Thursday, 27 July 2017

A technique for growing trailing tomatoes

One of my favourite tomato varieties is "Maskotka", which I have grown for many years now. It produces red fruits that are rather larger then the usual cherry tomato. It has a rather unruly trailing habit, and lends itself to being grown in baskets or elevated containers. Fortunately, I have such a container...

The container is officially known as a "planter". It's a wooden trough-like thing, standing on legs about 3 feet tall - very much like the things that these days some people call "veg-trugs". It conveniently accommodates two large plastic crates. I have used this arrangement several times for growing finger carrots, and it has worked well. This year I decided to have a change and grow some tomatoes in it instead.

I filled the two crates with commercial multi-purpose compost and planted each with two "Maskotka" tomato plants. This was on 11th May. I gave the plants a bit of early support with some soft string stretched between short bamboo canes.

When the plants grew bigger and stronger, I removed the string and allowed the plants to flop over, arranging them such that they were fairly evenly distributed - pointing in different directions.

I pushed a few short sticks into the compost to keep the tomato plants in place.

After this it was just a case of watering and feeding in the same way as any other tomatoes. I found that the compost in the crates dried out very quickly (small crates, poor compost!) and in sunny weather I had to water them at least daily, sometimes twice daily. In the really hot weather in June I was practically standing over them all day with the watering-can! As for feeding, my usual regime is a dose of Tomorite applied weekly after flowers appear. In this next photo you can see that the plants are very lush, and covered in flowers. This was 23rd June.

By the second week of July the plants had set lots of fruit, though it was still firmly green.

The first fruit began to noticeably change colour on 10th July.

The first ripe fruit were picked on 21st July. most of the tomatoes in this next photo are "Losetto", but there are a couple of "Maskota" in there too -they are the slightly larger ones over at the right.

At about this time, the foliage began to die down, as is normal when the fruit starts to ripen, a natural mechanism allowing more light to reach the fruit. By this time the plants were heavy with fruit and definitely trailing. Luckily the height of the planter was just right too - the plants don't touch the ground, which makes it much more difficult for slugs and snails to get at them.

If you're wondering what's in the crate underneath, it's Watercress.

One of the things I like about "Maskotka" is the fact that the fruit ripens over quite a long period, and individually rather than truss-by-truss like cordon-grown tomatoes.

You pick some ripe ones and when you back next day there are more ready to pick, which is very fortunate since my first significant batch (maybe 20 - 25 fruits) was picked on 23rd July with the help of two of my granddaughters, who promptly demolished the lot in about 3 minutes flat. I managed to rescue only one each for Jane and myself!

Looked at from above, the plants don't seem too impressive...

But when you look at the sides, the whole thing is "dripping with fruit"!

Over the next couple of weeks I expect to be taking in a steady stream of tasty little toms. Perhaps I'm going to have to keep them secret from Lara and Holly, otherwise Jane and I won't get much of a look in!

I'm pleased with the technique I have used, and the piece of kit that has made it possible, but I think that if I use it again next year I will use better compost (if I can find any!) to reduce the need for watering.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Home-grown "Crudités"

For those of you who don't speak French, the word "crudité "means literally "rawness" or "harshness", but it is used in the culinary sense to mean raw vegetables or salads. Crudités are normally served during a meal as a starter, often with dips like garlic mayonnaise or hummus.

I like to serve home-grown vegetables in this way whenever I have something appropriate for this style of eating, and we often eat small plates of them as a "Nibble" with a drink before dinner. The best season for such things is definitely Summer. This basket of veg I harvested yesterday clearly contains some suitable candidates (not the spuds maybe, though we do sometimes eat the tiddlers from a batch of newly-dug potatoes in this way, after cooking and cooling to lukewarm temperature).

The best thing about Crudités is that they require only minimal preparation. When you grow your own veg you know whether they have been subjected to any nasty chemicals (hopefully not!), and probably they will just need to be washed and perhaps gently scrubbed. If vegetables like carrots are picked young and tender they usually don't need peeling. In fact, the skin is often the tastiest and most nutritious part of a vegetable.

