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Side-shooting tomatoes

It’s about now that I’m really on the lookout for unwanted growth on my tomato plants.

Owing to space restrictions, I grow only indeterminate (also known as cordon) varieties of tomatoes, ie. those that are reduced to a single main stem which bears the crop. This means that all side shoots have to be removed as soon as they are large enough to be grasped and detached, and as they start to appear quite early in the development of the plant, you have to keep an eye out for them.

This is what you’re looking for:

tomato-and-side-shoot

They are very easy to spot, popping up as they do at the junction of the main stem and a leaf stalk, and easy enough to pinch out with finger and thumbnail as long as they haven’t been allowed to get enormous. The only caveat is to take them off as cleanly as possible without ripping or scratching the stem – the less damage you do to plants at any stage of their life, the better as far as I’m concerned.

In the past I have always discarded these side shoots, but just for fun I thought I would try to make a new plant from one – tomatoes are apparently incredibly willing to root from cuttings, and as a removed side shoot is effectively a cutting it should root very readily.

The easiest method is simply to suspend it in water, so I found a tiny glass jar and did just that:

tomato-side-shoot-26th-may

I will leave it in a bright, warm place, and hopefully it should start to root in a matter of days – we shall see!

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May catch-up, long overdue!

My problem with blogging about gardening at this time of year is that I find myself so busy doing things I don’t seem to find much time to write about them.

However, happily – or unhappily! – the weather gods have decided to bestow upon us a typical Bank Holiday weekend of patchy rain and gloom, so I have no excuse not  to fire up the computer and record at least some of my doings.

March saw me making the first sowings in the veg department, namely my tomatoes. Many people start them in late winter, but as I don’t have a heated greenhouse – or any greenhouse! – the earliest I can realistically expect to begin is a week or so before the end of March.

I sowed 3 varieties, “Sungold”, “Gardeners’ Delight” and “Marmande”, in shallow pans of sieved multipurpose compost, placing them on the hood of my tropical fish tank for bottom heat – I do actually own a windowsill propagator, but if I can use the heat from something else, all the better! – and they came up in a matter of days. As soon as they were through, I moved them to a sunny windowsill and was lucky that we enjoyed a lot of bright weather at that time, which enabled them to grow into stocky little seedlings ready for pricking out individually  into 6cm pots. Very swiftly they outgrew those, so I re-potted them into the 12cm pots that should hopefully last them until they make their final move into growbags at the end of this month.

All of that seems fairly simple, and indeed it is, except for the fact that without a greenhouse I have to play a very canny game to grow them on in the early stages.

My basic aim is to get them outside as soon as possible and as often as possible in order to free up space indoors for other things and to enable them to grow in the best light, but of course, being tender plants that really don’t enjoy temperatures much below 10C, I have to be very careful about how and when I put them out.

Last year was a bit of a doddle, being one of the mildest springs I can remember, but this year’s Arctic blast in late April gave me many a tricky moment. Some days it was fine to put them out, but they needed to come in overnight; some days it was okay to leave them out overnight as well as during the day, and others it wasn’t suitable to put them out day or night, so I spent quite a lot of time carting them to and fro, often changing my mind mid-move!

It seems to have worked out alright thus far, though. Here are nine of them:

tomatoes-3rd-May

For the purposes of photography I obviously needed to remove the enviromesh cover that I place over them for protection from the elements, but I put it back immediately as I like to keep them under some kind of cover for as long as possible.

The remaining four plants are still short enough (just!) to reside in my growhouse (a cupboard-shaped coldframe, basically), but they will soon need staking and moving on to join their friends:

tomatoes-in-growhouse-3rd-May

They look a tad yellow in that photo, but they aren’t in real life – just a trick of the light.

So, that’s the saga of my tomatoes: I shall be heartily glad when the last frost date has passed (last week of May here) and I can finally stop trundling them around!

At the end of March I turned my attention to some other salad crops, thankfully, less Prima Donna-ish ones than tomatoes! As the weather seemed quite mild at the time, I thought I’d try sowing some radishes directly into a container outside with a single layer of horticultural fleece for protection. After little more than a week, much to my delight, they emerged, and by the 6th April they looked like this:

radish-seedlings

Roll on a month and now they look like this:

radish-3rd-May

There are two varieties here: the round ones at the front are “Jolly” and the cylindrical ones at the back are “French Breakfast”. I grew both last year and liked the taste equally, though on balance if I had to choose between them I’d probably prefer  to grow “Jolly” because it matures more quickly.

I’ve never actually tried to sow seed outdoors as early as the end of March/beginning of April, but I thought I’d give it a go and having been rewarded with my first harvesting-sized radishes in only four weeks,  I shall definitely be doing it again!

I also started some salad bowl lettuces and spring onions at the same time, germinating them in  containers indoors then putting them out under fleece in mid-April, but as yet they are showing little enthusiasm for getting going – I think the late April cold snap may have had more than a little to do with that. Hopefully they’ll put on a spurt when the weather turns a little warmer again.

And apart from a small sowing of coriander (indoors) that’s pretty much it for veg. I will be growing a couple of runner bean plants, more to fill a space on a fence than anything else, but I won’t be doing French beans, perpetual spinach or carrots this year as I simply don’t have the room to get a decent enough crop.

I haven’t even touched on ornamentals in this post, but that will be my subject next time – hopefully before June!

July updates…at last!

Long time, no blog – been concentrating on house decorating for the last few weeks while the weather is nice enough to have all the windows open! That’s not to say the garden has been left to its own devices, but after all the plastering, sanding and painting has been done, followed by watering, feeding and pest control in the garden, I haven’t had much time or inclination to go round taking photos. Oh well!

So here to kick off with, an evening shot of my biggest hanging basket, planted up in early June and doing pretty well now:

petunia-basket-in-situ-18-july

and a little closer:

hanging-basket-petunia-18-July

It’s a 12″ Easy-fill basket that I planted up at the beginning of June with absolutely no planning whatsoever – I just chucked everything at it, lol! So it has fuchsias from my own cuttings taken last year plus a mix of stuff bought at the end of May from my local garden centre: a couple of verbenas, a large purple petunia, two mini orange petunias and a trailing silver foliage plant I haven’t grown before called Dichondra “Silver Falls”. It’s a right old hotch-potch, but it looks colourful so I’m not complaining! Having said that, it would be nice if that hole in the middle where the basket is showing would close up, but you can’t have everything…

My tuberous begonia cuttings from last year are really kicking on now. Here’s a comparison shot of the better one:

begonia-cutting-june-july-comparison

I am very tempted to cut off the tall leggy bit (out of the top of the photo), but can’t quite bring myself to remove anything with flowers on it, so of course, it stays!

My divided primrose has come on nicely:

primroses-may-to-july-comparison

I now just have to decide where I want to put the new plants. I rather like having them in containers so that they can be moved around, but I’ll think about it.

 

Now on to the veg, starting with my carrots, which have put on a whopping great quantity of top growth since last month:

carrots-june-july-comparison

I’ve been keeping them covered in fine gauge mesh to protect against carrot root fly, but I have to remove it to water and to harvest the occasional spring onion (also growing in this pot), so I hope the pesky little critters aren’t sneaking in during the few moments when the cover is off. I’ve had a little dig around the tops of a couple of the plants and there appear to be carrots forming, but of course I won’t know the extent of them until I decide to pull them up – not that I know when that should be! Probably ought to look it up!

Next is my cut-and-come-again lettuce:

lettuce-20-july

It might look a bit sparse, but that’s because I’m constantly nipping off the oldest leaves for my salads and have been doing so for a couple of weeks now. I was afraid the hot spell we’ve been having for the past week or so might induce them to bolt, but so far it hasn’t. No other real problems to report – I was thinking they’d be awash with aphids by now, but no such thing – although I have succumbed to using organic slug and snail pellets in the pot because the copper tape was no longer deterring attacks from those particular pests. Ah well – I tried! I’m thinking of sowing some more seeds in modules to replace my original plants and keep the succession going since I have no idea how long they actually go on for.

And speaking of seed sowing, I’ve been dotting random radish seeds into gaps here and there:

lettuce-and-radish-20-july

these being amongst my lettuce! I lost a few lettuce seedlings to slug attack, so I thought why not fill the gap with something else? They are supposed to be ready to pull in 4 weeks, so I shouldn’t have long to wait!

On to the spinach:

spinach-june-july-comparison

which doesn’t look massively different to how it was, but there again, I’ve been harvesting the outer leaves as soon as they get big enough. The pot has also acquired a smattering of radish seedlings to fill up the space – I don’t like empty soil if I can avoid it. Slugs, snails and aphids haven’t been a problem, but I am fighting a constant battle with spinach leaf miner. I’m finding eggs on the undersides of pretty much every leaf, every day, and if I didn’t remove them with such frequency I don’t think I’d have a spinach leaf to my name by now!

Here are the eggs in situ:

spinach-leef-miner-eggs

They are laid in clusters and you can see how tiny they are in comparison to my thumb and fingers, but allow them to hatch and the grubs will tunnel through the leaf eating it from the inside and making a horrible mess of it. Add to that the fact that several generations are produced in a single season and you have good reason to be vigilant and rub the eggs off as soon as you see them!

Next we have my dwarf french beans, which have come on a treat:

french-beans-june-july-comparison

(They haven’t actually changed colour, by the way – that’s just my camera not coping with different lighting conditions!)

The beans are forming nicely:

french-beans-close-20-july

Not ready for picking yet, but not far off.

I haven’t had any major pest problems with these – the odd nibbled leaf and cluster of blackfly, but nothing to worry about. Looking forward to a pretty decent crop from just six plants by the looks of things!

Last but not least, my tomatoes:

tomatoes-june-july-comparison

getting a tad on the tall side! The plant nearest the camera (“Sungold”) has had its tip pinched out (they all have, in fact) but I’ve left 7 trusses on it, which is 2 more than I usually try for outdoors. I may be being a bit hopeful attempting to get that many to ripen in an English summer, but you never know.

Close-up of some ripening toms, “Sungold” and “Matina” (the larger one):

matina-and-sungold-20-july

No problems with these thus far: blight hasn’t reared its ugly and inevitable head yet, and I don’t appear to have drowned the plants by over-watering in this recent hot spell, thankfully!

I picked and ate my first ripe Sungold on the 17th July, and my first Matina on the 18th, and lovely they were too!

Fingers crossed for a long and successful cropping period for all of us hard-working gardeners….:)

 

 

Veg update: carrots, spinach, lettuce, beans and tomatoes

Time for a look at how the veg are getting along, and with the weather having been fair for most of this month, they’re doing quite nicely.

First, the mixed pot of carrots and spring onions:

carrot-comparison-9-23-june

I finally got around to thinning out the carrots a couple of days ago, but only on completion of my carrot fly barrier, which I fashioned from 8 build-a-balls, 12 pieces of bamboo cane cut to length and a fine gauge plastic mesh cover sewn together with nylon thread:

carrot-cover

Not exactly a thing of beauty but it should stop carrot flies from getting in there to lay their eggs and ruin the crop, which is something you risk any time you touch or handle carrot foliage because carrot flies can smell them from literally a mile away! At around £18 for the materials it’s quite an expense to go to for a handful of carrots (!), but it will of course be reusable from year to year so will hopefully be worth it in the end.

Next to them is the spinach:

spinach-comparison-9-23-june

I’ve had some aphids on them already, which I removed by hand, but no other problems. I’m not quite sure why they are all such different sizes but I guess the smaller ones will catch up. I’ve thinned down to just the four plants now, so I hope none of them fail!

