There’s so much to talk about in June that I am not sure where to start this month!! No doubt those with greenhouses are doing the usual dash to open them in the morning and similarly to close at night and keeping the tomatoes and cucumbers fed and watered. My Dad had two greenhouses, both of domestic size and he separated the tomatoes and cucumbers because they have quite different needs. The tomatoes like a dry heat and the cucumbers a more moisture laden atmosphere. But without the luxury of two greenhouses the job has to be done in one area and if you didn’t realise it this may be why you have difficulty with one or other of the crops.
A horticulturalist friend of mine insists that tomatoes should not be planted into their final position until the first truss has formed. I was not aware of that and I still insist that ,being careful not to over water, they are best planted whilst still small so that they get a good start at putting root down into that final planting place at an early stage. I have had an opportunity to compare his crop and mine and frankly I cannot see any difference in form or yield. There is more of an argument to me in the growing medium used. Frankly grow bags are useless. It’s only my opinion but look at the facts. You are asking a large flower and fruit producing plant with a humungus root system to grow in roughly 10 litres of compost for four to five months. Equally, compare the cost of a branded grow bag with proprietary compost and litre for litre they are hugely expensive.
So if you are determined to grow in a bag get a 60 or 80 litre bag of multi purpose, cut it in half width ways and stand it up to form your pot. For about £3.00 you have two pots of 30/40 litres of compost and a much greater chance of success. And to me success equals health, longevity and yield of the plant.
I use 50 litre tubs for my tomatoes and cucumbers and the growing medium is 30% John Innes No3 which gives some oomph, (for want of a better description) and 70% good quality multi purpose. Now, having banged on last month about peat free composts I still have peat based compost available so I have done 50% peat inclusive and 50% peat free and we will see how we fair and which grow best in terms of health and yield. If I publish the result later in the season it will be because the peat free wins! If it doesn’t then I shall have to take some advice from those who know better and pass that on to you. One lesson I have learned is not to mix home grown compost into the mix, i.e. compost we have produced in our bins. This is not sterilised and can lead to weed and disease in plants in an enclosed area.
Once the first truss has formed on both the toms and cues I start feeding with a branded fertiliser, organic this year in the peat free and the peat, though those with peat cannot be claimed to be grown organically as this compost has chemical fertiliser within. I do give them a liquid foliar feed with a seaweed extract to start them off though I have stopped this by now as I want flowers and fruit not leaves. I have talked about growing tomatoes and cucumbers before but it is worth mentioning again that ‘normal’ tomatoes should have the side shoots removed so that the upward growth is not diverted sideways and the plant doesn’t become too bushy, again producing leaves rather than flowers and fruit.
Remember that the plant needs leaves to photosynthesise but it doesn’t need so many that it is trying to support all the leaves and ripen fruit. Therefore I take off the lower leaves as they become a little manky and are not contributing to the plant and that also lets in light to ripen the fruit. Remove leaves below a truss that it is forming, not above and you will keep moving up the plant and letting in light and leaving less chance of disease in older leaves. Bush tomatoes and basket tomatoes do not need to have side shoots removed. As for those tomatoes being grown in a very expensive container upside down on a recent TV advert, I am afraid I cannot advise and being over fifty and therefore unwilling to challenge what I understand about plant growth and gravity I leave it to others to experiment!!
And then, the great debate, to ‘stop’ the plant or not? Many gardeners take out the growing shoot when the plant reaches what they consider to be optimum height. Now your greenhouse size may determine this but why not keep them growing take them sideways across wires or canes at a height away from contact with the glass and keep taking the fruit until October. Taking out the growing shoot will also create more work as the plant creates more side shoots to compensate.
The principles for cucumbers are exactly the same, removing side shoots and lower leaves as fruit forms. If you are growing tomatoes and cucumbers together it is worth gently watering the whole cucumber plant to create moisture and humidity whilst keeping tomato leaves dry.
I have to smile wryly as I re read this article and edit it because here I am with a tunnel full of tomatoes and nobody in my family eats them! They like the sauce I make for the freezer which goes over the winter spag bol and they like tomato used in cooking but neither of them eat them fresh from the plant. I have to admit I never buy them, once they are picked and have travelled they are a different commodity but a Sungold tomato taken straight from the plant, warm and juicy, that’s my idea of heaven and they will be lunch for many weeks to come!