BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

24 September 2014

BBC Homepage

Local BBC Sites

Neighbouring Sites

Related BBC Sites


Contact Us

Features

You are in: Lancashire > Nature > Features > Ask the gardener: Tomatoes

Tomato by Peter Williams

Ask the gardener: Tomatoes

Bill Blackledge answers all your tomato-related questions...

Warton's Bill Blackledge is one of the county's most popular and sought after gardeners.   If it's green and needs watering, Bill can tell you about it.  He has been answering BBC Radio Lancashire listeners' queries for over thirty years, which means he's been there nearly as long as the transmitter!

His knowledge is encyclopedic. After training at the under the then Ministry of Agriculture, Bill spent over twenty years at the Department of Biological and Environmental Services at Lancaster University.  Now, he's a regular course tutor at Alston Hall, Longridge and Lancaster Adult College.

For three decades, Bill has travelled the county with fellow judges as a regional judge for North West in Bloom.

So, whatever the problem, we like to think Bill can sort it out... at least that's the theory!

------

Pamela McDonald asks...

Can I grow tumbler tomatoes in a large window box and is April a good time to plant the seeds?

Bill replies...

You will find Pamela that Tumbler Tomatoes are far better grown in hanging baskets rather than window boxes, and one plant in the centre of a twelve to fourteen inch hanging basket and the shoots from one plant will spread and cover the whole basket  You can grow Tumbler Tomatoes in window boxes but the only obvious problem is that the shoots will become restricted against the window.  With regard to the sowing of the seeds yes, April is a good time to plant the seeds and if you do not have a greenhouse a kitchen windowsill will suffice but your plants will need maximum light intensity and, depending on weather conditions early June time is a good time for replanting your tomato plants in either window boxes or hanging baskets.  If you do have a greenhouse you could plant your tomatoes in both window boxes and baskets early May time and then again transfer outside early June.

------

Jim asks...

I have some tomato plants in a grow bag but I am concerned about not being able to water them when on holiday. Is there an answer to this Bill?

Bill replies...

There are Jim small automatic watering systems which you can purchase from Garden Centres which you could use to keep your plants alive whilst you are on holiday but, the majority of these systems can only suffice for a period of one to two weeks.

------

Linda Richman asks...

Jamie Oliver used some tomatoes on TV which were purply red - I think he called them "black cherry" but I have been unable to find them.  What I have found is a variety called Nyagous? Are these the ones he meant, or are there any others?  Do you know where I would be able to get these plants from around here?  You mention that May is the time for planting tomatoes - is that for all varieties?  Many thanks in advance for advice

Bill replies...

The Black Cherry Tomato is different from the variety Nyagous Linda and I am afraid that I do not know of any nurseries in your area where you will be able to purchase these plants.  It would however be worthwhile visiting several large Garden Centres and Nurseries to see if they can obtain this variety for you.  Seeds can be obtained from Thompson and Morgan seeds and these are available in Garden Centres in your area.  With regard to the correct time to plant tomatoes if you friends does have a greenhouse early May is the time to plant providing that we are not experiencing any adverse weather conditions.

------

Jim Cross asks...

Is it better to plant tomatoes in pots or straight in the ground in the greenhouse?

Bill replies...

If you plant tomatoes straight into ground in the same soil year after year Jim your plants can become susceptible to soil borne diseases and for this reason it is far better to use new compost every year and therefore growing tomatoes in pots in fresh compost is the safest option.  If you do prefer to grow your plants straight into the greenhouse soil you can buy tomato plants which have been grafted onto a vigorous root stock which will help to combat any soil borne diseases. 

------

Dennis Magee asks...

Is the hydroponic system better to grow greenhouse tomatoes than in soil in a pot? I am a complete novice and have just bought a 6x4 greenhouse and would appreciate any advice

Bill replies...

There are quite a number of websites Dennis that specialise in supplying hydroponic equipment  to the amateur grower.  These companies will supply the basic needs such as the rock wood inert growing blocks, culture solutions, header tank and pump plus containers.  I feel that it is well worth giving this method a try but, I would also grow some tomatoes in large pots and grow bags.  To make full use of your greenhouse I would also grow other plants such as Peppers, Cucumbers, etc.  If you are out at work for most of the day the hydropoinc system would be ideal as your plants would be constantly watered.  If you do decide to go ahead with this system it would be appreciated if you would let me know you views on it and if possible a photograph for the website.

