Planting Tomatoes Under Glass

Yesterday, we looked at planting outdoor tomatoes and how we are trialing a new way of growing them. However, at the end of May our attention were firmly under glass, and who can blame us with this dire summer, cool days, cold evenings and the feeling that we'll never see the sun again. Remember to keep smiling, folks! The sun'll come out tomorrow! Tomorrow is here and because so many of you have asked in the past, here is a reminder of how we plant our indoor tomatoes. When we say indoor we don't mean we plant them in the sofa in the front room, though they would do well in a south facing front room on a windowsill in a large pot. Heck, we knew an artist who was in an old mill down the road and among all the chaos of machines, paints, lead flashing (he was an odd chap) and canvas there in the four bays of the mill windows, pot after pot of tomatoes. Those old cotton and wool mills were built for maximum light and those tomatoes were some of the tastiest we've ever chomped on. What we are trying to say is never under estimate what you've got at hand, a windowsill, a front door step, a windowbox or even slim border running by a path is an opportunity. Any space is growing space.

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So, our indoor space is the glasshouse and for this job you will need: (1) soft string (see jute, which basically is 'soft string'), (2) secateurs, (3) a trowel, (4) a brush for cleaning up, and; (5) comfrey, lots and lots of comfrey leaves.

Start with placing your tomatoes on the bed they will go in, or if you are using grow bags, two to one grow bag. You want to place them around 12-18 inches apart (approximately 30-45cm). 

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We use overhead wires in our glasshouse fed through eyelets fixed to the roof. These are cheap additions to any glasshouse. These cost around £3 ($4 or around €3 just showing how far the pound has plummeted today in the aftermath of the EU referendum. We will now observe a moment of silence while we place our head in our hands and lament the final nail in the coffin for green issues and horticulture in England) and took around thirty minutes to fit.

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You want to dig a hole directly beneath these running wires or your cane support (though we avoid canes and will tell you why later). We then rip up some comfrey leaves and toss them in the hole. You probably wondering why, the reason is simple, as the comfrey leaves rot they will feed the tomato plant. It's cheaper than tomato feed and we know from previous trials between tomato feed and comfrey juice that the latter is free and rocket fuel. Comfrey should be in every garden, bee friendly and plant friendly.

how to grow tomatoes, life on pig row

You want to plant the tomato as deep as the first set of leaves, any stalk beneath ground will send out new roots. Gently firm in and run a piece of string from the overhead wire down to the plant. Make sure that this string is doubled up, you will see why soon.

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Gently and loosely tie the doubled up string around the base of the tomato plant and then tie off on the overhead wires. We have in the past been recommended to bury the string beneath the tomato plant but this tends to result in one outcome, the string rots, the plant collapses and you have tomato juice all over your glasshouse path. Here comes the reason for doubling up that string.

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You have two choices how treat your string, you can simply tie a knot for the doubled up string. Doubling up the string will give you additional strength but there is another reason for doing this too.

how to grow tomatoes, gardening, life on pig row

You can tie one piece of the string to the overhead wires but loosely tie the other piece of string to the first. That sounds complicated, even reading it back gives us flashbacks to those books that told you how to tie knots but had no diagrams, so to stop confusion see the photo above. The reason for this is simple, string can stretch, become baggy and this allows you to tighten up the string. However, the same thing can be done by merely winding the string around the growing tomato. So, the choice is yours.

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You will end up with a tomato plant that looks like this. The string will be a bit baggy but as the tomato grows wind the string around the growing plant, round and round the plant it goes, where it stops nobody knows. Well we do, that moment it hits the glasshouse roof, then pinch out the growing tip. This round and round technique creates a sturdy support and easy to take down at the end of the season. It also avoids the embarrassment of taking a cane out of a bed and going through the glass roof with it. Also, canes can carry disease that can effect tomatoes, especially if they are used year in, year out and frankly we all do that because once we've cut a cane to a certain length it is fixed in the same job season after season. The simple reason, we cannot be bothered cutting new canes.

growing tomatoes, life on pig row

After finishing your tomato planting you will end up with a glasshouse border that looks like this, a regimented line of tomatoes that you can get between to weed and harvest. You may think it is all over now but it isn't. Remember that brush? You can guarantee you will have soil all over your path, sweep back where it belongs.

growing tomatoes, life on pig row

Over the coming weeks these plants will get big, and we mean big and it is important to check on them daily to maintain a constant heat rather than humid conditions so remember to keep that glasshouse door open during the day. Glass protects tomatoes, gives them some heat but we do not want a hothouse. Now they are in, water them and feed them weekly with comfrey, more importantly always water them the same amount each time to stop fruit from splitting, we use two large 10 gallon watering cans, 2 of these every few days gives them a thorough soaking.


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