Tag Archives: Tomatoes

Taking Our Chances

It’s been the coldest spring in thirty years, at least that’s what the gang on Springwatch say and, hey, they know best. So why do I feel like I’m running behind this spring?

I really didn’t do much during the early May long weekend, I pretty much worked the entire weekend. We spent a lovely weekend away the following weekend, then I worked the weekend after that… However, I was determined to get stuck in this long weekend. I would have spent the whole weekend on the allotment, but the bathroom mildew needed bleaching.

Still, enough moaning, Scott and I headed down today to plant out our tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. The forecast is less than stellar for the next couple days, but the plants were starting to take over the flat. A few were started as plugs I had ordered and others as potted plants. I did do everything from seed last year, but these plants have gotten a far better start and are much more robust looking.However, I did lose several plants last year to the cold, so we’ve protected these as best we can. I really should build some sort of mobile polytunnel thing, but chopped up plastic pots and bottles will have to do for now. I will be making after-work visits to check on them!

IMG_5613

Good luck little plants.

We still need to continue our battle against the weeds. Despite the seemingly cold weather, the grass has been growing at an astounding rate. Simon whacked down a massive amount recently with a strimmer, which is great. I’ve already done the fruit cage once, but you wouldn’t know it looking at it today. We’re slowly working our way through clearing the beds and getting things into the ground. Plug plants are all in now, but there’s plenty of seeds that still need direct sowing. A few seedlings are making their way fine so far, but time is ticking on.

Before...

Before…

...and after.

…and after.

I really hope this slow start spring means we’ll be having a hot summer and autumn. If I can get the rest into the ground soon, warmer weather would mean catching up. Too much to ask of the British weather? I suspect so, but we continue on anyway and will just have to take our chances.

Planting Plans: Beans & Fruiting Things

For most of the country, it would seem that winter has found its second wind (so to speak), but here in London it remains mild and rainy. I really should head out there and get some final jobs done, but am struggling to get the gumption to do so.

I haven’t been totally idle, seed potatoes are chitting away in the spare room, winter pruning of the fruit shrubs is already done and the seed packets are already organised by planting month. The sun is setting later and later in the day, before I know it, I’ll be back to visiting to the allotment after work again.

I can’t wait for those longer days and the crops that can only be had with some hot summer sun. We had some great success with dwarf and climbing beans last, even if the summer wasn’t the best. This year we’ll be growing Golddukat, a yellow dwarf French and a purple climbing French, Purple Cascade. Peas were less successful last year, reaching a mere three inches in height, but I’m determined to try again. We’re trying a English heritage variety, Champion of England. Originally developed in the 1840’s and nearly went extinct, but was in part saved by a family farm in Lincolnshire in the 1940’s. I’m hoping I can do the provenance of these seeds justice and grow them successfully.

I really do have my fingers crossed for some hotter weather this year, there are a few crops that I want to attempt again this year. Their lack of success, even utter failure was not just down to the weather. The fault in part to me not being diligent enough in keeping the crops safe from weather changes or pests. We’re determined to grow sweetcorn again and put up fortifications around it to stop the foxes from getting it again. This year we’re growing a bi-coloured variety, Double Standard. With it’s yellow and white kernels, it’s what I could call a Peaches and Cream variety, which is a very popular type back home. We had some success with cucumbers last year, just a few rather wonky looking ones, but they tasted fantastic. Even the chilli plants managed to cough out a couple of Jalapeños. I’ve ordered plants for this year though, I’m hoping they’ll be more robust than the ones I started from seed last year. Also being started from plants are the tomatoes; Sungold, Chocolate Cherry & Tropical Ruby. Last year, I started everything from seeds, but the plants were knocked flat by a sudden cold spell. Thought some recovered, blight struck just as the fruits were about to ripen up. I’m hoping by ordering plants, they’ll get off to a quicker start and fruit out before the inevitable blight gets them.

Baby tomato plants, eventually lost to cold and blight.

Baby tomato plants, eventually lost to cold and blight.