------

Mrs L York asks...

Where do I buy established tomato plants from and when do I put them outside as I do not have a greenhouse?

Bill replies...

Local nurseries and garden centres will have tomato plants available from May onwards Mrs York but, it is always worthwhile to go to either your local nursery or garden centre and order your tomato plants for outside growing. Depending on weather conditions the time for planting tomatoes outside is early June.  They will need to be planted in a five litre/ten to twelve inch pot or container in a general multi purpose compost or John Innes No 2/3 soil base compost.  I feel that you would be far better growing the bush tomatoes outside which will not need side shooting, and the variety I would recommend is Red Alert.  You can also grow tomatoes outside in hanging baskets and an excellent species for baskets is Tumbler - this variety can also be grown in containers.

------

Peter Kelly asks...

Why are my greenhouse tomato plants producing tightly coiled little knots instead of leaves?

Bill replies...

You will usually find with tomatoes Peter that at the growing point of the plant the leaves are coiled but these will uncurl as the plant continues to grow.  Curling leaves at the growing point is a good sign that your plants are healthy but this usually takes place when your plants are growing in the early stages - May/June/July time - and as we are now in the middle of August and you should have quite a few tomatoes ready for ripening and my one concern is that tomatoes are very sensitive to weedkiller/herbicide damage and any slight drift will cause tomato leaves to curl and the fruit to become very distorted and it would be well worthwhile checking to see if the fruits are badly miss-shapen.

------

Linda asks...

I have planted 6 tomato plants in a window box in my greehouse and they have provided lots of lovely tomatoes over the past few weeks. They are now approx. 4/5 ft tall and still have lots and lots of tomotoes on but the bottoms of the plant started to go yellow, I lost one which seemed to rot away the yellowing has now spread to most of them up to about 2 ft. but the tops are still very green. I am new to this I regularly water and feed. Whats gone wrong please?

Bill replies...

What you will find a this time of year Linda (August) is that your tomato plants are not as actively growing as during June/July time and you can cut back on the watering and feeding as this is probably the main reason why one of your plants has rotted off.  With regard to the yellowing of the leaves this will happen naturally and these bottom leaves need to be removed.  You will need to keep an eye on the watering if your plants do start to dry out and I would feed approximately once every two weeks.

------

Frances asks...

I'm new to gardening having moved to Essex from the city of London. I've bought some tomato plants that seem to be doing very well they are around 3 1/2 ft high at present. I have noticed that some of the leaves have curled up and they have some white marks on the leaves (not all of them) I've not watered as much because it has rained nearly every day, they have fruit on every plant of which there are 6. Are my efforts in vain.

Bill replies...

When your tomatoes are actively growing in the early stages Frances you will usually find that the upper growing leaves have a tendency to curl over and this is a sign of healthy plants.  The white marks on the leaves is probably mildew/cladisporum which, is a fungal disease common to some varieties of tomatoes and, is problematic during very damp weather.  From your question I take it that your plants are outside and with the severe weather over the past few months this is not conducive for Tomatoes which love hot weather and hopefully during August/September time we will have the sunshine which they require.

------

David Ingham asks...

I'm mixing my own compost for my tomatoes, I'm going to put some vitex q4 in with the mix, on the box it says 6oz per square yd of compost, could you say how much this would take per plant in an average sized pot? I'm a wee bit concerned about over doing it. Thank you.

Bill replies...

I have contacted Vitax David and they have supplied me with information regarding the amount of fertiliser required for your tomatoes.  For the final potting your tomatoes you will need 420 grams of Vitax Q4 to 55 litres of compost - which works out approximately 7 grams of Vitax Q4 per litre of compost.  For pricking off first potting you will need 165e grams of Vitax Q4 to 55 litres of compost approximately 3 grams per litre of compost.  For information on Vitax Q4 you can log on to their website www.vitax.co.uk

------

Peter Cutts asks...

Why do my tomatoes split 30 mins after picking?

Bill replies...

