With all the crocus and daffodils popping their little heads through the soil, it gets me thinking about my plan on what to grow in the coming season on the allotment. Even though this plan changes and develops beyond recognition, as the year goes on I still use it as my rough guide.
When I first started planting veg I would religiously check the information on the back of the seed packet to make sure I was planting and sowing correctly. However, I found that as time went on, I was planting out way too early and was caught out by late frost on more than one occasion (once bitten, twice shy as the saying goes). Experience has taught me to relax and hold back with the sowing. I’ve just started sowing chilli seeds because germination of some varieties can be roughly six weeks (I get so impatient with these). My hubby and sons are chilli maniacs so I always end up growing too many varieties in the pursuit of heat and flavour balance. This year we are growing Black Olive, Lemon Drop and Chocolate Naga, but I’m sure the list will grow bigger as time goes on. I was also given some Spanish Padron chillies by my good twitter friend, this has sparked a friendly chilli race involving myself and a few others. We have all sown at different times and used different methods so it will be interesting to see how it all pans out. Mine are only just starting to develop they took roughly four weeks, I’ve had them sitting on the window sill as my greenhouse isn’t heated, once the temperature evens out I shall transfer them.
The temperature today in the greenhouse reached 81 degrees but dips massively at night still. I’ve also sown tomatoes. I’ve chosen Tomato Tigeralla, Tomato Choc Cherry, Tomato Romello and my favourite is Sungold and Shirley, these are easy to grow and the Sungold are amazingly sweet. I would highly recommend these if you haven’t tried them before. I use tomatillos for salsa, they grow with a papery casing, once fully grown peal the casing back and the tomatillo will be inside. I’m growing the green variety but you can also get the black variety. When using these for cooking make sure you thoroughly rush them as they have a sticky substance which covers them that is really bitter and awful.
You still have time to plant out your garlic if you haven’t already done so (garlic is best planted between November and April) and also get your onion sets in. I planted Stuttgart white onions and red onions, just make sure you make a small hole with your dibber first as you don’t want to damage the root. Onions need to be planted roughly 4 inches apart and in rows 12 inches apart, from mid-March to mid-April. They don’t need to be planted very deep, just so the tops are showing. You may find the birds occasionally pull the odd one up, it’s not a problem just gently poke it back in and it will be fine. Before planting just check that all your onions are healthy, there is no mould etc. By now I should imagine you have your potatoes chitting, there has been some debate in recent years whether to chit or not (what does chitting mean?) Chitting is basically another work for sprouting, what you do when you chit your seed potatoes is basically to speed up the aging process of the potato by exposing it to light and more importantly a bit of warmth, this will cause the eyes of the seed potato to start sprouting. The sprouts should be small, nobly and green and purple in colour. If you end up with long white coloured sprouts it means there’s not enough light.
Hi my name is Michelle, I was a contestant on BBC2 big allotment challenge 2014, and also BBC1 allotment wars. I have my own allotment and have done for 5 years now, so I will be discussing all things allotments from locating to preparing with you.
You can’t deny the flavour of fresh home-grown tomato straight from the vine. Their taste is far superior to the bland tomatoes offered in the supermarkets making them perfect for tomato soup and they’re really easy to grow.
Growing tomatoes from seed
Growing tomato plants from seed is a great way to discover new varieties and test your gardening skills. Tomato seeds are normally sown 6-8 weeks before the last frost date (March/April) but if you are lucky to have a greenhouse they can be sown earlier. Sprinkle your tomato seed thinly on the surface of good quality seed compost. Cover the seed with about 1.5mm (1/16in) of compost and water lightly with a fine-rose watering can. Tomato seeds generally take 7 to 14 days to germinate at a temperature of around 21C (70F).
Top tip: Keep your compost moist, whilst making sure you do not over water as this can encourage disease such as mould.
Growing tomatoes in a greenhouse
Growing tomato plants in a greenhouse can mean an earlier crop. For greenhouse tomatoes grow recommended varieties such as ‘Sungold’, ‘Money Maker’ or ‘Country Taste’. These tomatoes are generally sown from February onwards and in 7.5cm (3in) pots.
Plant young tomato plants when they are about 15-20cm (6-8in) tall and the flowers of the first truss are just beginning to open. If you are growing tomatoes in pots or a grow bag remember they will require a lot more watering and care. Plant approximately 45cm (18in) between the plants and 75cm (30in) between the rows. In a grow bag, generally plant no more than two plants per bag. Make sure you ventilate the greenhouse regularly to reduce the risk of pests and diseases. Tomatoes prefer a temperature of 21 – 24C (70 – 75F) and will perform poorly at temperatures above 27C (81F) or below 16C (61F).
Top tip: Wait until approximately 6-8 weeks before the last frost is forecast and sow as directed on the individual seed packet in 7.5cm (3in) pots.
When all risk of frost has passed, plant the young plants when they are about 15-20cm (6-8in) tall and the flowers of the first truss are just beginning to open. If you are planting into your border make sure you have dug in plenty of garden compost or manure during the winter. Just before planting, rake in a general purpose fertiliser – tomatoes are hungry plants!
Plant approximately 45cm (18 in) between the plants and 75cm (30in) between the rows. If you are growing tomatoes in grow bags or pots remember they will require a lot more watering and care. In a grow bag, generally plant no more than two plants per bag. There has been a recent trend for growing tomatoes upside down to save space in the garden. This is a great space saving solution similar to growing tomatoes in hanging baskets. Simply plant a young tomato plant through a hole in the bottom of a bucket or similar hanging container, and fill the container with multi-purpose compost. Suspend the bucket from a bracket and allow the plant to hang down beneath it.
