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Grow the tastiest tomatoes
Posted on Mar 24, 2016 7:41 AM

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Welsh grower Charles Maisey has been growing tomatoes for over 60 years. He shares his advice with Sue Bradley.
HE’S been described as “the master” by no less than the president of the National Vegetable Society Medwyn Williams MBE, and was the man to whom Joe Swift turned when he wanted advice on exhibiting crops at a top RHS show.
When it comes to growing tomatoes, it’s hard to imagine anybody doing it better than Charles Maisey. Now 83, Charles has scaled down his exhibiting activities but still fills two large glasshouses with tomato plants every year. “I’ve been growing tomatoes for more than 60 years and pretty much won every competition,” laughs Charles, who began his life in horticulture as a 17-year-old apprentice at a nursery. “Over the years I’ve had a lovely time gardening and met some fantastic people. “Unfortunately I’ve seen my best days and would like to pass on what I’ve learned.” Charles’s tomato growing secrets Charles’s tomato year starts at the end of January, when he sows the first of his seeds for the year ahead, bringing them on in small pots in an electric propagator heated to between 13˚C and 16˚C
(55˚F to 60˚F). “I’ll put in some more seeds about a month later so that I don’t get all my tomatoes at once. I start picking towards the end of June.” Once they’re big enough, Charles transfers his seedlings to three inch (8cm) pots of compost and then on to five inch (13cm) containers before planting them out into their final growing positions in his heated greenhouse when they’re 6in (15cm) high. “I pot them on twice to get good, sturdy roots,” he explains.
Another key to Charles’s success is the meticulous care he takes over the depth and quality of the soil he uses in his greenhouse.
He starts by filling a trench with nine inches (23cm) to one foot (30cm) of wellrotted farmyard or horse manure.
Onto this he places a growing bag into which a large slit is cut on the underside to allow the roots of the tomatoes to travel.
Planting rings made from florists’ buckets with the bottoms cut out are pushed into holes in the tops of the bags and filled with a high nutrient compost: Charles uses a mix of peat and loam-based products as he’s found peat dries out quite quickly, and he’s careful to top up the compost as the plant grows.
Experience has taught Charles to space out his tomatoes (no more than two plants per grow bag) to ensure they receive adequate air flow as this reduces the risk of diseases such as botrytis (grey mould) and blight.
Watering takes place every three days, or more frequently if it’s exceptionally hot. Once the plants are established, Charles wets the manure layer under the growing bags rather than watering the base of the stem.
Feeding starts after the first truss of tomatoes are about the size of a pea, with a high potassium feed that’s given at half strength every time he waters his plants.
After a month Charles adds three further feeds to his regimen: solutions of nettles, sheep manure and soot, all of which are made in large barrels in his garden. “I feed these one after another through a small flower pot sunk into the top of the growing bag, and then start again.” Charles has grown all kinds of vegetables successfully, including runner beans, for which he won six consecutive national titles. He was also the national champion for potatoes three times, but says tomatoes are always the top of the crops in his eyes. “I could eat them every day: they’re very good for you,” he laughs.
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