The most common cause of tomatoes splitting Peter is irregular watering.  This happens quite frequently if you cultivate tomatoes in grow bags which, when they are actively growing have a tendency to dry out.  It can also happen if you continuously give your plants too much water which causes the fruit to swell too much and eventually split. It can also be caused by the variety of tomatoes you grow.  Regarding your tomatoes splitting thirty minutes after picking is difficult to explain - it could be a change in temperature which is causing this to happen and what I would suggest you do is to leave the tomatoes in the greenhouse for approximately one hour after picking - which means they will be in the same temperature and see if this avoids the splitting.

------

Billy Thompson asks...

How often do I have to feed my tomato plants? They now have fruit. Last year I had a lot of black bottoms on my tomato plants can you tell me the reason? Your web page is very good. Thanks.

Bill replies...

When your tomatoes are actively growing Billy you will need to feed your plants at least once/twice a week, and later on in the year this can be reduced to once a week.  You will need to use a high potash tomato fertiliser and there are numerous brands available.  On the question of the black bottoms on your tomato fruit, this is a physiological disorder called 'Blossom End Rot' and it is caused by irregular watering which, in turn causes poor calcium uptake to the plant and it is important - especially if your are using growbags - to ensure the compost does not dry out causing your tomatoes to wilt. Many thanks for your comments on the Web Site.

------

Bob Whiting asks...

Two weeks ago I planted tomato plants in a prepared plot and some of the leaves at the top are beginning to turn white. What is the cause? Someone said it might be blight. Would the replacements be better grown in large tubs or is blight an airborne fungus? If it is I'll make up a cover for them.

Bill replies...

The white powder on your leaves is mildew and it is not often you see mildew on the leaves of tomatoes so early in the year.  I would dispose of the plants and start afresh. I would also personally grow tomatoes in tubs in a multipurpose compost but I would be inclined to leave planting for a couple of weeks until the weather gets warmer - especially if you're planting outdoors.

------

Lea Leach asks...

Many of my tomato plants have fasciated this year.  I have grown eight different varieties and one or two of each variety except Ildi and Balconi Yellow have shown some degree of fasciation. In most cases several flowers have joined and produced fused fruit.  My only explanation is that when they first germinated, several people were using the greenhouse as a shelter and were smoking heavily. The next day some of the seedlings seemed twisted but most straightened after a few days. Could this be the cause?

Bill replies...

One of the troublesome virus diseases of tomatoes is Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV) Lea and the virus can be quite easily spread and caused by people smoking in the greenhouse.  When I was a student you were severely reprimanded if found smoking in the tomato greenhouses.  The symptoms of TMV are distorted and mottled leaves - distortion of the plant and also the fruits.  The distortion of the fruits is also the classic symptoms of herbicide damage and this can quite easily happen if people have been using a weed/feed on their lawn - especially if the ventilators on your greenhouse are wide open.  There are a variety of tomatoes which are resistant to TMV and it may be worthwhile growing some of these varieties next year.  I would also put a large 'no-smoking' sign on your greenhouse door!  Many thanks for the question.

------

Pat asks...

When do I put my tomatoes in a compost bag? When do I know they are enough to move - I'm just starting out with a greenhouse!

Bill replies...

The approximate time for planting tomatoes in an unheated greenhouse Pat is early May.  You can plant your tomatoes in a growbag (two to three plants per bag) or a twelve to fifteen inch plastic pot using a multipurpose compost or, you can plant them in the greenhouse soil.  You will be able to buy plants from a Nursery/Garden Centre.  If your greenhouse is already erected you could actually grow some lettuce or Pot Chrisanthamamums during the winter months.

------

Phyllis Parry asks...

I water my tomatoes once a day and they are starting to split is it too much water or not enough?

Bill replies...

The most common cause for tomatoes splitting Phyllis is irregular watering.  Tomatoes do not like to be over watered but they do require a constant supply especially when they are actively growing June/July/August.  And with the very high temperatures during the summer months it has been very easy for tomato plants to dry out - especially if the tomatoes have been planted in growbags - where there is a limited amount of compost and water available.  On the question of watering your plants Phyllis - as the weather has changed dramatically and your plants are not as actively growing you will only need to water your plants when the compost has just started to dry out.

last updated: 08/05/2008 at 09:08
created: 20/10/2006

You are in: Lancashire > Nature > Features > Ask the gardener: Tomatoes



About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy