March 2017 VI: My 2017 tomato plan

Today, March 10th, is my main day for sowing tomatoes. So a post about my seasonal plan and how it generally works out.

First, let me say that I grow tomatoes in pots as I have neither a greenhouse nor a polytunnel. The plants live under a carport when it rains in summer, and follow the sun around the front and back gardens when it is fine. Oh, for a slave to do all the moving for me!

I plan my season in three groups:

1. Two cherry strains sown in February to provide tomatoes in June and July. They are grown for earliness, not yield. The first harvest depends how warm May is as a month, rather than how early seeds are sown (I base sowing around the February full moon): my earliest harvest is June 9th. Late June is not uncommon as the first harvest date. I grow Maskotka and Red Alert as they are not fussy, tolerate cool weather and are reliable croppers. Red Alert harvest usually ends by 31st July.

Here are my 8cm tall, 8 cm wingspan seedlings 26 days after sowing:

2. My March sowings cover Beefsteak varieties, plum varieties, salad tomatoes and cherries. I sow Super Marmande, Black Russian and Black Krim as they seem to crop reliably outdoors as beefsteaks; I am experimenting with San Marzano as a plum variety; I grow Alicante and Tigerella as reliable salad strains; and I grow Black Cherry as a reliable cherry variety, which will often crop well into autumn. My first maincrop harvest is usually around 21st July.

3. My April sowings are for competition, using a Quadgrow to produce a few trusses of high quality tomatoes. I grow Sungold as a cherry and Zenith as a salad tomato.

My usual yields are:

Beefsteaks: 8-10lb/plant;

Salad Tomatoes: 5-8lb/plant;

Cherry Tomatoes: 2-6lb/plant.

I aim to harvest 100-150lb of tomatoes, depending on season, summer heat etc.


My failsafe germination method is as follows:

1. Take an ice cream tub and fill two thirds full with John Innes seed compost. Saturate this with water.

2. Add 1cm of further seed compost on top.

3. Lay seeds in rows on top of the dry compost, then cover with a sprinkle of seed compost.

4. Cover the tub with aluminium foil, place on the warm surface of outside boiler and leave to germinate.

5. From day 3, check daily for germination and bring indoors as soon as plants emerge (usually day 4-6 using home made seeds).

The method aims to mimic Mediterranean soil with a dry surface covering wet subsoil being warmed by strong sunshine.

Obviously, heat sources depend on what you have available. Electric propagators and airing cupboards also work well.


Author: Rhys

Rhys trained as a research biologist, working for a decade in the cancer research charity sector, before completing an MBA and working in management consultancy, technology transfer and early technology investment spaces, mostly working with UK academics to turn their scientific discoveries into value for society. AS a younger man, he was fascinated with mountains, both climbing them and ski-ing down them. Whilst living in Scotland, he completed a round of (then) all 277 Munros, the independent mountains over 3000ft originally complied as a list by Munro. He also spent his holidays representing the Ski Club of GB, as a Representative and Party Leader between 1990 and 1997. During that time, he found to his bemusement that he was able to predict, without understanding fully why, to a remarkable degree of accuracy, when good snow conditions would occur in the Alps, gaining an unworthy reputation for predictive genius in 1990 when predicting the evolution of the 1989/90 winter in Wengen, Switzerland for his CEO boss. He used this skill for the next seven years to ensure that he enjoyed powder snow pretty much every time he went ski-ing. An MD student he was training in Oxford also impressed his wife by taking Rhys' advice about when to take her to Italy in the mid 1990s! In recent years, Rhys has turned his mind toward how to grow prize tomatoes, winning several prizes in local and London shows and has, in the past 3 years, moved toward taking over a 50 square metre urban vegetable patch, which he has turned into a no-dig area since autumn 2014.

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