A couple of feet from the carrots and spinach is my pot of lettuce:

lettuce-comparison-9-23-june

Looking pretty good. I’ve kept the cat deterrent wire over them because it isn’t really in the way yet – I’ll probably remove it when the row I’ve sown in the space on the left start to come through. I’ve had to remove the odd aphid but I’ve had no more attacks from slugs and snails, so maybe the copper tape does work most of the time?

Next there are my french beans (Castandel):

french-beans-comparison-9-23-june

They look good from a distance but close up there are one or two problems becoming apparent, chiefly little holes in the leaves which appear to have been made by some tiny caterpillars (since removed, obviously!). There are also a few aphids kicking around so I’m keeping a very watchful eye. Thankfully no slugs or snails have gotten past the copper tape, and I’ve decided to leave the wire cat deterrent permanently in place as it may serve as a handy support as the beans grow.

Last but not least here are the tomatoes:

tomatoes-comparison-9-23june

 

They are now reaching the height of the third arris rail and have about four or five stalks of flowers each with set fruit on the lowest trusses, so doing okay I reckon. Both varieties that I’m growing (Sungold and Matina) are cordon types, so I’m diligently removing sideshoots as and when I spot them. Other than that they give me little to do beyond slopping some water into the outer troughs of the growpots every second day or so and some feed (Tomorite) into the inner pots once a week.

Mind you, they never are much trouble pest-wise – it’s disease that’s always the problem, namely blight. Growing out of doors I pretty much know that it will strike at some point, and I just have to hope that it will be late enough in the season to have picked most of my tomatoes, or at least to have had a decent crop. Fingers crossed for a hot, dry summer…

Tomatoes and container-grown veg – early June update

First, a side-by-side comparison photo of my 3 tomatoes in a growbag:

tomatoes-june-update

 

In spite of the fact that we had a cold and rainy end to May, they’ve grown away nicely and are starting to flower well. I’m following the growpot watering instructions to the letter, though I have to say that on hot days I’m sorely tempted to reach for the watering can whether I’m supposed to be watering them or not! Force of habit, I suppose.

Moving on to my container veg, we have germination!

First, the carrots and spring onions:

carrots-9th-june

…need a bit of thinning, I think! I will have to be careful not to attract the attentions of any passing carrot flies, however.

Then we have the perpetual spinach:

spinach-9th-june

I’m aiming to have just 4 plants in this pot – one in each corner – so I’m thinning them progressively as I decide which the strongest seedlings are.

Next, the cut-and-come-again lettuce:

lettuce-9th-june

Just the two rows for the moment – I’ll be sowing again in a couple of weeks for a succession. The wire fencing circle is to deter cats from using it as a litter tray, by the way – one of the many little delights of suburban gardening!

And finally, the dwarf french beans:

french-beans-9th-june

Same deal with the wire fencing – it will be removed when the plants have filled enough space to deter the cats without assistance.

I’m trying the variety “Castandel” again since I had reasonable success with it last year. This time I didn’t bother trying to get a head start by sowing indoors in pots as I found germination was very poor doing it that way last year; I just sowed direct into the pot outdoors in late May and they’ve come through pretty well. I’ve certainly got enough!

Mind you, if the slugs and snails have their way, I won’t have many for long, so I’m trying out copper tape on all my veg pots to see if it actually will protect them:

tape-and-grid-protection

I’ve applied a double row so that the big slugs can’t arch over the tape without touching it, and made sure that nothing is overhanging or touching the tops of the pots to make a bridge for them to bypass the tape, so I hope I’ve given the product the best chance of working. I’ve read mixed reviews about it so I have to say that I’m somewhat sceptical, but if it does work I’ll be very happy not to have to use poison pellets around something I’m intending to eat. (If I used nothing at all, with the vast army of slugs and snails in my garden, I wouldn’t have a leaf or stalk to my name by the end of June, I’m afraid!)

So we shall see…fingers crossed!

Now I just have to work out how I’m going to stop everything getting sucked dry by aphids…