The fruit cage remains more or less the same this year. The strawberries, which were planted last year, are filling out nicely and we’re hoping for more fruitful crops this year. I’ve pruned the gooseberry and current shrubs harder this year as they were getting very congested. I may have lost some fruit due to cutting back much of last year’s growth, but mildew was an issue last year. Really, I’m hoping the fruit cage will make the most difference  protecting what fruit we do get from the marauding wood pigeons. As someone said to me last year, “you don’t really realise how much you’re feeding to the birds until you put up a fruit cage.” My only addition to the fruit cage is a container grown blueberry. The container was left over from a planting job, which means I can plant it in lovely acidic ericaeous soil. It’s a novelty variety of blueberry, bright pink Pinkberry bought from Thompson & Morgan.

Novelty fruit or otherwise, I hope hot summer don’t become a novelty. The rain splattered windows today make it a little hard to imagine, but perhaps through our combined power of hopeful thinking, we can make it so!

Hits and Misses: The Misses

While we’ve been partaking in the great British tradition of complaining about the weather, has it really been a complete disaster? For a start, we haven’t suffered the terrible flooding that has affected most of the country, so I’m thankful for that and my thoughts are with those that have.

I’ll take a slightly more selfish perspective for a moment and take stock of what’s been happening, or rather not happening, on our plot. I did lose quite a bit of things over June, which I mainly blamed on my failure to get timings right  and not providing enough protection for newly planted things. I do now know though others that I’m far from alone. I had a plot neighbour stop by for a chat the other day. He was curious about what we had growing and what had completely bombed (my words, not his). It seems the failures and successes vary across the site and I was told one ol’ timer of thirty years declared this summer, “the worst summer of living memory.” For myself, I think that this is simply not the year for some things, but a time to really go for other things. With that in mind here’s a run down of what’s going on:

The Misses

I always believe in giving bad news first and I’ll try not to make this into a list of epic proprtions.

Firstly, the cucumbers, tomatoes and chillies, basically everything that needs hot weather, toast. I diligently started them all indoors, thought we were going to have a great bout of hot weather, which turned into heavy rain and wind, which lead to virtually no plants. A few tomatoes are struggling back, but unlikely to fruit at this rate. I did buy a few new chilli and cucumber plants and have collected some large plastic bottles to turn into makeshift cloches. I’ve definitely learnt my lesson with these!

Surviving tomatoes and new cucumbers.

We haven’t dug them up just yet, but the foliage of the early potatoes has also been looking worryingly patchy. I don’t know if it’s blight, but the foliage seems to be slowly dying back and has been very thin. It’s a sharp contrast to the main crop potatoes in the next bed, which look full and healthy. I’m wondering if we’re going to get many salad potatoes this round, we’ll soon find out I guess. I’m wondering if going for a second round of late season “earlies” might be worth trying for?

Patchy potatoes.

Germination can be hit and miss at the best of times, but my herb seedlings are really suffering. We’re very lucky in that the soil in our plot never really gets waterlogged. We have a nice sandy/loam mix with very little clay. Perfect for herbs really. I had visions of a nice full herb patch to compliment my herby window boxes at home. I thought the beds may have been drying out too quickly for the wee seedlings, but I’ve become more convinced that the cold temperatures are the main culprit. All the herb plants have been fine, but I think my dream of fresh dill this summer will have to wait until next year.
While most legumes have been chugging along, my peas have been a real disappointment. I love fresh peas, frozen peas have nothing on the delicious sweet, crispness you get with freshly shelled peas. As a child, one of the summer tasks for the kids was sitting with a big bowl in your lap shelling pea pods. Until I bought some from the local farmers’ market last year, Scott had never had fresh peas before. I really wanted to have some of our own to pick this summer, but after three rounds of sowing, only a tiny handful have sprouted. Ah, well, thank goodness for the French beans doing well.

A few sprouts out of the many, many peas sown.

