Tomatoes fresh from the vine are hard to beat, but with the many problems with growing tomatoes, including the dreaded blight are they worth the hassle on the allotment?
Tomatoes are one of my favourites, they are so versatile, you can eat them raw, in salads or in cooking in over a million ways! They are also so good for you too!
Benefits of the Tomato
Tomatoes have show in recent studies carried out in Britain that the lycopene, the carotenoid pigment that turns tomatoes red may help reduce the risk of cancer. Tomatoes are also a good source of vitamins C & E, while containing few calories.
- Good source of carotenoids and potassium.
- A good source of vitamin C & E
- Common trigger for many allergies including eczema.
- Green tomatoes have be linked to migraine in susceptible people.
So are they worth the effort?
My opinion is yes, but careful monitoring and spraying before the blight hits is required to get a crop, because once blight hits your plants it is pretty much game over and these should be removed immediately to save other plants from getting the disease. Growing early varieties that crop in June & Early July before late blight hits is also a great idea, I grow a mix of early varieties and a few later cropping varieties to hedge my bets!
When to Sow Tomatoes
- Sow Indoors: February to April
- Plant Out: May to June
How to Sow Tomatoes
- Tomatoes need heat to germinate, so sowing in doors or in a warm green house is really the only option.
- Sow between February and April and plant out when warm enough in May / June
- Sowing depth 2cm
- Spacings: Vine type: 38-45cm (15-18in)
- Row Spacings: 90cm (36in)
Where to Grow Tomatoes
Tomatoes need a very sunny spot with rich and fertile soil that has either been well manured or had compost dug into it. Chicken manure pellets are also a very welcome addition to the soil along with Growmore as these are greedy plants! Plants are ready to plant out when the soil is warm, frost chances are zero and the first flowers appear on the plants.
Tips for Growing Tomatoes
Outdoor tomatoes are ready for planting out when they have been hardened off and the first flowers are appearing. If there is a chance of late frosts hold off until you are sure there is zero chance. Always a good idea to cover the plants over night till they are well established. To avoid many problems tomatoes like no other crop must be watered and fed constantly otherwise you will get blossom end rot, splitting of their skins and weak plants more susceptible to diseases like blight.
Vine tomatoes will need support, and their side shoots and suckers pinching out and once 4 or 5 trusses have formed pinch out the tips to aid fruit growth. Most important when watering don't allow the stems or foliage of the plant to be splashed with water, as this will increase risk of blight
When to Harvest Tomatoes
- Depending on the variety but the fruits are ready to harvest from July onwards right up untill just before the first frosts of November
Tips for Harvesting
- Pick when the tomatoes colour is even all over. Looks count! Tomatoes ripen from the inside out. If a tomato looks ripe on the outside, it will be ripe on the inside.
- When they are just a tiny bit soft when squeezed. Some gardeners say “in between firm and soft.”
- If green you can ripen them indoors next to a banna in a draw.
- Once tomatoes start ripening, check plants each day and pick those that are ready. Overripe tomatoes will fall or be knocked off stems. They rot quickly. You can easily lose a big portion of your crop if you don’t monitor your patch and keep harvesting tomatoes!
- Some Heirloom varieties ripen before they completely turn color. Pick heirloom tomatoes before they look totally ripe.
- Cherry tomatoes crack if left on the vine too long. Pick them just before they look like they’re perfectly ripe.
How do I avoid potato blight?
There are a number of things you can do to reduce the instance of potato blight from the type and variety of potato you grow to good garden hygiene and finally damage limitation when it does hit.
Growing early varieties
Blight is most common in July and August so growing early varieties which are harvested before blight arrives allow you to avoid the disease. You will need to grow early potatoes for immediate use rather than maincrop potatoes for storage.
- Make sure all potatoes are removed from the soil at the end of the season, this can be difficult as some very small tubers can be difficult to find.
- Avoid dumping infected potatoes near your plot.
- Potatoes from the previous season growing on a compost heap are a common source of infection in many allotments so try to keep a potato free heap.
- Blight is spread by the wind, so removal of infected plants and debris is essential, burn it or remove from site.
- All of the sprays available to the amateur grower are really only preventative measures.
- Bordeaux Mixture
- Baking Soda mixed with vegetable oil with water
- Bayer Garden Fruit and Vegetable Disease Control
- Recent studies have indicated that spraying tomato plants with a diluted asprin solution tricks the tomatoes defence mechanism into toughning the leaves and stems making them 47% less likely to be effected by blight. This also managed to make fruit sweeter and higher in vitamins too.
- Infected material should be deeply buried (more than 45cm deep), consigned to the green waste collection or, ideally, burned never composted composted.
- Earthing up potatoes provides some protection to tubers.
- Early-harvested potatoes are more likely to escape infection.
- When infection levels reach about 25 percent of leaves affected or marks appear on stems cut off foliage (haulm) severing the stalks near soil level and raking up debris. When the skin on tubers has hardened, after about two weeks, the tubers are dug up and stored. To prevent slug damage avoid leaving tubers in soil after this time.
- Operate a rotation to reduce the risk of infection, ideally of at least four years.
- Destroy all potatoes left in the soil and waste from storage before the following spring.
