I have to admit that I’m not a great tomato grower and so to improve my knowhow and to find the best tasting tomato to grow next year, I headed off with fellow tomato lover, Lucy, for an afternoon of tomato tasting at Victoriana Nursery near Ashford in Kent. And what a great afternoon we had. Not only did we get to sample 30 different varieties, but we picked up some incredibly useful tomato growing tips from the nursery too.
Stephen Shirley (above) was a great host and talked through the many aspects of growing tomatoes at Victoriana Nursery. Although all of the tomatoes at the nursery are grown in Polytunnels, many of the seeds they sell can be grown both indoors and out.
So onto the tasting….Lucy and I loved ‘Egyptian’, a lovely rich tasting plum tomato, but I was disappointed to find that this variety could only be grown indoors. Stephen pointed out that Isabel from Fennel & Fern, has her own recipe for sun-dried tomatoes, using this variety, so I may have to coax my Dad to grow these for me next year in his greenhouse!
More up my street was ‘Shirley’s Pixie’, a tomato that Stephen described as idiot proof. Good grown inside or out and also a short day tomato variety, which means it can be bought inside in autumn and will continue to crop until Christmas. Amazing!
Extremely tasty too were the bush variety ‘Outdoor Girl’-a very early small salad size fruit, ‘Sungold’– a very sweet and delicious orange coloured cherry tomato (which I’ve grown successfully before), ‘Harry’s Italian Plum’– a tasty plum variety that I can grow outdoors, and the chunky ‘Black Krim’ (above)-with a very rich and meaty flesh inside this cracking exterior – fruits can weigh upto 8 oz each!
Unless a bush variety, all tomatoes are grown in the nursery as cordons (above) for optimum fruiting. For cordon growing, the central stem is encouraged to grow, tied into a tall post and most of the side shoots (except the ones forming flowers for fruiting!) are pinched out. Stephen removes all lower leaves to reduce the risk of the plants developing tomato blight, and drenches the plants with water once a day, after lunchtime as the temperature rises. For more detailed information on bush and cordon growing, watering, removing side shoots, tying in, collecting seeds etc, Stephen has a few short (10 mins) films which are really worth watching. No. 1 is here, no. 2 is here and lastly no. 3 is here
Popped round to see a neighbour, and enthusiastic tomato grower, David soon after my visit to the nursery, and he grows all his tomatoes outdoors in the ground as cordons to great effect. Definitely will give this method a go next year.
Back at the nursery, I asked Stephen why some of my fruit had developed ‘Blossom end rot’ in my pot grown outdoor tomatoes. Was this down to my poor watering habits (sometimes watering no-times a day regime)? Stephen cheered me up by saying that it could well be down to the nutrient make up in the tomato growbags I use. Not a fan of bought growbags, most need lime added to reduce the acidity of the soil. Acidity of the soil has a huge effect on fertility because it controls how available nutrients are to your crops and ‘Blossom end rot’ is down to a lack of available Calcium during the growing process. My poor watering habits don’t help either, so next year I think I’ll stick to my own home-grown compost, grow plants in the ground to reduce the risk of the roots drying out and train the plants as cordons for a larger crop. Could this be the end to my tomato growing problems?
P.s. Have a look at the Chateau de la Bourdaisiere for some more exciting tomatoes. A veritable tomato heaven with 630 varieties growing!