This year I have often wondered if I would ever get any tomatoes at all – everything seemed to be against me! First there was a disaster that meant that virtually all the seedlings were killed so I had to resow in an unheated greenhouse so the plants were a month behind. Then I had another blow with the mushroom compost.
Last year I spread this over the beds as a mulch and to provide food and calcium and everything was perfect. But there was something about the compost – or this batch at least – that should have made me cautious. When it fell out of the back of the trailer the smell of ammonia was overpowering and I should have suspected something was wrong. But in haste I barrowed it into the greenhouse, planted through it and then watched as the poor seedlings were either scorched or, in about half the plants, died. I think the compost was not ‘spent’ mushroom compost but fresh, having not carried a crop of mushrooms. Even now, a month later, the remainder outside is unpleasant to move so I am using it with caution. Anyway, I am sure the ammonia was to blame and because the plants were set in hollow in the compost and were not in contact with the stuff I think the gas just suffocated them! Fortunately only about a third of the plants were put in that bed and I had spares so the disaster was not complete.
I now have 120 plants in 30 varieties, growing away and apart from a few they all look OK. Some are flowering and I have just been supporting them and taking out the first sideshoots. Tomatoes can be divided into two main groups according to their growth habits. Bush tomatoes are often called determinate tomatoes because the main shoot ends in a flower cluster (truss) and then produces sideshoots below that that also end in a truss. So the plants are compact, need no support or training and they tend to crop early and all in one short period.
Cordon or inderminate tomatoes are rambling and the main shoot keeps on growing with flower trusses produced along the stems. If left untrained they get into a terrible mess with masses of small fruit that don’t have much chance of ripening. So we train these and support the main stem and take out the sideshoots so they grow as a single stem (cordon) and we usually allow four to six trusses per plant.
Sometimes things go awry and the plants produce a terminal flower cluster as on this ‘Berkeley Tie Dye) plant below and so you have to allow one of the sideshoots to replace the main stem.
I am supporting the plants with twine. There is a wire frame above the plants and I tie a loop around the base of the plant and up to the supports. As the plants grow they are simply twisted around this. It is quick and also means it is easy to remove and clear the plants at the end of the season.