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Outdoor Tomatoes

UK Garden Centre - How to grow Tomatoes outdoors

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In many areas of Britain the tomato crop requires protection – you can grow the plants in a greenhouse or cultivate dwarf varieties in frames or under cloches. If, however, you live in a mild area and there is some shelter from cold winds then you can expect a satisfactory crop in the open garden in most summers. The outdoor crop has its benefits – the flavour of the fruit is generally better, and the bush varieties take much of the hard work out of tomato growing. There are, however, a number of pitfalls for the unwary even if your site is warm and sheltered. First of all, you must choose a variety which is recommended for growing outdoors – don’t buy seedlings without checking that they are suitable. You must also prepare the ground properly – tomatoes need well-drained, humus-rich soil. Finally, remember to remove the growing point of a cordon variety whilst the plant is still quite small – leaving it to grow to its natural height will prevent the tomatoes from ripening. As you will see, there are many varieties that are suitable for outdoor growing.

Seed facts
Expected germination time: 8-11 days
Expected yield per plant: 4lb (2kg)
Life expectancy of stored seed: 3 years
Approximate time between sowing and picking: 20 weeks
Ease of cultivation: Not easy – tomatoes in growing bags need regular attention.

Soil facts
· Outdoor tomatoes are a tender crop, so choose a warm spot in front of a south-facing wall if you can. During the winter dig thoroughly and incorporate garden compost plus peat. Shortly before planting rake in a general fertilizer.
· If you are growing only a few plants or if you have no land available, then outdoor tomatoes can be grown in 9in (23cm) pots or in compost-filled growing bags. These can be placed on the open ground or on balconies and patios. Remember that container growing will call for much more frequent watering. Regular feeding will be essential.

Sowing and Planting
· If you want to raise your own seedlings, follow one of the techniques under greenhouse tomatoes. Alternatively, you can buy tomato seedlings for planting out. Look for ones which are dark green, sturdy and about 8in (20cm) tall. These young plants should be pot-grown.
· Plant the seedlings 18in (45cm) apart in rows of 30in (75cm) distance. Water in after planting and use a 5ft cane for Cordon varieties.
· Plant out into growing bags, pots or the vegetable plot when the flowers of the first truss are beginning to open. Water the pot before planting out and ensure that the top of the soil ball is set just below the soil surface.
· You will get a better crop if you spread black polythene sheeting over the soil surface and plant the tomato seedlings through X-shaped slits.

Calendar
· The standard time for sowing seed under glass is in late March or early April. The young plants are hardened off during May and planted out in early June, or late May if the weather is favourable and the danger of frost has passed. Plants to be grown under cloches are planted out in the middle of May.
· Under average conditions the first tomatoes will be ready for picking in mid August until late September. It can extend from late July to early October.

Looking after the crop
· If a cordon variety is grown, loosely tie the stem to the cane. Make the ties at 12in (30cm) intervals as the plant grows.
· Side shoots will appear where the leaf stalks join the stem. Pinch them out when they are about 1in (2.5cm) long. Remove yellowing leaves below fruit trusses as the season progresses, but never overdo this de-leafing process.
· Water regularly in dry weather to keep the soil moist – alternating dryness with flooding will cause blossom end rot or fruit splitting. If using growing bags you must water frequently as noted in the instructions. Feed regularly with Bio Tomato Food. When small tomatoes have developed on the 4th truss remove the tip at 2 leaves above this truss.

Harvesting
· Pick the fruits when they are ripe and fully coloured. Hold the tomato in your palm and with your thumb break off the fruit at the ‘knuckle’ (swelling on the flower stalk).
· At the end of the season the stems can be removed from the canes and laid under cloches on a bed of straw. An easier way to ripen green fruit is to place them as a layer in a tray and put them in a drawer. Next to the tray set a couple of ripe apples to generate the ripening gas ethylene.

