I like growing tomatoes. I like the smell of the foliage, the annual ritual of sowing, potting on, constructing a support frame, the whole works. Best of all, of course, is the harvest. GYO tomatoes are a whole different deal to shop-bought – more flavoursome, sweeter, fresher, more bite, better in every way. I usually grow outdoors in a sunny spot on the patio, reasonably sheltered and close to the back door for ease of watering and harvesting. BUT – I always get hit by late blight, prevalent in the area. Normally this at least has the decency to wait until I’ve had a worthwhile harvest. Last year it struck just after going on holiday, we came back home to scenes of devastation having harvested barely any fruit. All very depressing. At the time I swore I would never bother growing tomatoes again. That lasted about a week, after which I picked myself up and began to think about what I would do differently. I could:

  • grow blight resistant varieties
  • grow from grafted plants which are allegedly more robust and vigourous
  • grow indoors only, providing some protection from air-borne blight

I opted for the last of those three options. I will be growing all my tomatoes in the greenhouse this year. This will limit the number of plants I can grow but I will squeeze in as many as I can, allowing for air flow and so on, not to mention leaving some room for my other indoor crop – chillies.

This year I am growing the following varieties of tomato:

  • Moneymaker
  • Gardener’s Delight
  • Shirley
  • Sungold
  • Tumbling Bella
  • Roma
  • Sweet million

Although I am growing in the greenhouse with the intention of avoiding blight, I am also trying to get time on my side. I’ve started them all quite early, risking legginess and weakness in exchange for an earlier crop. Hopefully. The Sungold were sown on 5th January, pricked out three weeks later on 26th January, and are growing on quite nicely. This is really early, but they have been stashed in the heated bench throughout.

Sungold growing on in individual pot luxury.

The biggest issue with sowing early is light-levels. I would ideally have a grow-light to ensure they were getting the necessary light. Now that they are growing on, the days are also lengthening so this is becoming less and less important. The good news is that leggy tomato plants can just be potted on deeper, with the long stems buried as much as possible. Tomato plants will produce new roots from the stem if buried, which should result in stronger plants and ultimately more fruit. I will eventually pot them up into the biggest pots I can get my hands on, at least 10 litres. Bigger pots means less watering, they dry out more slowly.

There are those that say we should all wait until, say, late March before sowing tomatoes, that those will catch up to and even do better than earlier sowings. I know in my bones they are probably right. My haste is partly impatience, I confess, but mainly to get ahead of the dreaded blight. I might well do a little test sowing later in March to see if they do better.

The others were all sown on 26th January, still quite early for tomatoes. I have pricked out the Roma, Gardener’s Delight and Tumbling Bella, the rest are germinating happily but not yet in sufficient numbers to prick out. The Tumbling Bella are from Suttons, as the name suggests they are suitable for containers or baskets. I plan to grow on staging in the greenhouse and let them, well, tumble.

Pricked out into a half-tray
Signs of germination.

Do you suffer from blight with your tomatoes? How do you manage this annual issue? I’d love to hear in the comments.

I’ll be back in a month or so with a tomato-flavoured update.