thing for tomatoes? Probably I guess…..but better than drying out?
The thing that I never really got was this term “pinching out”. Something to do with pulling out shoots that are 45 degrees to the main plant stalk and means that the plant’s energy is concentrated on the main areas where the tomatoes are going to grow. Well, I’ve given that a go but, a couple of months later, I can report that I have branches going in all directions some with fruit, and others without. We have had about 4 ripe fruits so far, but the skin seems a bit tough and this is apparently due to the plants not having enough water. So next year I’m going to do things a bit differently.
Ideally I would grow the plants in a greenhouse, but I don’t think that I’m going to be able to do that from a financial point of view, but they will definitely be grown in the ground. What I’ll probably do is buy a couple of the tomato growing bags and mix that into some good quality topsoil so that I know the right nutrients are there. I can also really push the canes into the ground then so that they can support the tomatoes weight without needing to be supported higher up. This also allows me to really soak the ground without the bag overflowing so that water won’t be wasted and the ground won’t dry up.
In the meantime, we can either eat what we’ve got or make some tomato chutney from those fruits that are too tough to eat. I am happy to report though that all 3 of the plants are now bearing fruit which is slowly ripening. Time to pick some of my basil and have them with some mozzarella. And some salt of course. Please note salt police – tomatoes should only be eaten if there is salt on them as it really brings out the flavour.
One day I’d like to try growing tomatoes upside down – that looks like a good way to grow them and allows the fruit to be exposed to the sun a bit more and the weight keeps them out of the way of the shade of the leaves. Has anyone tried this at all?