This section is from the book "Commercial Gardening Vol4", by John Weathers (the Editor). Also available from Amazon: Commercial Gardening, A Practical & Scientific Treatise For Market Gardeners.
Thirty-five years ago the Tomato (Lycopersicum esculentum) was practically unknown as a marketable fruit in the British Islands. Here and there a market gardener would be found having a few plants as curiosities more than anything else. It gradually began to dawn upon growers, however, that as a money maker there were great possibilities in the cultivation of Tomatoes for market. At first gradually, then by leaps and bounds, space was devoted to the plant in the open air and under glass, and the fruits found an ever-increasing favour in the markets. As the industry developed it became necessary to erect special houses for the plants. At first these were small, perhaps 50 to 100 ft. long and 10 to 12 ft. wide, but it was found more economical on the whole to build longer and wider houses, and to use panes of glass as large as possible, to admit the maximum amount of light.
Some of the largest Tomato houses in the kingdom, perhaps in the world, are those of Messrs. A. W. & G. Smith, at Redlees, Isleworth. Here is a block of twenty-one huge glasshouses, arranged ridge-and-furrow fashion, and covering something over 10 ac. The largest house is nearly 800 ft. long and 32 ft. wide. The houses are continuous one with the other, stout brick piers supporting the guttering between them. There is a door at each end, and ventilators on each side along the top, and also somewhat lower than midway down the slopes. The sashbars are about 2 ft. apart, and the glass used is 21 oz., 24 by 18 in., thus giving plenty of light at all times. The rainwater - about 25,000 tons or 5,600,000 gal. annually - is not saved, but is allowed to waste at each end of the long range of houses - and do a certain amount of mischief to the brickwork. Water, however, is laid on from the main, and is distributed by means of hose pipes attached to standpipes placed at regular intervals at the side of the central pathway. In these houses there are ten plants in a row, one on each side of the pathway, and about 2 ft. is allowed between the rows. The plants are thus about 2 ft. by 1 1/2 ft. apart, and each house holds from 5000 to 6000 plants. They are usually planted in April after a crop of Radishes, Spinach, or Winter Cabbao-es have been taken off, and by the end of September the crop is practically tinished, about six months elapsing between the first planting and final picking. Taking an average of 4 lb. of tomatoes to each plant, this range of twenty-one houses would yield something like 420,000 lb. (over 187 tons) of fruit during the six months. At .£18 per ton - just under 2d. per pound - this would mean a gross return of £3366 for 10 ac. of ground, and at least one-fourth of this - £840 - may be regarded as net profit, the rest going in rent, labour, rates, interest on capital, manures, etc.
This establishment at Isleworth is only one of thousands now devoted to the cultivation of tomatoes for market. There seems to be no falling off in the popular taste, and although prices are now much lower than they were a few years ago, it is evident that a capable grower is not likely to lose anything by growing tomatoes properly, even when he has to meet the competition of imported supplies. That these are by no means small may be seen from the following figures taken from the Returns issued by the Board of Agriculture: -