Now we are at the beginning of August this means that there is about 20 weeks till Xmas or 140 days to be a bit more exact.
If we look at the potatoes that take the longest maturing period which is about 120 days; from planting the sprouted seed potatoes to harvest, then there is time to spare for growing potatoes for Xmas.
Twenty days extra to be exact which is good value as sometimes weather conditions can mean the nominal 120 days may be insufficient to reach full maturity.
With tomatoes it is about 60 to 80 days from transplanting to maturity or the first fruit ripening.
This can vary a lot as most gardeners are well aware, the fruit is likely to form but it will depend a lot on sunlight hours and temperatures for the fruit to red up or ripen.
Then there is the period of time from sowing the seed to the transplant stage which can be about 2 weeks to 6 weeks dependant on conditions such as temperature, day light hours, food and moisture.
If you are purchasing tomato plants from a garden centre that are ready to plant up you are likely about a month in advance of sowing seeds on a heat pad. More likely 6-8 weeks in advance if you do not have a heat pad.
I have a heat pad and now 7 days after sowing two types of tomato seeds I can see the first signs of germination. One of these is the Silvery Fir Tree tomato from Russia which is a neat dwarf growing plant, ideal for a container that is about 20 plus litres in size.
The other one is from the truss type tomatoes that you can currently find in Supermarkets.
Once the seeds have fully germinated and before they can start to stretch to the light, the cell punnets will be moved out into my glasshouse. This is most important otherwise indoors they would stretch towards the nearest light source and weaken and likely ‘damp off’
As my glasshouse is not heated they will slow down in growth and by giving them a little nitrogen rich food should help to keep them growing along nicely.
The most important aspect is not to overwater the young plants while the cold weather persists.
Ideally they should be given small drinks and allowed to dry down before further moisture is applied.
I will also purchase a few tomatoes this week as they are now coming available from the garden centres.
These will be potted up into the next size pots with compost, a bit of chook manure and some of my own Secret Tomato Food. Neem Granules will be included to keep the whitefly and tomato psyllid at bay.
I have also a few cutting grown tomato plants that were taken in the autumn and wintered through.
These are nicely advanced with small fruit and flowers even if they are a bit cold beaten and don’t look the best. They will be progressively potted up and if all goes well they may provide the first ripe fruit about Labour Weekend.
The purchased seedlings and the germinated ones will, with a bit of luck and a kind season, give ripe fruit before December.
The types of tomato plants you buy will have a bearing on when the first fruit are ripe.
The smaller tomatoes will ripen quicker than the large beefsteak types.
If you buy a cocktail type tomato like Sweet One Hundred they are likely to have fruit ripe and ready for salads before Xmas.
Next would be a few medium size types such as Early Girl, Moneymaker, Russian Red and Scoresby Dwarf; the later two are very suitable for 20 to 40 litre containers and are bush types which you do not remove laterals.
If growing conditions are favourable then even the tall growing large fruiting types such as Beefsteak and Grosse Lisse could have ripe tomatoes by Xmas if started off as seedlings purchased now.
If you don’t get your tomatoes in early and have ripe fruit before Xmas then your fruit will likely ripen in January/February period when the price of tomatoes has fallen and you have missed the boat on having your own home grown while prices are still high in the shops.
The same applies at the other end of the season and that is to have ripe tomatoes to pick later in autumn through to early winter, when once again prices have risen.
Mind you even if you are late with your plants and have the main harvest period January to March then you will still have the advantage of far better flavoured tomatoes, (if you have grown them right)
Growing in containers and progressively potting up to larger containers means you can protect your early tomato plants against the cold, winds and frosts even if you do not have a glasshouse or similar.
The progressive re-potting also means less chance of overwatering which would slow down growth.
Starting off in a 100ml pot, progressing to a 4 to 6 inch pot, then a 20cm or small bucket size then either outdoors into a suitable growing spot or into a 40 plus litre pot.
If you have chicken manure available use a little in each pot size and the final planting hole covered with some mix so it is not in direct contact with the roots
Also place Neem Tree Granules into each of the pots as well as on the surface of the growing medium.
You need a really good tomato food that has ample nitrogen and potash, many of the ones I have seen are lacking in these two important elements.
You may like to try my own one called Wally’s Secret Tomato Food which is available with and without the Neem Tree Granules mixed in.
This should be applied to the surface of the mix in the area where the plant is to be watered.
For further enhancement spray the plants every two weeks with Magic Botanic Liquid and the surface of the growing medium.
A spray over the foliage of Vaporgard will greatly help the plants gain extra energy from the sun as well as protect them from cold and frosts.
Be very careful if removing any laterals, only do so on days when the air is drier and spray the wounds immediately with Liquid Copper.
Otherwise disease can enter the plant and cause a collar rot in the stem which kills the plant.
If you have concerns about blight then once a month spray the plants with Perkfection and two weekly with Liquid Copper.
An occasional spray of Neem Tree Oil over and under for complete coverage is a good idea as the season progresses to prevent the build up of whitefly and psyllids.
Get cracking and see if you can produce the first ripe tomato from amongst your gardening friends.