Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Tomatoes setting

Isn't it amazing - from a packet of seeds

to this

in just 10 weeks.

Plants are flowering away like mad and the first fruits are just starting to set.
Tomatoes being almost my very favourite things in the whole world....I couldn't wait to get growing and started these off (admittedly a little on the early side) in February, in the greenhouse, in a wooden seed tray and got almost 100% germination from both varieties - Sungold and Gardeners Delight, varieties very carefully picked from some considerable experience and extensive tastings!
When the seedlings had formed their true leaves and were big enough to handle I transplanted them into individual paper pots. When roots started showing out of the bottom they went lock stock and barrel into 15cm pots before being transplanted into their final home - with 4 plants to each Willow Vegetable and Tomato Planter.
I hadn't banked on quite such germination success and as a result have more plants than I could possibly house in the Tomato House - so I've put 3 in a Grow Bag outside, cunningly disguised with the help of 'Hide Those Ugly Grow Bags' and passed the rest onto friends and family - noting with some delight (detect a hint of smug here?!) that my plants were about 4 times the size of those bought by one friend from the garden centre for £1 each! There's an interesing post in My Tiny Plot this week about waiting for the right night time temperature before planting out (55 degrees) - I put mine out in the grow bag a week ago and so they could well have been set back by the cold nights of the last few days.

To get the best crop it's important to pick out the side shoots that form between a leaf and the main trunk - these are suckers - if left they will develop into mini plants but will take strength from the main trunk, divert sugar from the fruit and turn the plant into a bushy thing that will compete with its neighbours for space and light. There's  a very interesting article on when to pick off the suckers and when it's ok to leave them, here http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/pruning-tomatoes.aspx

I've been playing hunt the sucker every day and pluck away with great relish - how could I have missed this one - I swear it's grown like a triffid overnight!

The plants are all firmly staked and I've used the best tie-ing method I know - our galvanised wire Plant Support Rings.
Simply pull the ring open, wrap it around plant and stem and squeeze back together, Couldn't be easier, doesn't damage the stem and can be quickly taken off and re-used next year.
When a few more fruit have set I'll start feeding them with Organic Tomato Fertiliser.
The smell of the leaves left on my fingers from picking out the suckers is just heavenly and has me nearly drooling in anticipation of a bumper harvest - fingers crossed!

Monday, 10 May 2010

Room for Flowers in the garden

A dull corner of the patio outside my kitchen window had been depressing me for weeks. Time to do something about it, I thought at the weekend - surely the last frosts have gone (as I write I can hear on the radio that it is snowing in Northumberland, and the morning's paper says a week of frosts ahead....).

I've used Euphorbia, with it's wonderful lime green bracts, and orange wallflowers, together with some pots of ready grown (and reduced to £2 a pot!) bright red tulips. A few orange marigolds, a Phormium yellow wave and some red pelargoniums complete the picture.
Already breakfast has been a more cheery affair and my spirits lifted before I head out of the door for the office.....now all I need to do is paint the walls!

Impossibly beautiful - the asparagus pea

Have you heard of it?
Almost certainly you won't have seen it in the supermarkets.
Apparently it's a pea plant, with pods that are eaten whole when about 3-5cm long and it tastes like asparagus. Ticking lots of boxes for me so far, plus it has lovely red flowers. So where's the catch? Is it difficult to grow? Is it, frankly, disgusting?
Certainly it's nothing new - my ancient copy of Peter Seabrook's great veg growing almanac refers to it as a standard veg alongside all other peas.
Curiosity and optimism won the day for me and I sowed some seeds in March.

Here is one today ready for planting out about 8 weeks after sowing - doesn't it look just gorgeous? Like a sort of botanical snowflake.
And this is what it should look like in a few weeks time.

It's now the perfect time to sow direct outdoors so why don't you give it a go? It likes an open sunny spot with light soil - perfect for growing in our Willow Planters - and it doesn't need much by way of support as it grows in a bushy form.
I'll tell you what it tastes like in due course.

Final round up of Winter Salads

The warmer weather we had a couple of weeks ago has sent the last of the winter salads bolting skywards. It was time to dig out my favourite winter providers - Texel Greens and Corn Salad (Lambs Lettuce) - this is the last pic of the salad jungle.

I couldn't bear to waste all that lovely home grown greenery but separating leaves from tough stalks would have taken about a week so I put the lot in a pot with some gently fried onions and stock and boiled for about 15 mins before sieving it to get the stringy woody stalky bits out - it made a huge amount of the most delicious and beautifully green, soup.
Other winter stalwarts that faced the chop were spinach (which also made the pot).
Winter purslane (which also made the pot) - and look at those amazing little flowers forming out of the centre of the leaf!
And finally red ribbed dandelions, which while looking lovely didn't taste the same (to me at least) and will not be making a comeback in winter 2010.