July I: the tomato season so far

At the end of July, it is usually fairly clear how the season will pan out. Useful fruit set is complete on all salad and beefsteak tomatoes whilst cherries can set usefully for another two weeks here in NW London.

This year saw a sunny but reasonably cool May, with one four inch rainfall event; June had some unreasonably hot weather with temperatures well above 30C for around a week; July had a warm and dry first half, with more seasonal temperatures and regular rain in the second half.

The result of this has been that the Red Alerts and Maskotkas, sown in late February, were not appreciably earlier to harvest than Tigerella, sown on 10th March, with harvests starting in the first week of July. All other March sowings, including Super Marmande, Black Russian, Black Cherry, Alicante and San Marzano started harvesting before July 25th. Only Black Krim of the March sowings is yet to crop. The Zenith strain, sown on April 6th for the competition season 20th August to early October, has four trusses set.

The very hot weather caused certain strains to succumb to Blossom End Rot. The only major casualty was San Marzano, which has been rather decimated. Minor losses to Alicante, Tigerella and Black Krim will not prevent reasonable harvests. Zenith lost less than 5%. The strains Red Alert, Maskotka, Black Cherry, Black Russian and Super Marmande do not seem to succumb.

With a glut of summer fruit, soup and ketchup making has been happening and the annual freezing of tomatoes for cooking has also started.

All in all, the 2017 season for outdoor tomatoes seems likely to be a good one, the potential for brilliance disappearing with the excess heat of late June and early July.

The other lesson for me is that with increasing skill, the sowing date can be put back a bit, spreading the main strains equally between late March and early April, limiting the early sowings to rapidly growing bush cherry varieties. After 5 years of achieving harvests within 20 weeks of sowing, I am confident that this will improve, rather than adversely affect crop harvests…..

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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