The carrots in my basket were a mixture selected from my 5 different varieties so I can't identify them for you, but the tomatoes are "Sungold" (golden), "Maskotka" (larger red), and "Losetto" (smaller red). The potatoes are "Nicola" (2nd Early).

I'm not very proud of the radishes. Most of my June-sown ones have gone long and lanky, probably due to lack of light. Not only have we had precious little sunshine during the month of July, but also my Runner Beans have grown tall and dense and have blocked out much of the light that would otherwise have fallen on the radishes! The few that you see in my photos are probably all that I will get from my two 2.4 metre rows, which would be a very disappointing result. Still, radish seed is cheap, and the plants don't tie-down the space for very long.

The logical conclusion of the above is this...

No dips with these ones - just plain, unadulterated veg.

I know you'll say I'm greedy, but I just wish I had had a cucumber ready to use at the same time. It would have gone well with this little lot!

Monday, 24 July 2017

Tomato update

After yesterday's post about the chilli situation, it seems appropriate today to do the same for the tomatoes.

This year most of my tomatoes have set a lot of fruit. Just as with the chillis, I think this is probably due mainly to the good weather in June. I'm just hoping that the current spate of dull and wet weather ends soon. I know that the dreaded Blight thrives in humid conditions, so I'm hoping that the strong winds we have been experiencing have reduced the humidity enough to remove the threat.

If Blight does arrive, my plan is to pick the majority of the fruit and ripen it indoors. A tomato fruit is initially dark green, with a matt finish to its skin. Later on it turns glossy and then shortly before ripening it goes a lighter colour (often very pale), and then finally takes on its ripe colour, be it red, orange, purple or whatever. Most of mine are at the "pale" stage now, and I know from experience that this means they are highly likely to ripen even if picked.

"Orange Banana" - not yet orange, but the fruit at the top of the truss has turned very pale.

The little cherry-sized tomatoes are usually the first ones to ripen, and this year is no exception. First to offer up some ripe fruit was "Losetto", a smallish bush variety.

These were very nice tomatoes - thin-skinned and very tasty. "Losetto" has the added advantage of being very blight-resistant.

My favourite small tomato is "Maskotka", whose fruits are a bit larger than the traditional cherry-size. An unruly, sprawling plant (well suited to trailing from a hanging basket or tall container), it produces a huge crop, and usually over a long period. Mine are just coming into their own now.

Most recognizable of my smaller varieties is Sungold, grown traditionally as a cordon:

We have eaten a few from the lowest truss, and I can tell you that they were very nice!

Still with the cherry tomatoes, I have one plant of "Sweet Aperitif". It's first fruits are just ripening now. I'm looking forward to trying some, because the unripe fruits are a most unusual grey-green colour, which is a bit unappetising.

I have two plants of the bush variety "Grushkova". This too seems to be very heavy-cropping, but it produces fruit in a wide range of shapes and sizes. You can see that this little clutch of beauties (just beginning to ripen) is far from uniform.

Certainly the most uniform of the varieties I'm growing this year is "Ailsa Craig", an old traditional variety, first introduced at least 100 years ago. It is apparently the tomato against which all others are supposedly judged. It has thin skins, a taste that is exactly the right balance of acidity and sweetness, and a classic tomato-red colour.

My plant has set six lovely even trusses:

This is "Marmonde", the plant with the biggest fruits at present. They are just beginning to turn colour too.

This is "Ferline". I have found it very difficult to photograph on account of its exceptionally shiny skins.

Then we have the deeply-ribbed "Costoluto Fiorentino". This one is grown from seeds sent to me by a friend in the Netherlands. It's a variety with bags of character!

This next one is "Fishlake Oxheart", from seeds sent to me originally by Facebook friend Eddy Ceyssens in Belgium. Again, it has fruits of several different shapes - some of which look vaguely like an ox heart!

Next one is "Ananas", which as the name suggests, should be orangey-yellow when ripe, though at this stage it looks very much like many of the other varieties - green and wrinkly!

Now we have "Vintage Wine" (red when ripe). This one has been very slow to set fruit and the plant itself doesn't look strong. A couple of the fruits have developed Blossom End Rot too.

