Tabletop structures help outdoor tomato crops

Growing outdoor tomatoes on the kind of table-top structures more often seen in strawberry production can help to reduce disease pressure, according to trials by plant breeder and seed supplier Pro-Veg Seeds.

Celano F1: variety on display at Pro-Veg Seeds open day - image: Barrie Smith
Celano F1: variety on display at Pro-Veg Seeds open day - image: Barrie Smith

The Cambridge-based firm, one of whose specialisms includes the development of patio-friendly, late blight-tolerant tomato varieties for the home gardening market, has used four 50m-long tabletops to trial some of its promising outdoor tomato varieties.

The trial was originally the idea of Pro-Veg Seeds consultant Barrie Smith, who initially used homemade tabletop structures before sourcing professional equipment from Herefordshire-based supplier Haygrove.

He said: "Some of the varieties had such vigour I thought they would work well on a tabletop system, so we set it all up and ran a trial looking mainly at yields."

He explained that when tomato plants of this kind are lower to the ground the microclimate around the crop promotes disease because of the lack of air movement. "The fact that these are being grown a metre off the floor, combined with the tolerance of late blight, puts them in an environment where they are not going to get much disease at all," he explained.

Two of the varieties in the trial, both of which Pro-Veg will launch onto the UK market in December, lend themselves to this system particularly well and were among the varieties on display at its open days at the end of last month. They are the midi-sized plum tomato Celano Fl and a large plum Montello F1.

Both "could lend themselves to pick your own or possibly organic growers", Smith pointed out, adding that while the plants in the trial were not grown under polytunnels "there would be no problem" growing them this way. "They are ripening very slowly this year so they would have leant themselves to polytunnel culture," he said.

Celano F1 had the highest Brix rating of any variety that the company has bred to date, "averaging around 10", he added.

Pro-Veg Seeds plans to continue the trial by further evaluating yield information and also by harvesting the crops' trusses rather than individual fruit. Smith said: "If we can prove that we can produce trusses then it might also lend itself to a fully commercial situation."

He added that the firm would be interested in working with some commercial growers - such as strawberry growers who may already have tabletops in place - on trialling those varieties that are suited to the system.

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