Running Between the Rain

Oh goodness, this weather has just been, well, depressing. Along with numerous setbacks recently, either seedlings dying on me, weeds getting the better of me, everything has been just poo. It has been the first time I’ve really had doubts about this allotment lark. Thank goodness for other blogs and Twitter, I’m relieved to read I’m far from alone. At least I know it’s not entirely due to me being utterly useless…

Sadly the cucumbers, chillies, most of the squash seedlings and virtually all the tomatoes are gone. Yes, the wet weather didn’t help, but I mostly blame myself for these losses. My vague attempt at hardening off by leaving the kitchen window open day/night was clearly not enough. Also, my lack of protection when the weather turned for the worse didn’t help. I clearly need to invest in making cloches and mini-polytunnels. I also found myself browsing cold frame kits on eBay, though I’m a bit unsure where we’d put it…

Dead cucumber.

Our War on Weeds has finally been making progress. Armed with shears, forks and a grim determination, things are looking much tidier. Paths, ornamental beds and fruit cage are looking much better. We’re slowly getting the mounded beds cleared out and sown with seeds. Carrots, kale, cabbage, sprouting broccoli and pak choi are finally in the ground. I also finally remembered to mark the seed rows with string so I can find them later when the weeds make their inevitable come back!

Clearing beds

Sowing seed

Another setback, mainly due to a lack of weeding, has been the demise of our herb seedlings. Germination has been pretty disappointing anyway and the disappearance of the few seedlings I had, I just decided to clear out the bed and start again. If the seeds fail again, I think I may just resort to ordering plant plugs and going that route instead.

Round 2 of the Herb Bed

I bought a few more seeds and have more ordered, but today while the sun was shining, we headed down to do yet more weeding. My cousin Robert is visiting from Toronto and expressed great enthusiasm to go and visit the allotment. I took him for a quick tour and I wanted to do a quick weed through while we were there. Before I knew it, he’d nabbed some gloves from the shed and was helping weed the potatoes! Being a gardener himself, he was compelled to help with the weeding. Too bad he lives 3500 miles away…

Robert helping out

Robert’s encouragement and enthusiasm has given me a great push forward, which I dearly needed. So while the weather is better for now, I’m hoping to get back on track. Even when it turns back to rain, Wednesday apparently, I’ll continue to run out there and weed between the rain drops.

Jumping Jubilee Weekend

Even if you’re not from the Commonwealth, I’m sure you are aware that this year is the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Thus everyone here in the UK has been blessed with a four day weekend. Over a million people headed into central London to watch the Thames pageant complete with Royal Barge and Royals. As for myself and Scott, we headed over to the allotment.

In March it was unseasonally warm, then cold and wet in April, then it was warm again, now it’s gone cold and wet again. It has left us with an abundant crop of weeds, seeds that have yet to go into the ground, directly planted seeds that have failed to show up and lots of seedlings that really, really need planting out.

Thar be seedlings in there…somewhere.

I’ve been holding off on planting my tomatoes, chillies and cucumbers due to the rather topsy-turvy weather. Truthfully, that’s what I keep telling myself, but really it’s because these are my babies I grew from seed and I’m finding it hard to set them free. It’s a cruel world out there don’t you know?

Baby tomato plants

Baby chilli plants.

I did manage to suck it up and planted them out yesterday, along with the cucumbers and sprouted corn. We weeded the beds, lovingly tied the plants to stakes and diligently mulched the new plants. I woke up last night and could hear the rain pounding down. When I checked on the plants today they were looking a bit worse for wear, but I’m hoping they’ll perk up soon.

Sad tomatoes.

Flattened corn.

Sad cucumbers

While we’ve managed to get a lot done in the last two days, there’s no rest for the wicked and the Weed-a-thon will have to continue tomorrow. Thank goodness for the extra day off. Cheers your Majesty.

Grow Forth My Little Ones

I know most of us here in England have been delighting in the grand irony that as soon as the hosepipe ban was implimented, we’ve had non-stop rain. While it’s been great not having to worry about watering everything thing that’s already “in ground,” it has left us falling behind on a few things. Weeding mainly.

However, the onions are looking good and the radish seedlings are going great guns at the moment. I’ll have to thin them out soon by using some of them for baby leaf salads. Even the tulips have held up well against the near constant battering of rain.

Radish seedlings.

Lovely bright tulips.

