GARDENING: A touch of aspirin can improve your tomato crop

Orange Paruche tomato plant.

Orange Paruche tomato plant.

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Tomatoes are one of my favourite vegetables to grow, and I was interested to try new methods last year – here’s the results.

I only grow them under glass as my garden is very windy and not warm enough to get a decent crop.

Flowers of tomato Rosella.

Flowers of tomato Rosella.

These differed from my usual grow bag/ring culture pots in the conservatory and planting direct into the greenhouse bed.

The main problem I faced was lack of space: my conservatory is 30ft x 5ft – I have to shuffle through sideways when it’s full.

The windowsill plants block the light to the staging, leading to a poorer crop and leggier plants.

The answer? One-truss growing, which James Wong discussed at last year’s The Edible Garden Show.

Mixed salad crops.

Mixed salad crops.

You stop the plants two or three leaves after the first truss has formed.

The theory is you get bigger, sweeter tomatoes and the drop in yield is offset because you can cram more plants in.

In the space, I would have had three light-blocking large grow bags with 17 Gardener’s Delight plants in 18-19cm (7-7.5” pots), which would have been wasted.

I got a reasonable crop out of 17 plants that would have been wasted, but it would have been better to use Orange Paruche or Rosella, which set bigger trusses.

These tomatoes didn’t block the light, leading to a bigger crop from the plants on the staging, and were finished by July, leaving an airy, uncramped conservatory.

The second tip is aspirin: spraying a dilute solution on to tomato plants (half a soluble tablet per litre of water) causes their sugar content to increase by 150 per cent and boosts Vitamin C by 50 per cent with a single spray.

Aspirin is a close chemical copy of the plant stress hormone, salicylic acid, which turns on the genes that regulate their defence systems, so more sugars are redirected to the developing fruit.

The flavour of the tomatoes was exceptionally good last year – I was very happy with the result.

JOBS TO DO THIS WEEKEND

Sow salad crops, such as beetroot, Chinese cabbage, pak choi and radish. Leafy salads do better when sown in light shade, as hot, dry weather leads to bitter leaves.

Sow French, runner and broad beans, peas, squash, sweetcorn, and outdoor cucumbers directly into prepared beds. French beans are best sown in traditional rows, 45cm (18in) apart, at 15-22cm (6-9in) spacing.

Open doors and vents on greenhouses to increase ventilation. Damp down the floor to increase humidity. Give plants a liquid feed to encourage flowering and fruiting.

Plant out summer bedding and seed-raised plants. Make sure they are well watered in and keep moist during dry weather.

Gaps in herbaceous borders are best filled with annual bedding, such as Calendula, Godetia and Clarkia.

Thin out earlier direct sowings in two or three stages at fortnightly intervals. Final spacings should be between 10-20cm (4-8in).

Hoe borders to prevent annual and perennial weeds from spreading and seeding themselves.

Liquid feed containerised plants every two to four weeks.

Continue to protect lily, delphiniums, hostas and other susceptible plants from slugs and snails.

Prune overcrowded, dead or diseased stems of Clematis Montana once it has finished flowering.

Sprinkle fertiliser around perennials, shrubs and roses.

Start treating potatoes and tomatoes against blight.

Celeriac and celery can be planted out. A well-prepared site with lots of organic matter dug in is essential.

For more on these topics, plus cook what you grow, traditional recipes, North East information, environmental news and more, log on to www.mandycanudigit.co.uk (now smartphone friendly), www.sunderlandecho.com/gardening, follow me on Twitter @MandyCanUDigIt or you can like me on Facebook at Mandycanudigit