Thursday 5 May 2011

The tomatoes go to their final homes

Now that we're in May, it's time to plant out the tomatoes, putting them into their final growing-tubs. They are certainly getting too big to remain in those 5" pots.

For me, the number of tomato plants I grow is really determined by the space I have available. I would dearly love to have a glut of tomatoes in the Autumn, but I don't think that is going to happen! I know from previous experience that I will have space for about 12 large tubs.

I know this is a gross over-simplification, but for me tomatoes come in basically two types - the "determinate" ones that never get very tall and therefore don't require support; and the "indeterminate" ones that do grow tall and do require support. I usually grow some of each. This is what I have this year:-

Maskotka - cherry-sized fruit, red
Tumbling Junior Yellow - cherry-sized fruit, yellow!

Ferline - medium-sized fruit, red (this one is the best variety you can get for blight-resistance)
Rainbow Beefsteak - large, up to six different colours (each plant produces fruit of only one colour though!)
Green Zebra - medium-sized fruit, stripey green
Sungella - medium-sized fruit, yellow
Tropical Ruby - smallish, plum-shaped fruit, red

This is how I provide suport for the indeterminate tomato plants.

These are cunning gadgets originally marketed as cane-supports for use with grow-bags, but they also happen to fit quite conveniently in the big plastic tubs I use.

After setting up the cane-support, I fill the tub with compost (some home-made, some commercial) and a handful of pelleted chicken manure. Then I put in the tomato, planting it quite deeply to promote the formation of a strong root system, and secure it to the cane with a few turns of soft garden twine. A good watering, and we're done...

Here is the end result: 8 pots with canes, for the tall varieties, two without (one plant each of Maskotka and Tumbling Junior Yellow).

I also put in two Physalis plants. According to the seed packet, these will only reach a height of 50cm / 20", so I have not provided them with any support.

Now this year's "Piece de Resistance" - three more plants in the huge tub I made from half of that old water-butt that Rosemary gave me. This tub is going to live on the patio. In it I have put two plants of Maskotka, and one of Tumbling Junior Yellow.

This massive pot is filled with home-made compost (it would hold about £20-worth of commercial stuff!) and weighs a ton. To help with moving it about whenever necessary, I have fitted it with two handles made of old washing-line cord. Tomato plants are thirsty and dislike erratic watering (this can promote the dreaded Blossom End Rot), so I reckon it is best to put them into really big pots, since these will be less likely to dry out and easier to keep at a constant level of moistness than small ones will be. Tomatoes in small pots may need to be watered twice a day, which can be a very time-consuming commitment.

Phew! I'm glad that job is done. Getting the tomato plants sorted out is a major milestone in my gardening year, and I always feel a bit relieved when I have achieved it. The work doesn't stop there though, because these plants will need much more care and attention before I can reap my reward. They will require side-shooting, tying-in, watering, etc, etc, throughout the Summer. Not that Im complaining - I love growing tomatoes, and I think it's worth all the effort. My biggest worry is the knowledge that outdoor tomatoes are very vulnerable to blight, and once blight comes along there is not much you can do about it, so the effort may all be wasted in the end. I sincerely hope it's NOT.


  1. I love your tomato post! And I learned alot! I'm afraid I am just an amateur gardener with not a very serious attitude---I plant my tomatoes in the ground, use a tomato cage for support, water them alot if it doesn't rain and just wait and see what I get. I'm not even sure what blight is. My mother said that indeterminate tomatoes kept producing, while determinate ones had one crop only and only flowered once. Is that true? She only used indeterminate ones.

  2. Egretta; In theory, indeterminate tomatoes could just keep on growing. I believe that in their native Central America they can survive as perennials, so therefore perhaps producing several crops, but for most of us all tomatoes are annuals (and fairly delicate ones at that - they will not survive frost). Blight is a very virulent fungal disease (the one that destroyed the Irish potato crop in 1840-whatever). It is very common in Europe and the UK now, and a lot of people have given up growing outdoor tomatoes (and the closely-related potatoes) because of it. What varieties of tomato are you growing this year?

  3. I like the cane support. I have not seen those here in the USA, I bet I could make one from a wire coat hanger! Are you using 10 gallon tubs?
    Interesting information about blight, how unfortunate it has made a comeback. I wonder if using a spray of Tea-Tree oil or Neem in an alcohol/water base would help?

  4. I learned alot from your post too. I'm growing tomatoes for the first time in a long time... have to admit i'm not too excited about all the upkeep but I'm gonna give it a go. I'm growing Indeterminate Red Cherry ones that need support and pinching. Why do i find all that complicated!

  5. Satisfying work Mark! Your transplants look very vigorous. How old are they and do you "feed" them?

  6. It has been instructive watching the planting and development of your tomatoes up until this stage. They all look so strong and healthy too. I know I am going to do better with my tomatoes grown from seed in spring thanks to your posts.

  7. Ooo the great tomato race is on hey! Very exciting the humble tomato, and for me perhaps the most practical vegetable to grow. Mine were all wiped out last year with all that rain, and I was very sad but anyway, that's growing for you. If I were a vegetable I'd like to be planted in your yard and enjoy the pampering. My poor things are plonked in and left to their own devices!

  8. David: I sowed my tomato seeds on 6 March. I do not feed the plants until the first fruits have set. Thiis will probably be in late May. I then use commercial "Tomorite" plant-food, applied weekly.

  9. Another really interesting and useful post!
    I have just lost 4 tomotato plants after planting them out last week. I guess I was just a little over-eager and should have hung on just that little bit longer!
    I love the support idea, I've never seen anything like that but will be sure to look next time I'm at a garden centre!

  10. Smart tomato supports Mark. I must admit I am too scared to put mine outside just yet, I just can't quite believe that there is no danger of frosts, although the planthouse is groaning at the seems. I too would love to grow more, but am limited to how many pots I can physically fit on the patio...

  11. Your plants look lovely and strong and I like the supports, they look just the thing to keep the stakes in place.

  12. Several people have commented on the cane-supports. I bought mine several years ago, and I have recently been trying to get hold of some more, but they don't seem to be available. If anyone finds somewhere that sells them, can they please let me know?

  13. Arrived at top of page deflated because I am so far behind with my tomatoes. Leaving intrigued. I like the look of your cane supports.

    No, I've gone back to being depressed. I don't think they'd fit in round pots.

    Ah well. There was that brief moment . . .


  14. I think your tomatoes like their new home. Many of your tomato variety is not familiar to me. Can't wait to see how they look when you harvst them.

  15. We're starting potting up our tomatoes too but all will grow indoors as we have too big a problem with blight on the allotment. In the graden we may get away with it though if we have too many plants to keep in the greenhouse.

  16. Your tomatoes look great and I like the supports. I am real bad about not tying my tomatoes up well enough.

  17. I've just had a quick search and found some here, Mark:-
    Hope this helps.

  18. Jo; Thanks a lot! That's perfect. I shall definitely buy some more now.

  19. Your tomatoes are looking fab. :)

    I grow Ferline as well, but the rest of the varieties I haven't heard of. There's so much to choose from and it's fun to mix things up a bit every year.


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