Mainly, I’ve been pushing on with my seedlings at home. The chillies and the first round of tomatoes have now been potted up. They’re having to reside on the floor as I don’t have enough table space available for them. I don’t think they’re going to get enough light there, so I may have to do some creative furniture shifting.

Grow little seedlings!

Annoyingly, the sunniest room in the house does not include any windowsills! One solution I’ve employed is to move the seedling trays onto the coffee table each morning. While we’re all at work, it’s in full sun through most of the afternoon. There hasn’t been much point the last couple of weeks due to the rain, but they do seem to thrive nonetheless.

Sunbath.

Due to the extreme limitations for space, I’m planning to directly plant as many things as I can. I know this means having to be a bit more patient, but ultimately the seedlings will be stronger and more robust. Well, that’s the plan anyway.

Setbacks

So far I’ve been feeling rather pleased with how much progress we’ve made with the plot. From a mass of weeds, we’ve cleared and organised the plot amazingly. However, just to make sure I don’t start feeling too smug, there have been a few setbacks. Swings and roundabouts as they say.

I posted in mid-March about my Seed Anxiety, a worry that hasn’t really gone away and I imagine never really will. The sweet pea, nasturtium and sunflower seedlings I planted out have all succumbed to recent late frosts and hail storms. They had struggled on for a while but the torrential rain/hail in the last week may  have been the final blow. It was nearly the final blow for me as I got caught in it on Friday, which resulted in a rather soggy drive home.

The rain has also given the weeds and snails a lovely kickstart, which I think will need to be tackled today. I do have to admit though, when I made a quick visit yesterday to pick some more rhubarb, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Still, plenty to do nonetheless.

I also planted up my window box with lots of lovely herbs, but a naughty starling has discovered them recently. The little fecker has nearly annihilated my mint, one thyme and a sizeable chunk of my chives.  I caught the blighter early one morning as I was drinking some motivation (aka tea). I banged the window thinking that would be the end of it, but he’s been sighted more recently by my flatmate. Dawn raids seem to be the main tactic. I find it particularly irritating as we had a bird feeder out there for two years with no takers. Now that it’s gone, why suddenly start on my herbs!?

Thyme, Chives & Mint. @%$&%$!?!!

Mint. @^%#@^&^$!!

I’ve also noticed that my chilli and tomato seedlings, which started out really well, but seem to have “stalled” over the last couple of weeks. I’m assuming their growth naturally slows down as they get bigger, but any advice, input or reassurance from anyone would be very welcome.

Lovingly watched over by Sparkly!Jesus.

I suppose in the grand scheme of things these things aren’t all that bad, I’m fully aware there will be more to come. I pride myself in being a good problem solver, so I will directly plant out some more sweet pea, nasturtium and sunflower seeds. Hunt snails, weed and rake beds until my back hurts. Most of all, I’ll get up extra early and sit by the kitchen window boxes, armed with a sturdy broom.

Allotmentcation

This weekend I enjoyed an “allotmentcation.” I had a couple days of vacation that I needed to use up before April, so I gave myself a four day weekend. I have to admit, part of me would have liked to have spent those four days lying in front of the t.v. eating crisps and watching endless episodes of True Blood. Instead I ended up going to the allotment three out of those four days. Far more productive than filling my mouth and brain with junk. Enjoyable junk, but junk nonetheless.

I spent most of Friday there, just me and all the retirees. I was the youngest person there by a good forty years and boy, do they enjoy a good natter. I can carry on a good pointless conversation, but these people could chit chat for their country. It was a scorching day, so I didn’t mind any excuse to pause for a bit. The main topics of choice were the imminent hosepipe ban, which I can imagine will be a nightmare for those less able to carry water to their plots, and just how much money Plot 15 may have spent putting in those new raised beds.

Our plot neighbour, Simon proudly showed me his bumper asparagus bed and offered up suggestions for reviving my flagging sweet peas. Our newest neighbour, Tom, sweetly starts every conversation with, “now I don’t know what I’m doing, but…[insert question here]” We had a good tour of his freshly cleared plot and played the Name That Weed Game. When he asked me about what to do about Mare’s Tail, I replied, “try not to cry?”

