Growing tomatoes outdoors

Posted: Monday 12 May 2014
by Adam Pasco

Every May, as the weather warms up, I ask myself the same question: is it really worth growing tomatoes outside this summer?

Every May, as the weather warms up, I ask myself the same question: is it really worth growing tomatoes outside this summer?

You may wonder why I wouldn’t grow tomatoes out in pots, baskets, plots and allotments, but perhaps you’ve never had a crop decimated by blight disease. As the saying goes, once bitten, twice shy. Go back a few years and I regularly grew tomatoes outside with no problems, but in recent years I’ve noticed more and more blight. Sometimes it strikes early in the season, before there's time to enjoy most of a crop.

Another decision I have to make is which varieties to grow. There are some blight-tolerant varieties available, such as ‘Ferline’, ‘Losetto’ and the new plum ‘Romello’, but they're just that: tolerant, but not completely resistant to attack. These varieties aren’t always to my taste either, often producing a reasonable crop of fruit, but without the best flavour.

No, if I want to grow my favourite varieties outside then I have two options: cross my fingers and hope that this summer isn't hot and humid (ideal conditions for blight to spread), or take measures to prevent the dreaded blight. The latter means regular spraying through summer with a suitable fungicide.

Greenhouse tomatoes should avoid blight attack, but I simply can’t grow enough fruit under glass to meet the family demands for tomatoes in salads, soups and passata sauces.

So I choose around eight varieties of tasty cherry and plum salad tomatoes for the greenhouse, which will start ripening early and provide pickings of sweet, juicy fruits all summer. Out on my veg plot I grow the large-fruited Italian plum tomatoes, with thick flesh and few seeds making them the perfect choice for making soups and sauces.

Many of these outdoor varieties do tend to ripen late in summer and through into autumn, making them more susceptible to late blight. Prevention is better than cure, so I’ll have to start spraying regularly with copper-based Bordeaux Mixture or Fruit & Vegetable Disease Control from June onwards. A pressure sprayer fitted with a long-handled lance is useful for this job, ensuring all leaves and shoots are thoroughly coated with fungicide as a barrier to airborne infection.

Added to the mix this year I’m putting the new TomTato to the test. This cleverly grafted plant has taken some 15 years of trials to perfect, and produces tasty tomatoes at the top and a crop of potatoes below - all from the same plant. The catalogue description claims a single plant could produce over 500 really sweet cherry tomatoes, so I’ll be counting with anticipation. Only time will tell whether the TomTato is a novelty or not, but one thing’s for certain: if I grow mine outside, it'll definitely need to be protected from blight.

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Talkback: Growing tomatoes outdoors
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happymarion 21/05/2014 at 09:15

Growing tomatoes indoors and out is a trial the Nation of Gardeners Project is doing for Mr. Fothergill Seeds. Ferline F1 is included in the outdoor ones and I have positioned mine in the lee of the bungalow where the rainwater misses them as the blight is carried by the rain and I noticed a few years back that, although my tomatoes in the open ground got blight, those ones did not. Means more watering with metered water though. I have not done the calculation on using fungicide

GWRS 25/05/2014 at 21:05

Hello , I always grow tomatoes in the greenhouse but  also outside against the conservatory and some little toms in hanging baskets and some years , depending on the weather they can do really well 

I have never ( touch wood ) had blight and use rain water 


scroggin 25/05/2014 at 21:16

Blight can be pretty bad in the area I garden, on the allotment even plants in the polytunnel get affected as the spores are carried on the wind, and the doors are open on hot days. Its always worse in wet summers as the damp conditions favour the spread of the spores.

The plants in the polytunnel are watered from a tap fed water butt so has nothing to do with rainwater in my case.

Garden Maniac 30/05/2014 at 20:04

I never think it's worthwhile growing tomatoes outdoors - HOWEVER I do usually grow too many plants to keep then all indoors!! :) Therefore I do end up with plants in baskets etc (one of which has blight already) and plants anywhere I can sustain them. Can't say though I really notice a difference as to where they are grown in terms of productivity, but foliage and size of fruit suffers more in the outdoors - taste however, belongs to the greenhouse, I'm afraid!

Wessex Wellies 01/06/2014 at 18:21

I grow cherry tumbling tomatoes outside in half moon baskets on the sunny side of my garage,usually about 5 plants and always have enough to keep me in salads through the summer.
I also have 3 plants in buckets growing in a plastic tomato house which again, keeps me going through until autumn.