The genetic population of the fungus is ever changing and new findings have shown that one dominant new strain seems to have overcome major gene resistance. In the past some potato varieties had shown some resistance, these included ‘Cara’, ‘Kondor’, ‘Orla’, ‘Markies’ and ‘Valor’, but this is not currently effective. The ‘Sarpo’ range exhibit more effective resistance than other cultivars and can be grown satisfactorily without fungicide protection.
Some old favourites are very susceptible, eg ‘Arran Pilot’, ‘King Edward’, ‘Majestic’, ‘Sharpe’s Express’. Varieties that were previously rated resistant have been retested against this new dominant strain and the results have been published.
Tomatoes are generally very susceptible, but the varieties ‘Ferline’, ‘Legend’ and ‘Fantasio’ are claimed to show some resistance, but will eventually succumb in wet, warm weather. It is probably best not to rely on host resistance for blight control in tomatoes.
Because infection is so dependent on certain combinations of temperature and rainfall that periods of high risk (blight infection periods or Smith Periods) can be predicted accurately. Advisory services issue warnings for commercial potato growers on which they can base their spray programmes.
Gardeners are able to access these warnings (visit the Fight Against Blight website), but must rely on a more restricted range of protectant fungicides containing copper (Bordeaux Mixture or Fruit and Vegetable Disease Control), since the more effective systemic products are not approved for home gardener use. A fine spray covering all the foliage will give the best protection.
When wet weather is forecast from June onwards, protectant sprays are advisable, especially for outdoor tomatoes. However, in wet periods the fungicides sold to gardeners will only slow the spread, and not prevent infection. In dry seasons good control can be achieved.
What to Look for:
You may see the following symptoms:
- The initial symptom of blight on potatoes is a rapidly spreading, watery rot of leaves which soon collapse, shrivel and turn brown. During humid conditions, a fine white fungal growth may be seen around the edge of the lesions on the underside of the leaves
- Brown lesions may develop on the stems
- If allowed to spread unchecked, the disease will reach the tubers. Affected tubers have a reddish-brown decay below the skin, firm at first but soon developing into a soft rot as the tissues are invaded by bacteria.
- Early attacks of blight may not be visible on tubers, but any infected tubers will rot in store
- The symptoms on tomato leaves and stems are similar to those on potatoes
- Brown patches may appear on green fruit, while more mature fruits will decay rapidly
Once you have Blight on your potatoes and tomatoes there is really nothing you can do but remove the infected plants immediately to try to reduce the risk of the disease spreading, it is mandatory to remove the debris from site or burn it if the wind is blowing the right way, NEVER compost the debris as Blight can last up to 4 years in a dormant phase so increase the risk of infection in following years.
Tomato Varieties to try
Ailsa Craig Tomato
- A tried and tested variety renowned for its flavour. Greenback type giving good crops of medium size fruit.
- Best described as an improved Moneymaker type. Heavy crops of uniform smooth, medium size fruits of good flavour maturing quite early.
- One of the most popular bush varieties. Medium small fruit size of bright red with good flavour. Reliable and dependable.
Apricot Dream Tomato
- Amazing taste, very sweet. Bright orange blocky fruit with a fantastic texture.
Beefmaster F1 Tomato
- Extra large tomatoes up to 500gm (1lb) each ideal for slicing or stuffing. Good colour and excellent flavour.
Black Russian Tomato
- Dark, deep red to shiny black fruit with heavy green shoulders. The flesh is deep reddish-green and is sweet and tasty. Early maturing indeterminate vine type for indoor production.
Britain's Breakfast Tomato
- Lemon shaped red fruit that does not split when ripe. Indeterminate type that produces very large spreading trusses with sometimes over 60 fruit. Greenhouse or outdoor.
- Vigorous growing plant that has strong disease-resistance. Large, cherry-type fruit of good sharp flavour.
Cherrola F1 Tomato
- A vigorous, high yielding, early indeterminate hybrid variety of cherry tomato, for growing inside or out. Moderate tolerance to potato blight.
- Selected out of Ailsa Craig, chosen for its fine flavour but a non-greenback type. Medium size fruit of beautiful red colour.
Fandango F1 Tomato
- Vigorous, indeterminate plants that produce heavy crops of deep red fruits up to 150g (5oz) in weight with very good flavour. Blight tolerant and is resistant to fusarium and verticilium wilt.
Garden Pearl Tomato
- Delicious, rosy-red, cherry-size fruits. Ideal to grow in hanging baskets. Ealry to crop and continues to crop all season. Fruit trusses tunble over basket sides.
Gardeners Delight Tomato
- An old favourite with great flavour.
Golden Sunrise Tomato
- The golden yellow fruits are considered by many to be the best flavoured tomatoes there are. Medium size, nice and fleshy.
- Early and heavy cropping, giving good flavoured medium size fruits. Can be grown under unheated protection.
- Small sweet, yellow plum-shaped fruit. Produces heavy crop – 80 fruits per truss, 3-4 trusses per plant. Also Ideal for containers. Replaces Yellow cocktail.
Lizzano F1 Tomato
- Bright red, baby cherry sized. Vigorous, trailing, semi-determinate type with abundant amount of fruits. Blight tolerant.