Tuesday, 30 August 2016

grow your own tomatoes

As the end of summer approaches I have been considering the success or otherwise of the tomato plants.  I don't really understand tomatoes.  All those rules about determinate and indeterminate and bush forms, and stopping, and de-leafing, never seem to make much sense confronted with the enthusiastic mass of growth that my tomato plants make in the greenhouse.  I even bought a book about tomato growing from Amazon, which left me more confused than before as the author talked about optimum temperature and humidity levels and the chemistry of tomato fertilisers.  The temperature and humidity in my rather rickety greenhouse will be whatever they are, depending on the weather, and as for the chemistry of fertilisers, I don't mind applying some Tomorite from time to time but that's about it.  Looking at Amazon now I see that my book doesn't even appear on the first two search pages, but a new crop of tomato growing books has taken its place.  Maybe I should get a second opinion from a different tomato guru.

The tomatoes are growing in branded tomato grow bags from The Range, not the cheapest grow bags on offer but I suspect that with grow bags you get what you pay for, and if I was going to go to the trouble of trying to grow tomatoes I didn't want to stuff them into completely rubbish compost. I made a reasonably competent job of tying them to a framework of bamboo canes this year, after last year when I let them flop over the floor rather as the summer wore on without producing much of a crop and I became discouraged.  Then at the eleventh hour they ripened quite a lot of fruit and I didn't really fancy eating the ones growing at ankle level that had been splashed by dirt off the greenhouse floor.

The first bag has got 'Sungold' in it.  I bought a packet of seeds after hearing the man from Thompson and Morgan single out 'Sungold' for its high sugar content in the talk he gave to Suffolk Plant Heritage.  It is an F1 hybrid and the seeds are correspondingly expensive, and as tomato plants normally germinate readily I only sowed four out of my packet, wanting three plants, and saved the rest for next year.  I am pleased with 'Sungold'.  It is a cherry tomato, individual fruits varying in size from a small marble to a good sized cherry, and they are very sweet but with a good, tangy, strong tomato taste.  The skins are noticeably chewy in the mouth, but I don't know if that is typical of 'Sungold' or due to my less than perfect tomato cultivation skills.  They caught me out when they first started to ripen because I had not realised that even when fully ripe they remained a pallid shade of orange.  I was still waiting for them to go darker than that when they began to go squishy and split on the vine.  They are quite prone to split during picking, and again I don't know if that's down to them or something I did.  The tomatoes on each individual truss don't all ripen at the same time, so they would be useless as premium vine ripened tomatoes.

The second bag is of 'Cherry Belle', another F1 hybrid, which came free with a magazine.  A red cherry tomato sounded a useful thing to have, but the fruit are actually larger than cherry tomatoes generally are, or indeed cherries.  They have made the smallest plants of the five varieties but are the most difficult to water, and I wonder if I failed to bash their grow bag around hard enough to break up the compost before cutting my three crosses in the top and planting my tomatoes.  After them comes what is supposed to 'Gardener's Delight'.  Either my plants are all infected with virus, or there was a mix-up at the seed merchant and a striped variety like 'Tigeralla' got mistakenly packaged up as 'Gardener's Delight', because every one of them produces striped fruit, two-tone green ripening to red and orange.  The next bag is of 'Nimbus F1', another magazine freebie that is cropping prolifically with round, red, medium sized tomatoes.  Unfortunately none of the three are great as salad tomatoes, tasting better when liberally laced with Branston pickle than they do neat.  I don't know if that is down to the varieties or my lack of skill with tomatoes.  A mixture of whatever happens to be ripe at the time cooks to a quite decent tomato soup, mixed with carrot and onion well sweated in butter and a sprinkling of dried basil.

The fifth and final bag is planted with a giant variety called 'Black Russian'.  The few tomatoes I got last year were well flavoured and made rather exotic salad, but as yet I have not had a single fruit ripen this year, and with only a day to go to September I don't feel 'Black Russian' is earning its keep.  They are at the less sunny end of the greenhouse so maybe they have not been given a fair chance.  I will read up on tomatoes over the winter, and decide whether to give 'Black Russian' a final go in a better position.  I need to take the top off the hedge as well to stop it shading the greenhouse so badly.  I fancy a classic plum tomato for cooking, and a proper red cherry tomato for salads.  And I ought to buy my grow bags earlier in the season before The Range practically runs out.  I am still not completely convinced by home grown tomatoes.  In theory eating something absolutely fresh that you know hasn't been sprayed with anything ought to be wonderful, and it seems a waste not to use the greenhouse space over the summer.  In practice it seems quite a lot of work and a moderate amount of expense for a mixed bag of tomatoes, three quarters of which aren't actually as nice as the ones we buy in Waitrose.

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