Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Cordon Tomatoes – Ring Culture

After several weeks of patient waiting, my tomato plants are now well established. Once the first truss appears, I’ll be transplanting them into 12” pots, to give the soil in the greenhouse border a rest. It’s advisable to change the soil every three or four years, so devise your own rotation system. Try growing them in pots or growing bags for two years, before planting them back into the ground. If you visit the gardens at West Dean near Chichester, the tallest ‘cordon’ tomatoes you’ll ever see, are growing happily in pots, so it won’t reduce productivity.

There is also the option of growing them in a form of ‘ring culture’, cutting the base from a plastic pot, which sits on a growing bag, in a hole the same shape as the base of the pot. This creates a two tier root system, the plant is fed by watering into the pot and watered by watering the growing bag through holes cut in the side of the bag – I normally put a small flower pot in each hole to help with watering. It is also important to remove the side shoots which appear where the base of the leaf joins the main stem. Break them off with your finger and thumb when they are about 2.5cm long. It is a pleasant, leisurely occupation for a Sunday afternoon! It is also important to keep the compost moist but not waterlogged, using tepid water. Growing greenhouse tomatoes in pots, borders or using the method described above, it is much easier to keep them watered correctly; the moisture levels in growing bags tend to fluctuate between being too wet or too dry. Keeping them properly watered is one of the keys to success, as irregular watering leads to fruit splitting or blossom end rot, when the base of the tomato becomes flat and brown.

I’m also delighted that two of the bulbs that I’m growing in the greenhouse are going to flower and that a hardy banana has lived up to its name and survived outdoors through the winter. I thought it had died, but waited in hope and it has proved that it is worth waiting as long as possible, before putting ‘dead’ plants on the compost heap. The two greenhouse bulbs, which are about to flower or flowering are Gladiolus cardinalis, from South Africa and Sprekelia formosissima from Mexico. As you can see, from the image, my elation was shortlived when I realised that the snail I caught in the greenhouse last night, must have been feasting on the flower! It’s still a lovely bloom, though! I’m particularly pleased about the Gladiolus, as it has been difficult to grow. It was in flower when I bought it but I have struggled to keep it alive. It comes from the Drakensburg Mountains, often grows in the spray of water falls and is believed to be on the verge of extinction in the wild. I have misted it regularly this year and that seems to have improved its growth, though I think that the cold winter also encouraged flowering. The impact of last winter gave us one of the finest spring’s and Chelsea Flower Shows, that we have seen for years. Perhaps it was worth the suffering, after all!

Happy Gardening!