Varieties
Cordon varieties
These varieties are grown as single stems and they have to be trimmed and supported. As described above, the stem is stopped after the 4th truss has set so as to hasten ripening before the autumn frosts. There are many red varieties, varying in size from giants to bite sized fruits, and there are also yellow, orange and striped tomatoes.
(Ailsa Craig; Alicante; Craigella; Golden Sunrise; Harbinger; MM; Moneycross; Moneymaker; Tangella; Tigerella; Yellow Perfection - See tomatoes, greenhouse for their varieties)
Gardener’s Delight: An old favourite, but the one to choose in the opinion of many experts. A heavy crop of bite-sized tomatoes are produced with a tangy flavour which puts the bland taste of some greenhouse varieties to shame.
Sweet 100: A new rival to Gardener’s Delight – the cherry-sized fruits are delicious and you can expect to pick several hundred from a well-grown plant.
Marmande: The other end of the scale to Gardener’s Delight and Sweet 100 – the irregular-shaped fruits are very large and fleshy with few seeds. These are the well-known Continental tomatoes, but the full flavour does not develop under out cooler conditions.
Saint Pierre: Another large tomato, irregularly-shaped and deep red in colour. The flavour is good and yields are high.
Outdoor Girl: One of the earliest tomatoes to ripen – widely recommended as one of the best outdoor varieties. It is a heavy cropper bearing slightly ribbed fruits with a good flavour.
Ronaclave: A rival to Outdoor Girl’s claim to be the best outdoor tomato for the amateur. It crops early and heavily and the plants have excellent disease resistance.
Gemini: Ronaclave has a good reputation for succeeding in cool summers and so does Gemini. Its fruits are medium-sized and sweet.

Bush varieties
These varieties make outdoor tomato growing much easier. They are either bushes 1-2 ½ ft (30-75cm) high or creeping plants less than 9in (23cm) tall. They do not require supporting, trimming or stopping, and are excellent for cloche culture. One drawback is that the fruits tend to be hidden, which makes harvesting more difficult than with cordon varieties. Straw or plastic sheeting must be laid around the plants as many fruits are at ground level.
The Amateur: The most popular but perhaps not the best of the bush tomatoes. The 1 ½ ft (45cm) plant produces a heavy crop of medium-sized tomatoes.
Red Alert: A recent introduction which will obviously become a favourite. It is very early and the small fruits have a better flavour than any other bush variety.
Sleaford Abundance: Despite the small amount of leaf borne by this variety the crop is heavy for a bush tomato.
Alfresco: An excellent variety, vigorous and high-yielding with good resistance to disease.
Pixie: The plant is small and compact but staking may be necessary. The fruits are small and the flavour is good – a favourite with many gardeners but the crop can be disappointing in an indifferent summer.
Sigmabush: A good choice – the open growth habit allows the crop to ripen in dull weather. It is noted for its earliness and quality.
French Cross: Fruits are larger than average for a bush variety and so are the yields.
Sub-Arctic Plenty: Its name indicates that it’s the variety to choose for the cooler regions of the country. Under good conditions the first tomatoes are ready very early in the season.
Tiny Tim: A dwarf bush variety which you can plant in a window box. The cherry-like fruits are bright red and almost seedless.
Florida Petit: A new one to try – even smaller than Tiny Tim. It is claimed that you can grow it as a house plant in a 4in (10cm) pot.

Troubles
Diseases and disorders are much more important than insect pests – outdoor tomatoes are much less susceptible than crops grown under glass. Keep a careful watch and treat plants immediately symptoms appear. Tomatoes require regular feeding with a specific fertilizer, such as Bio Tomato Food, in order to prevent undersized fruit on the upper trusses. Don’t overfeed – little and often is the secret.
Virus
Leaf Roll
Tomato Leaf Mould
Grey Mould (Botrytis)
Root Rot
Foot Rot
Stem Rot (Didymella)
Hormone Damage
Greenhouse Whitefly
Eelworm
Verticillium Wilt
Magnesium Deficiency
Potato Blight
Blossom End Rot
Blotchy Ripening
Blossom Drop
Sun Scald
Ghost Spot
Dry Set
Greenback
Hollow Fruit
Tomato Moth
Potato Blight
Split Fruit
Buckeye Rot


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