You can also watch our youtube video How to grow tomatoes here;
Terri works in the e-commerce marketing department assisting the busy web team. Terri manages our blog and social media pages here at Thompson & Morgan and is dedicated to providing useful advice to our gardeners. Terri is new to gardening and keen to develop her horticultural knowledge.
I made the most of the sunshine on Sunday morning, busy sowing my tomato and chilli seeds, I love this time of year when it gets busy with seed selection and seed sowing. The up cycled table that my husband Ian repaired last year comes in handy for potting seeds (but it is the dog grooming table!)
I bought a cheap garden propagator kit that came with three single cell inserts; cheap enough to throw them away because they normally split popping out the plug plants. Monty Don recently said on Gardeners’ World that it was a good idea to use single seeds because you don’t have to keep transplanting seedlings, that’s the bit I dread the most! You nurture the seeds, they germinate and then you have to up-root them and pot them on (and on) if they are tomatoes. This way you just pop out the whole plug and pot it on, simple. And the good thing about the single cell inserts, you can write the seed name in permanent marker, even better.
Here is a list of the seeds I started off at the weekend:
Tomato Terenzo (Thompson & Morgan) – a new one for me a high yielding red cherry tumbler type, no side shoots to remove and produces a high number of sweet red fruits which resist splitting (perfect, no fuss). I plan to put 2 or 3 planters in the gravel garden next to the veg patch for full sun.
Tomato Orkado FI Hybrid (Thompson & Morgan) – another first for me. Outdoor cordon variety perfect for growing in British indifferent summers! Early to ripen first trusses with an average 8 round, deep red fruits per truss. Well flavoured and another variety resistant to splitting and great for slicing.
Pepper Chili Numex Twilight (Thompson & Morgan) – an ornamental edible suitable for pots on the patio in full sun. Attractive dark leaves show off the fruit ripening from purple to yellow, orange then red. Bears hundreds of small edible chillies July to October.
Tomato Golden Sunrise (Cordon, Thompson & Morgan) – an attractive RHS AGM variety producing medium sized, well shaped, golden yellow tomatoes that add a lovely splash of colour to summer salads. Crops of Tomato ‘Golden Sunrise’ are early maturing and prolific with a sweet, fruity flavour that is quite distinctive. This cordon variety is suitable for growing in the greenhouse or outdoors.
What a fabulous year I’ve had with T&M plants, as you might be aware we open for the National Garden Scheme and by appointment anytime between May and September, which keeps us on our toes, meeting likewise gardeners and having time for tea and cake.
A lot of the visitors have commented on the trial plants and where can they get them, so Thompson & Morgan gets mentioned a lot. Next year I am putting up a sign explaining what I am doing, and any T&M trial plant will have a special label on, it will save me explaining it to hundreds of visitors.
Bumper crops and fabulous flowers
Bumper crops of tomato Alicante and Gardener’s Delight, and Cucumber Zeina, so much so, I have given lots to family and friends when they come round – some who don’t normally eat cucumbers because of indigestion which they said they didn’t have with Zeina.
The mini greenhouse cloches have been invaluable all through the season, and are still in use now for cuttings. Even though another second-hand greenhouse was put up in March.
Make a positive change to your plant choices this spring – new from Michael Perry
Perhaps you’ve become used to growing the same plants each year, regardless of whether they perform well for you or not! You may even doubt your own gardening skills when those plants fail or succumb to pest or disease.
I’m about to change all that.
My new range of articles will show you some positive alternatives for you to try, such as tomatoes that won’t be shot down by blight or just some fresher choices for the patio.
Pots of zonal geraniums can often be the lazy gardener’s choice. Yes, they’re resilient and long-lasting, but wouldn’t you like to try something new?
Recent breeding technology has revolutionised the popular cut flower gerbera. These exclusive new patio varieties are ideal for summer patio pots and will virtually look after themselves.
The plants are incredibly robust and will produce more than 50 blooms through the season. You can save them for the second year, just as you would zonal geraniums, so they’ll come back bigger and better.
For all the beauty of ‘Stargazer’, its colour display can be notoriously short-lived.
Why not consider lily ‘China Girl’? This exclusive new variety will last twice as long as ‘Stargazer’, thanks to its extra layer of petals. You’ll probably also find the fragrance a bit more enjoyable too – it’s softer and less over-powering than usual oriental lilies.
What’s more, lily ‘China Girl’ is also pollen-free, meaning it won’t stain your clothes as the pollen-speckled blooms of ‘Stargazer’ will! ‘China Girl’ is seldom seen in florists or even garden centres.
The days of regimented, odd-smelling marigolds could be over! There’s now an alternative which is just as brightly coloured and has even more flower power.
Cosmos ‘Brightness Mixed’ is a sulphureus type of cosmos, which has a lovely spreading habit. Plants will knit together and cover the ground better than any marigold, suppressing weeds and mulching the soil as they go, meaning less watering!
We’ve tested these cosmos in our trials for a few years now and they’ll flower right from late June until the first frosts.
Tomato Moneymaker is a well-known variety, grown since the 1960s by home gardeners.
But, as UK summers become ever more unpredictable, this older variety just isn’t coming up to scratch. Plants often get destroyed by blight, an airborne fungal disease, which can ruin crops within days.
‘Ferline’ is a sensible alternative, as it is one of the most blight tolerant varieties in the marketplace. The answer to tomato fans’ prayers! Good-sized, tasty fruits, some say even better flavoured than ‘Moneymaker’ too.