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Terry's Tomato Tips

Heritage tomatoes on a tray with overlaid text reading "Terry's Tips: Everything about tomato growing"

Terry's Tomato Tips: Sunny Window Sills

For many years we gardeners have heated our greenhouses in whatever way suited our structures and our pockets. We gained weeks  or even months of growing time by adding gentle warmth by using electricity, gas or paraffin  as fuel. The steep rise  and probable future increases  in the cost of all fuels mean we now have to rethink our way and timing of protected cultivation. An obvious choice is to make more use of a sunny windowsill. Many of us have been doing this for years, with variable results. Now we need to refine and improve our methods to make the best of what we have.

ORIENTATION   We are consideing early to late spring, say 10th  February onwards. Which windowsill in the house is going to get the most sunshine hours during a sunny day?  Can the window be opened if ventilation is needed without creating a strong cooling draught.

TEMPERATURE What is the usual ambient temperature of the room, is the background heating constant? Or is it, or will it have to become part time? Whereas many seeds will germinate and grow at lower temperatures Tomatoes prefer a temperature in the mid 60sF to germinate and will not root when the thermometer registers less than 59F.

LIGHT. Light intensity is measured in Lux, or footcandles. Tomato seedlings will photosynthesise over a range of light intensities but not below 200 foot candles of light falling on the plant. Full daylight is around 1,000 foot candles, but without direct sunlight the light levels of any individual windowsill are widely variable. This is where light reflected on to the back of the plant can make all the difference in the timing of the start of photosynthesis and how long it continues for that day.

Ideally a mirror is the best reflector, but in practice a white backed shelf works well.  Even better is a recycled drip white polystyrene fish box from your friendly Fishmonger. With one side cut out and the box stood upright on the other side, this not only reflects the sunshine but provides insulating warmth as well as creating a little micro climate.

As we all know, spring sunshine is all too capricious, here today AM gone today  PM  with most of our daylight coming from the diffused light coming from the whole sky. We can make the most of the available light by keeping the glass clean inside and out. Timing is personal as it all depends on our particular greenhouses. As a guide when the windowsills are crowded, usually sometime in April when the risk of severe night frost is receding it is safe to move the plants to the greenhouse. If frosts are forecast plants covered with fleece, old net curtains, or several sheets of newspaper overnight are usually well protected.

Terry Marshall

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Terry's Tomato Tips for January

Tomato with grey mould (botrytis cinerea)One of the joys of tomato growing is the wide range of varieties that are now available. Each new gardening year brings the latest varieties – several with improved disease bred into their genetic make-up. Thanks to Garden Organic and their Heritage Seed Library, old varieties of tomato are available for members to grow as well as maintaining their genetic gene pool. There are some lovely flavours to be found among the heritage varieties.

Read more: Terry's Tomato Tips for January

Terry's Tomato Tips: Ripening

August – the month when many tomato crop are at their best. A warm, sweet, succulent, sun ripened tomato, picked and eaten straight from the plant is one of the epicurean summer delights of gardening. The acid, mainly citric, content  of the fruit is due to the potash the plant has access to hence the saying ‘ more potash more acid’. The sugars, mainly fructose, depend on the sunshine the plant receives, hence ‘more sun more sugar. We have no control over the sunshine but we can make the best use of what we get by letting it reach the fruit.

Read more: Terry's Tomato Tips: Ripening

Terry's Tomato Tips: Autumn Fungus

We are now in the season of misty mornings which are fine for romantic poets but for gardeners it is fungus weather. Given moist warm or cool atmospheric conditions air borne spores abound, ready to settle on any vulnerable foliage or fruit. Fresh air is the answer to minimising the risk as much as possible.

Overnight condensation forms on greenhouse plants, on the glass and the greenhouse structure itself. As summer merges into autumn the daily drying time takes even longer and conditions are ripe for fungal attacks. Some of the heritage varieties of tomatoes are delicious, but. One of the reason they fell out of favour was their lack of resistance to disease.

Read more: Terry's Tomato Tips: Autumn Fungus

Terry's Tomato Tips: Beware the rot!

Have you ever had that sinking feeling when, after months of careful nurturing, just as your tomatoes are ripening there on the base of the fruit is a disk of hard black tissues – Blossom End Rot (BER).

The first question is ‘How has his happened’ swiftly followed by ‘What shall I do?’ BER occurs when the calcium levels in the fruit falls below 0.5%. Calcium, as calcium pectate, is the glue which sticks the walls of the cells together. With insufficient calcium, when the cells are under stress they implode and BER occurs.

Read more: Terry's Tomato Tips: Beware the rot!

Terry's Tomato Tips

Heritage tomatoes on a tray with overlaid text reading "Terry's Tips: Everything about tomato growing"

Children's Section

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From Val's Plot

Drawing of alloment plants with clouds and blue background. Overlain text saying"From Val's Plot: Seasonal reporting from and everyday plot"

Jack First's Advice

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