Tomatoes outside in the UK

Here at Sheffield Organic Growers we are positioned nicely for a short trip into the city from the south east of the ring road and is very convenient for deliveries, as it cuts down on time and fuel costs.

However the land is actually part of Sheffield’s green belt and as such putting up poly-tunnels on the top of the hill (my plot), would be quite difficult to get through the planning application process, as it would be seen to impact on the beauty of the landscape. One approach that doesn’t come under planning law is moveable structures such as cloches also known as low tunnels, these are inexpensive and can be made out of thick wire hoops or pvc blue water piping and are great for season extension.

I had this idea last year that I could grow some extra tomatoes outside using one of these but instead of growing the indeterminate type that you stake and grow upwards, I could try a high yielding determinate type that bushes outwards. The problem usually comes with this type when the fruit sits on damp soil ,rots or gets eaten by slugs. I thought the best way round this would be some bio-degradable plastic mulch that would not only keep the fruit dry but hopefully aid ripening by keeping the night time temperatures higher due to heat absorbtion.

Having prepared the bed early in the season by covering it with black plastic to kill the ground cover, broadforking it, using my two-wheeled tractor with the power-harrow attachment to break up the clods and then adding a lot of home made compost and some bought in leaf mould, I managed to plant out some cultivated rocket in this bed as a stop gap between the winter salad mix and summer salad mix. This went very well and after one cut before the dreaded flea beetle got in, (a insect that eats tiny holes in the leaves of brassicas and renders the salad leaves unsaleable), the crop was ripped out and the bed broadforked once more. The heavy rain we then recieved from the 9th June till the 17th was actually very useful for this prepartion as it naturally broke up the expanding clay particles and all it neeed was a quick leveling with the landscape rake before I was ready to dig the trench for the black mulch.

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 I also installed some drip irrigation that I decided to loop all the way round on the recommendation of Curtis Stone ( the urban farmer, find him on youtube for some really good techniques and advice). This has the advantage that if there is a small leak in one side water still travels all the way round the loop to the other side of the pipe where the leak is ensuring even watering.

We actaully have a plastic mulch layer attachment for the 4 wheeled tractor but having two crops on either side of the bed, I had to hand dig the trenches which took about an hour to do and then back fill onto the mulch. I’ll have to cost out the whole experiment roughly to weigh the output of time, materials and labour versus the return from the plum tomatoes (Incas F1 is the variety I am growing).

I had some help from Johnny one of our veg bag scheme customers in planting the Toms out this Friday, who’s very interested in organic veg growing. It’s always motivating to have someone keen to learn how and why you do this so it was a nice boost at the end of a long week.

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