I took a trip to the garden centre the other day and ogled at the grafted tomato plants that we can buy now. They are far more expensive, but I must say they did look good, a bit like beauty queens, all plumped up and fabulous, compared to the rather pedestrian un-grafted specimens that were on offer, or compared to the seedlings I grew myself.
Last year I grew the old favourite tomato, Money Maker. This is an indeterminate variety, renowned for its vigour. It produces smallish, sweet red fruits - bigger than a cherry tomato, but smaller than a salad tomato. These plants were quite vigorous enough for me. They romped away in their protected location under glass, providing three to five big bunches per plant over the season, as well as pushing up hundreds of side shoots and forcing the lid off my growhouse. Every time I went in there it felt like hacking my way through the jungle.
I also discovered that a fair few of the unwanted side shoots that I pruned off the big plants could be stuck in the ground outside and provided a smaller but delicious late crop from odd pots and corners.
This year I’m branching out, trying an heirloom variety, Marmande, though the seedlings, planted on the same day as the Money Maker are far less advanced. This is not so surprising when you consider that Marmande, a big beefy tomato with a folded flesh, takes longer to mature and will crop much later in the year (given good weather)
I was hoping to graft a Marmande onto Money Maker rootstock but they are now so different in size, I’m not sure whether it would work. These Money Makers are such thugs!
In wet years tomatoes are far better grown under glass, as they don’t risk getting tomato blight. But it’s worth trying a few outside. I always find I’ve grown too many for my mini growhouse. The main thing about tomatoes is rich soil and then cosseting with a tomato fertiliser and copious and regular watering during the flowering period. Tomatoes are self-pollinating, but to get the pollen to fall squarely onto the right place, gently shake them on a humid day, especially if you are growing in a greenhouse.
Cut off side shoots, to grow one tall cordon and then stop out the top of the plant when it reaches the roof, or the third or fourth flower truss. By allowing too many trusses to develop you can reduce the size of individual fruits.
I grow my tommies in rings, ordinary plastic flower posts with the bottoms drilled out. I water the soil below the pots, to encourage them to develop a long root system, but I fertilise right into the top of the pot, where the fine and shallow feeding roots develop. This was a method I learned from one of my collection of antique gardening books by Percy Thrower. It’s a bit old fashioned now, but I still think it works far better. The plant gets a lot more soil than in a growbag, though these days some people grow in quite small terracotta pots and let them stand on gravel. The terracotta would have the advantage of soaking up excess moisture, which can cause blight, but it also drains more easily. If I use terracotta I will need to water and possibly feed every day.