A nice splash of colour on the plot.

I did manage to complete a rather major task. After a productive Friday afternoon of weeding, watering and digging, I felt it was time to wrap up and head home. I trundled up to the allotment site’s green waste bins, only to see that the council had brought another rubbish trailer. Now the last trailer showed up shortly after Christmas and was literally overflowing within days. Any time I had asked if another would be arriving, I was always told, “just keep and eye out for it, that’s all.” I saw that this one was already three-quarters full, just enough space for all the rubbish we had piled up. I was desperate to be rid of it, as it was occupying the space our new compost bins will go.I had arms of jelly, but I knew if I waited until Sunday, there would be no space left. With a big sigh, I headed back to our plot and spent the next two hours shifting rotten pallets, manky carpet and broken things up to the trailer. The trailer was ridiculously high sided, the lowest bit was about eye-level for me. Please note, I’m six foot tall. I managed okay, except for one rather massive chunk of rotting carpet, which managed to slither out of the trailer and onto my head.

On Sunday, Scott and Simon came and joined me. Poor Scott, he was suffering from the time change and got dragged out of bed at the ungodly hour of nine a.m. due to me bouncing about, eager to head back to the allotment. More digging, watering and weeding done, along with the main crop potatoes finally in the ground and of course, more chatting. We were given the heads up that tomato blight is a significant problem on the allotment site, which is a bit worrying given how many tomatoes I’m planning to grow. We also got lots of kind praise for our clearing and organisation of the plot. I’m hoping this is the sole nature of the chat about us, hopefully nothing about how much we spent on the shed or something…

Rhubarb looking good.

Today was a quick visit to drop off some bits I picked up at B&Q, which included a much needed watering can and a big bucket of pelleted chicken manure. I saw Tom carefully mulching and watering his newly planted broad beans, I commented that they were looking really good. He smiled, “Well, I don’t know what I’m doing, but…”

Seed Anxiety…

…we all get it. What to start, when to start, where to start and how long until we plant it out. No matter how much reading you do, it seems, rather annoyingly, that the only way to really learn is through trial and error. Lots and lots of error.

I’ve seen a slew of posts recently from other bloggers reporting their success and even failures when it comes to starting seeds. I envy those that are lucky enough to have a greenhouse or a polytunnnel in which to start their seeds. At the moment all I have at my disposal is the spare room and a bit of space on the kitchen table. The spare room is unheated, I’m planning to start most things there, with the chillies, tomatoes and peppers started in the kitchen.

I made the mistake of getting impatient and turned the heat on in the spare room for two days. Whoops! The sunflower seedlings shot right up to the moon and are looking dangerously leggy. Everything else, to the best of my knowledge, looks okay but may soon follow suit.

The chillies are doing nothing so far. I’m thinking it’s not warm enough for them, but now I’m worried that they’ve rotted sitting in moist compost for the last week. So for now I hover over the trays, wringing my hands, hoping they’ll make an appearance soon.

Hello? Anyone growing?

I also keep wondering what is going on with the weather. Last year in Southern England it was 30°C in April. On Thursday I was working in a t-shirt and driving with the windows rolled down. Friday, I was wearing a lined jacket and a scarf… In desperation, I even tried to find a Farmers’ Almanac online to consult. The best I found for March 2012 was, “a  mix of weather types.” Very helpful, not.

This morning I looked at my floppy sunflowers and decided to take a chance and plant them out. I did the same with my sweet pea seedlings, which went out with some sweet pea plants I had to plant anyway. I figure if worst comes to worst, I can always sow some seeds outdoors later if needed. So I’ve set them loose to manage without my constant, erm, pampering.

Sweet pea Tee-pee.

This morning we met our new plot neighbour Tom, who confessed to being a complete amateur. I confessed to being a professional gardener, to which he immediately started requesting advice. I offered up suggestions for transplanting shrubs and tips on watering. He then asked me if it was okay to plant out his broad bean seedlings…I laughed and told him he was suffering classic seed anxiety, he just looked confused.

Edit 23/03/2012:  YAY!

Hello!