Wartime Garden: Experimenting With Toms

On our hillside the days have been hot and long, this is rather different from the 'mostly unsettle, dull and cool' weather of June 1944. We have opted this year to try an experiment with our tomatoes to see if the space saving and crop increasing use of planting them at a 45 degree angle works.

June Weather in 1944

This is actually more a Victorian way of growing and could be seen in the Victorian Kitchen Garden with Harry Dodson but it was also recommended by some local growing groups during the war for Northern Growers. The idea was to allow the plants to receive maximum sun and warmth, speed up the truss formation and avoid wasted space under glass. Though it has to be noted that greenhouses were rare during the war on a domestic level, and we suspect that this is a commercial growing technique from the war allowing vast glasshouses to use more of their own space. However, we can see the potential of doing this with outside tomatoes, it could, theoretically allow the rain to run off easily and minimise blight BUT could also mean tomatoes could be grown over dead spaces too, like little used path or out of compost heaps. We can't grow outside tomatoes here. It will be interesting to see if any of you have tried this technique outside.

Growing tomatoes at a 45 degree angle

The theory is that the tomato plant is treated rather like an apple cordon, and by planting the the tomatoes at a 45 degree angle, normally on the eaves of a glasshouse or out over a path the space between the trusses of a tomato plant lessened. We don't know if this is true but we have tried this on half of our glass house. We have noted something straightaway, the growing tip inevitably grows upwards and has to be constantly tied back into the canes. We have also seen some problem with the foliage, whether this is due to the close proximity with the glass or the fact that the plant is now on a 45 degree angle is to be seen. If you look at the diagram below, the foliage is kept away from the glass by around two to four inches and tied to a cane. The idea is to place the plant under some stress to maximise flowering and cropping. It's funny that as we are doing this we are re-reading Bob Flowerdew's Organic Bible in which he states that tomatoes plants don't have to look lush and green, you're not after the foliage, your after the tomatoes. 

Diagram for planting tomatoes in pots under glass

Now, we don't know if by placing the tomatoes at 45 degrees the trusses will come on any quicker. Though we have noted a difference between these plants and the ones across the way, the trusses appear to be closer together than those growing upright. This could be purely an optical allusion but the idea of a plant being grown to shade itself, as the tomatoes will hang down and be covered from the main glare of the sun by the tomato foliage. Also, the foliage won't have to be stripped away to make them ripen as we normally do with upright tomatoes late in the season.

Maximise space in your tomato growing.

The theory is, and it is a typical Victorian one, that it increases efficiency, maximises yields and in typical Victorian fashion probably wastes time with the need to constantly tie in the tomato plant. We will see. The upside is that we do find ourselves with more room in the glasshouse to continue growing, something we struggled with when the upright growing tomatoes were insitu.

Some of the Wartime Garden links:

Wartime Garden: Harvest Festival

Digging for Victory: The Guardian Blog