This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Sow the seeds thinly in 6-inch pots in light soil. Cover lightly, and when of sufficient size, prick out into small pots, and shift into 6-inch ones by the time the small ones are filled with roots. In cold districts they give much better results if grown altogether under glass on the back walls of vineries, greenhouses, or some similar situation where they will get sun and air. In warm favoured districts, blank spaces on walls facing the sun will do very well; but it is only in very favourable places where they do well in the open quarters. We have found that when planted against walls, if the soil be poorish and wholly above the ground-level, and kept in its place with bricks or boards, with broken stones for drainage, they are very materially forwarded. Indeed, the first time we tried the plan, with one-half our plants, those so treated yielded a large amount of fruit by the beginning of August; while those planted in the ordinary way were green at the beginning of October. They require severe pinching. Always pinch off the shoot beyond the bunch; otherwise it will neither set nor swell its fruit well. The shoot which springs from below the bunch can be trained out to furnish another bunch, and so on. In no case, unless in pots under glass, use rich soil.
The Conqueror is excellent, but Orangefield dwarf is good, and so is Hathaway's Excelsior.
It has been said that it pays better to grow Tomatoes and Cabbages than Grapes. Whatever may be said about the Cabbages, I have a strong impression that Tomatoes are at least a more certain and remunerative crop, while they require only a tithe of the preparation and care. That Tomatoes continue to grow every day in popularity and in demand throughout the country, there can be no doubt, for the demand appears only to be limited by the supply. Large quantities are imported from France during the summer, but they are not of such good quality as our home-grown fruit, and do not fetch such good prices.
We grow Tomatoes here rather extensively, there being a demand for them in the house all the year round if they are to be had; and an account of the results of the culture of a few plants, and the return in the shape of fruit which they have yielded, may interest your readers. We usually have a supply of fruit all the season through, or nearly; but this season we had none from January to April - about the end of the latter month; and it is an account of the production of our plants from that time till now, 6th October, that I propose to give.
The earliest batch of plants was sown in January, and potted in 12-inch pots firmly, and placed against the back-wall of one of the fruit-houses. The second batch was sown in March, potted in 10-inch pots, and placed in a similar position as soon as room could be found for them. The two lots together amount to sixty plants, and occupy a wall-space 55 feet long and about 12 feet high, being set in two rows, one above the other. During the whole season we have supplied the house demand from these plants, sending large quantities to London twice a-week during the season; but as these have only been entered as "baskets" or "dishes," I cannot tell the weight, but it has been very considerable. The last week in May we began disposing of surplus fruit to a fruiterer in the nearest town, to whom, up to this date, we have sold 413 lb. Up till 5th June we got 1s. 6d. per lb. for all we could send; from that date till 2d August, 1s., and afterwards 9d. and 6d., but the price will go up again soon. The total amount received for the whole is £15, 7s. 11d., and it will probably reach £20, for the plants are still growing and bearing heavily. We usually grow the common red, which is the most productive we know.
The plants have been potted in rough loam and old mushroom-dung, and have received plenty of strong liquid-manure every day. I sold all the fruit to one man, and could not half nor quarter supply him. We could have disposed of them by the ton in two or three towns round about if we had had them, and they pay both the grower and the retailer. In order to grow the Tomato profitably it must be done well, like other things; but what the plants need most are abundance of light, a suitable temperature, and plenty of food. Very little attention otherwise is needed. Bands of string are run along the wall, to which the plants are tied, rough-and-ready fashion, and they are allowed to grow as much as they will. In pots they do not require much pruning. Planted out, I have had them more than 12 feet high, but they did not bear better than plants half that height in pots, which take up just half the room. They do uncommonly well in common wooden frames, but they should be heated, for the sake of getting the plants forward in spring, and into a bearing state as soon as possible. In such frames they do just as well as on a wall, if the branches are trained over a layer of old Pea-sticks, or something of that kind.
A house or pit, that could be built for perhaps £100,1 estimate, would produce nigh upon £100 worth of fruit in the season, and one man could attend to a number of such houses. One year I saw a number of plants in a nursery near Manchester, that were being prepared for winter forcing, as the price expected then was 2s. 6d. per lb.; but the most profitable season to grow them is during spring, summer, and autumn : during the dark days of winter they do not bear abundantly enough to pay. J. S. W.
[There can be no doubt that many who are now marketing second and third rate Grapes would make more money by devoting their glass to Tomatoes, which are only beginning to be relished, for it is only really first-class Grapes that pay now; and Tomatoes are so much more easily managed, that where first-class Grapes cannot be grown, almost any one, as J. S. W. says, can produce good crops of Tomatoes. - Ed].