Sunday, 2 July 2017

Tomato update

I don't yet have any ripe tomatoes to show off, but I felt the need to record the state of play - if only for the sake of year-on-year comparison in the future.

Despite some early signs of the old weedkiller contamination in their compost, the tomato plants have done well so far, and have mostly grown big and strong. As long as the blight stays away, I can look forward to a good harvest. I suspect that blight WILL appear at some stage, so (as always) it is a race against time.

The first variety to produce ripe fruit will almost certainly be Maskotka. I have six plants of this one, and they are covered in fruits, with more forming every day.


Another early one will be Losetto, a variety that is alleged to have strong blight-resistance so therefore very welcome in my garden. It doesn't seem to be quite as vigorous as Maskotka, but it certainly has no shortage of fruits.


Also in the cherry-tomato category, I have Sweet Aperitif, a red one, and Sungold, a golden-yellow one.

Sweet Aperitif


The medium-sized varieties are represented by Ailsa Craig, Ferline and the bush-type Grushkova

Ailsa Craig



The big beefsteak varieties are always the slowest to develop and set fruit, making them very vulnerable to blight, which is a big pity since I think they are often the best in terms of flavour and character.

This is the craggy Costoluto Fiorentino, already sporting a clutch of its characteristically deeply-ribbed fruits. So far only this one truss has set, but hopefully more will follow.

Costoluto Fiorentino

Fishlake Oxheart has only just begun setting fruit. It has an enormous number of flowers, and I think I will have to prune most of them off in order to make the plant concentrate on ripening just a few fruits. I have tried growing this variety twice before, but never managed to get any ripe fruit before the plant succumbed to blight. Maybe this year it will be "Third time lucky"?

Fishlake Oxheart

In the beefsteak or Very Large category I also have Cherokee Purple (purple), Vintage Wine (red), and Ananas (orange/yellow), but none of these have any fruits yet.

The last one I want to show off today is Marmande, a well-known traditional variety. For me this is the archetypical Mediterranean tomato - big, rugged and flavourful.


I want to show you a second photo of this one, to illustrate something I do to my plants once the fruits begin to swell. I cut off quite a few of the leaves, in order to expose the fruits to more sunlight, which I believe helps them to ripen more quickly. Compare the previous photo (before) with this next one (after).


In a similar vein, I also want to mention that when my tomato plants reach the tops of their canes I pinch out their growing-points. This stops them growing any taller, and makes them put their energy into the fruit, which ripen more quickly. I generally find that by the time the plants reach this stage they have produced at least 3 trusses of fruit, sometimes 5, but more usually 4. In my opinion it is better to get a modest amount of good ripe fruit than to hold out for a bigger a crop and risk losing everything to blight.

Since I seem to have strayed onto the subject of maintenance now, I feel I should perhaps make a couple more points. Firstly, don't forget that tomato plants need a lot of water, and they need a steady supply. Plants in containers are particularly susceptible to drying out. Despite my constant efforts to keep my plants evenly hydrated, one of them (Orange Banana) has developed some Blossom End Rot, which is reckoned to be caused by inability to absorb the right amount of calcium - in turn caused by insufficient or erratic watering. Here's a photo of an affected fruit:

Orange Banana - affected by Blossom End Rot

I think it is also important to feed container-grown tomato plants, because their compost will most likely not contain enough nutrients to keep the plant going until maturity. I feed mine with "Tomorite", once a week after fruits begin to set.

Since the tomato plants are growing vigorously at present, they need tying-in to their supports every few days. The recent combination of sunshine and rain has made mine grow about an inch a day.

Tomato plant tied-in to its cane support

Last but not least, I should perhaps remind you to keep removing the sideshoots of cordon-grown (indeterminate) tomato plants, to keep them growing straight and slim, but to avoid doing this with the bush (determinate) varieties which you want to remain "bushy" like this example of Losetto:


Well that's my "words of wisdom" on tomatoes for now. Hopefully within a week or two I will be able to show off some ripe fruit!


  1. I have tigerella, money maker and garden Perle this year. Garden Perle in the hanging baskets has masses of flowers and some fruit. There are some pics here

  2. That is a lot of toms! I'm already seeing good signs from my bodged up watering system. Those pots are consistently moist so the plants are getting as much water as they need. The ones I water myself are not as tall and are less strong looking I think, although I could be imagining it. The fruit will obviously be the proof of it, none set yet. Mental note, get going sooner next year. I have bajaja, sweet million and ailsa craig, about 20 plants in total.

  3. Interesting! This season is not for our tomatoes, the only one variety that still survive, yellow cherry tomato

  4. I know this may seem obvious - but are you sure you're dealing with weedkiller every time? I've not seen weedkiller in any compost I've used in the last four years (I use westlands and miracle gro organic mainly). And I only grow in bought compost.
    But my point is, for example, the symptoms you have look consistent with a very mild visit from broad mite. The thing about broad mite is you can only just see them - if you have 20/20 vision, so they're generally an invisible enemy, you just see deformed growth suddenly.
    Just a thought worth mentioning really!

    As a side note...I never get good yield from tomatoes...every year I swear I'm not going to bother again, yet...I still try. I think I'm not mean enough to them, I let them grow side shoots!

    1. Can you point me in the direction of any photos of Broad Mite damage? I'd like to research this further.

    2. Gosh - I still do have a video of a broad mite through a microscope, but my brush with them was back in 2013 on chilli plants - I got them from a single plant from B&Q, they wiped out everything, but in a conservatory at the time there were no predators. I was a lot more naive back then - nowadays I quarantine plants that come indoors.
      But back to the point - I'm struggling to find photos of damage to tomatoes, but I did check briefly that they will affect them. For chillies there's plenty of photos.
      The main problem with them is the small number you need to create massive damage, they excrete a poison into the plant as I recall which is what causes the growth problems, and it persists well after they've been dealt with. Twisted deformed discoloured growth is typical.
      The thing about broad mite specifically is that although most references will imply that they're too small to see with the naked eye - but you actually can in good light - they're highly mobile, so you can just about pick out a tiny white speck moving around. They're also territorial so you'll get one or two on each leaf.
      This page is the best I can find, there is actually a tomato photo on there but it's very "late stage" - I think you'd be very worried by that point!
      From my memory the first thing I personally noticed was flower buds dropping off, then dramatically slowed growth, then the growth points were putting out discoloured and misshapen, twisted leaves.

      Interestingly, apparently they hitch a ride in on the legs of flies.

      As you may gather I did obsess over these pests at the time although I can't really say much about their outdoor behaviour or whether they even survive in the UK outdoor climate - I did try to research this earlier today, but couldn't get an answer. I do know they are a major outdoor pest in Spain. I suspect they can survive here, in summer at least, because one of the things I tried with my chillies was putting them outside to no avail!
      I buy amblyseieus predatory mites once a year these days mainly for the greenhouse, which are fantastic, so I doubt I'll be seeing broad mites any time soon as they (and the thrips) would get absolutely obliterated by the amblyseieus! If you had a greenhouse I'd be thoroughly recommending predatory mites.

      Do I thoroughly believe you actually had broad mites? Well, no - they would have done a lot more damage surely. However, you never know!

      Sorry - a bit of a rambling and unfocused reply :)

    3. Thanks, Tim, that is most interesting. As you say, the damage caused by Broad Mites does look very similar to herbicide damage. I'm still pretty sure that my problems are caused by weedkiller though.


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