Gardening: Cherry picking the best tomatoes to grow this year
If saving money and the best flavour is why you want to grow tomatoes this year, you really can't beat cherry varieties.
Small and perfectly formed, they come in a host of bright colours, which cost a fortune in the shops.
They have an excellent acid/sugar balance which makes the flavour so good.
Seeds can be sown in a propagator from now, although it’s best to wait until next month if you don’t have a good light source.
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Here are the cordon varieties (upright vines that need support and side-shooting) that I grew last year and how they performed:
Rainbow Blend F1 Hybrid*
A mix of four colours of baby plum-shaped fruits – Katiebell (yellow), Lizziebell (orange), Luciebell (red) and Flamingo (pink). Fruit weight 16-20g. Really pretty fruit, good flavour, but not a huge crop. 6/10
Varieties Artisan Blush Tiger (pink blush on golden skin) and Artisan Pink Tiger (pink and gold stripes) – tapering, 5-6cm long fruits, weighing approximately 18-20g. Stunning fruit, good flavour, average crop. 7/10
Suncherry Premium F1 Hybrid*
Shiny, red cherry tomato. Weight 13-15g. Superb flavour, good crop. 9/10
Stunning dark smoky rose flesh and skin with equally good taste – a high sweetness to acid ratio. Long compound trusses with approximately 15g fruits. Heavy cropping, excellent flavour. 9/10
Sungold F1 Hybrid*
The best-tasting yellow tomato (but Orange Paruche good if you want a change). Approximately 13-14g fruits. The best flavour, heavy cropping. 10/10
*F1 hybrids cost a lot more to produce and don’t come true from seed, so they’re much more expensive than other varieties.
February-March (only sow very early if you use grow lights). Sow 0.5cm (¼”) deep, thinly in a seed tray and cover with Vermiculite or Perlite, 15-20°C (60-68°F).
ASPECT AND SOIL
Full sun, rich, well-drained.
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JOBS FOR THE WEEKEND
Sow seeds in modules/pots in an unheated greenhouse: broad beans, leeks, lettuce, rocket, coriander, peas and Swiss chard. Sow sweet peppers, tomatoes, chillies, cucumbers, aubergines, celery, salads and globe artichokes in a propagator.
Sprinkle granular fertiliser around clumps of spring bulbs.
This is the best month for planting roses in heavy soils. Don’t plant a rose where one was grown before, otherwise new introductions may suffer from replant disease. Feed plants with a granular rose fertiliser as they come into growth. Prune established bush and standard roses as they start growing but before any leaves unfurl.
Plant onion sets in modular trays of compost, raising plants under cover to plant out later.
Dig compost into borders to improve water retention and clean up fallen branches and leaves as you go.
Hoe bare areas of soil on dry days to remove weed seedlings.
Keep feeding the birds and put up nesting boxes.
Buy and plant shrubs and perennials as soon as possible for more time to get roots established before the growing season – drought and heat kill more first-year plants than the cold.
Cut back ornamental grasses and other herbaceous perennials to make way for the new growth. Lift and divide large clumps of hosta, or any other hardy perennial with a crown.
Add copper rings to pots to protect plants from slugs and snails.
Prune late-summer flowering deciduous shrubs, such as Buddleja davidii, Caryopteris clandonensis, Ceratostigma, Hydrangea paniculata, Leycesteria, Lavatera, Perovskia, hardy fuchsia, and deciduous Ceanothus. Shrubs such as Eucalyptus gunnii and Cornus sanguinea cultivars are cut back very hard to deepen the stem colour and keep them manageable.
Cut back late summer and autumn flowering (group 3) Clematis, if not done last month. Cut to the lowest pair of strong buds above ground level, then mulch and feed.
Prune back stems on pot-grown overwintered fuchsias, and place them in a well-lit, warm spot to re-shoot. Pot them on in fresh compost and start feeding six to eight weeks later.
If you have seedlings and cuttings in the greenhouse, make sure they are getting the maximum light, or they will become weak and leggy. Turn them once a day so that they get light on both sides.
Continue chitting early and main crop potatoes.