Last of the collection is "Cherokee Purple", of which I have two plants. This is a very vigorous variety, throwing out new shoots left, right and centre. I initially set out to grow them as cordons, but soon gave up on that. Let's just say they are "rampant" - more like shrub tomatoes than bushes! It's worth persevering with though, because it produces lovely big deep purple fruit.

Finally for today I want to mention a job that I have done this week: more de-leafing. Following established practice, I have removed a lot of the foliage from my tomato plants, especially below the ripening fruit. This allows air to circulate better (reducing the chance of disease), and exposes the fruit to more sunlight, which can aid ripening. Note: tomatoes can ripen in the dark, so I wouldn't want to over-emphasise the latter aspect. My feeling is that tomatoes ripening in strong sunshine do actually taste better, but that's probably just a perception!

The three plants in my big wooden coldframe demonstrate the results of this procedure.

There are two "Maskotka" on the upper shelf, trailing down over one "Losetto" down below.

I know I have already harvested a few of the smaller tomatoes, but it still doesn't feel as if the harvest has begun in earnest until I can pick some of the big ones too. Not long now, I hope!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Chilli update

Thanks to the hot sunny weather we had for most of June, my chilli plants got off to a good start this year, and have mostly grown nice and big. Current weather conditions (cold, wet and windy) suit them less well! Still, most of the plants have a lot of fruit on them, though none are ripe yet. It's time to give you an update on how they look... [Note: almost all the plants are in 10-inch diameter pots.]

This one is "Aji Benito", which has set an incredible number of fruit.

The fruits are currently a very pale green colour, but they will be red when ripe.

This is dear old "Cayenne" - very reliable, if perhaps rather unexciting! I have two plants of this variety, in order to produce a good amount of basic chillis with a modest level of heat for the kitchen.

Looks like I won't be disappointed...

One of the "Cayenne" plants looks as if it will be the first plant to produce ripe fruit. You can see a couple here which have turned brown prior to going red.

This is "Fidalgo Roxa", a very handsome plant, with dark-coloured foliage and very weird-shaped fruits:

The next one is "Ring of Fire", another fairly basic one, grown for a quantity harvest.
Being tall, it has lost a few branches in the wild weather we have had, but otherwise it's doing brilliantly.

The next one is "Aji Limon". Again, since this is one of my favourites, I have two of these. Traditionally a late-developer, one plant has not produced any fruits so far and the other has about four or five. When ripe they will be a lemon-yellow colour.

Here is "Jalapeno", with its characteristically blunt-ended fruits:

This is "Fat Bird", known until this year as the "Challock Chilli":

Then we have one whose official name I don't know, but its description is "Hungarian, short, thin, red". I got seeds for this one from the famous Nottingham butcher Johnny Pusztai, whose family originate from Hungary.

Next is the one I call "Panama 6". The seeds for this one were brought to me from Panama by my daughter (whose husband is Panamanian):

So far it has only a couple of fruits, but I shall consider myself very fortunate if I can bring even one of them to maturity.

Next up, another unidentified one. It looks like one of the big Turkish varieties. The big fruits look spectacular, but I expect they will be quite mild in terms of heat.

This one is my smallest chilli plant. It's the one I call "Redfields Slim Orange". It's a real miniature, and so far has only the one fruit (still green of course). [This one is in a 6-inch pot]

Judging by the plant structure and the leaves, I had thought this might be one of the Demon varieties, but now that I see the shape of the pod I think it probably isn't.

Last one to show you today is one of two which I nicknamed "Cozumel Fat". They are grown from seeds of some dried chillis which I bought while on holiday in Cozumel, Mexico. Both of them have yet to produce any flowers, let alone set fruit, so they have recently been returned to the mini greenhouses to try to bring them on a bit quicker. All the other plants are completely unprotected.

You can see the thermometer in the photo, so you'll have guessed that I'm monitoring the temperature quite carefully. On a gloomy day the temperature inside one of the greenhouses is several degrees warmer than the outside temperature, even with the door open. On a sunny day, the temperature quickly shoots up to 35 or 40C, so I have to make sure the plants don't get stressed.

Well, that's the state of play at present. Hopefully before very long I will be able to post about harvesting ripe chillis.

P.S. This one's nearly there. It's a "Fidalgo Roxa".