I have just potted on thirty six tomato seedlings of seven varieties. Mountain Magic for its blight resistance, Country Taste for those big tasty fruits, Sweet Aperitif and Sungold for the delicious little mouthfuls, Red Alert a bush tomato that fruits very early on the bench outside and San Marzano for the best tasting pasta sauce to see me through the year.
I also spent some time in the sunshine yesterday digging bean trenches and filling them with compost from the heap, it will have time to settle before putting in the canes. The chickens enjoyed that, pulling out a few worms, wireworms, ants and those tiny black slugs that only they seem to see.
More compost was laid on the flower beds around the herbaceous perennials and shrubs to help keep down the weeds and retain moisture. We do have very dry summers here in East Anglia and every drop of water is precious. Three IBC (Intermediate Bulk Container) tanks with a watering system attached are in the fruit and vegetable garden but the flowers have to fend for themselves so mulching is a great help. We channel all our surface water collected in water butts to a large underground storage tank and from there it can be pumped into the IBC’s throughout the season. How lucky am I to have a very practical husband!
January? Where did that go?
So it’s February already and there’s been precious little activity going on of the horticultural variety! I can’t remember a year when frost was so heavy and so prolonged. The water features and borders were frozen solid for a fortnight, although mercifully not much rainfall to drown the perennials in their beds.
There are only so many times you can bring out the tubs of seed packets and file them by type/sowing
date/ indoors/outdoors etc. I was even tempted to create a spreadsheet just to keep me occupied during January. Trays and modules were washed & set up, labels pre-written, compost at the ready. I rearranged the greenhouse so that the propagators were free: Not difficult seeing as I accidently switched them off when I was repotting the lilies and most of my cuttings died!
In previous years I have sown my seeds too early; they germinated fine but became all etiolated and eventually rotted off. And because the warmest, brightest place in the house is the sunroom they had to share space with our cats, who would eat them! (Micro greens for cats?)! This year however is very different. With the addition of the propagators, I have been able to relocate to the greenhouse.
So raring to go was I, that come the first weekend in February, I was in that greenhouse like a rat up a drainpipe (unfortunate simile I know) ready for the off! Honestly it was like a military operation: Decks cleared, each tray containing its 12 cell seed tray and plastic lid. Sieved soil (extracted from the so-called mouse trough previously referred to as the tomato trough) and vermiculite. Marker pen, labels, dibber, watering can, T&M seed packets. What could possibly go wrong? Well to start with, have you ever tried sowing seeds the size of dandruff with your third fingertip resembling a black grape after slamming a window on it? Fiddly but do-able. Filling the trays with soil went well, until that is, I ‘lightly watered prior to sowing’ as instructed: the water dribbled straight over the sides.
Undeterred, I managed to sow well enough – without my glasses I had to get so close to the tomato seeds that I dared not breathe in case I blew them away – but when it came to sprinkling vermiculite, the greenhouse looked like a scene from one of those snow domes! I hadn’t realised the bag was open when I whisked it up from under the bench, and managed to get it everywhere except on the surface of the seed trays. Don’t know how Carol Klein does it and talks to the camera at the same time.
Here is what I have sown, and yes, those of you who know better, will be tutting about some of my timings but hey ho, nothing ventured, nothing gained:
• Tomato Garnet; Tomato Indigo Cherry Drops; Tomato artisan Mix – all varieties received & tasted at last summer’s T&M Triallists’ Open Day
• Sweet Pea Purple Pimpernel; Sweet Pea Fragrantissima; Sweet Pea Mollie Rilstone; Sweet Pea Night and Day – wretched seeds are like ball bearings.
• Basil Sweet Green ; Basil Lemonade Something (tore the top off the packet!)
• Leek Bulgaarse Reuzen Lincoln
• Broad Bean Oscar – in their own 9cm pots.
Seed sowing will continue in March and April; hopefully by then I will have been able to prick out Batch No 1.
In the garden at large spring bulbs & perennials are at least a couple of weeks behind compared to last year, due to the colder weather no doubt. I was beginning to think that the five dozen T&M Jonquilla Daffs must have somehow succumbed; they are only just starting to poke through the soil of their containers. One or two aconites are in flower, but iris reticulata, snowdrops, coronilla glauca and hellebores are taking their time. Having experienced such a hiatus during January, the brisk change of pace is a shock to the system.
I am fighting back panic at the thought of pressure washing the slippery moss encrusted paviers, as it swamps the already soggy borders, but it’s gotta be done before everything really starts into growth. Bird boxes need to be cleaned out as the tits are already prospecting nesting sites, and the stinking water of the stagnant rill (good alliteration don’t you think) needs to be sluiced out before the frogs spawn. And I haven’t even been to the allotment since November. It’s all go here in East Finchley I can tell you; life doesn’t get much more exciting than this!
David’s got Spring fever too. Now that his hand is on the mend, he’s been revamping all the garden ornamentals, creating new resin tails for bunnies and metal beaks for birdies. Every time I make cutbacks in the borders, miscanthus grasses especially, we find more and more objects that had been overlooked during winter clear-up, lurking amongst the foliage. After tireless research, he has purchased an oversized copper cup and saucer over the internet, which he will turn into another water feature, to complement his copper kettle and strainer works-in-progress.
One other exciting thing I did in January (excitement is not an emotion one usually associates with January) was to place my first order for hanging basket and container annuals. After listing my first two items, Begonia Non-Stop Mocca Bright Orange & Petunia Orange Punch, Dawn in Telephone Sales observed dryly, “You like orange then!” and she wasn’t wrong: the rest of the order consists of Begonia Glowing Embers & Petunia Mini Rosebud Peachy! I may be predictable, but I believe strongly that if a formula works why change it? The last two summers’ patio displays of purple, red, yellow and orange have been electric! I’ll ring the changes with foliage plants, perhaps some more coleus, heuchera, ipomaea and hostas (haha, hope over experience).
Talking of orange, I’ve just remembered the overwintering begonia Apricot Shades tubers in the spare room dresser – back in a mo – they are already showing pips for goodness sake. Now that is exciting!
Will we plunged back in to winter before March? Who knows, watch this space. Love Caroline
Beat the veg deficit -T&M has the answer!
Articles in the press this week have flagged up a shortage of courgettes in UK supermarkets. This will consequently affect prices with courgettes – and many other vegetables – becoming more costly. However, Thompson & Morgan has the answer: grow your own!
Cold weather in Spain and Italy, which supply many of our supermarkets with fresh vegetables, has been blamed for the lower-than-average production. The shortages are not just limited to courgettes; suppliers suggest that imports of aubergines, spinach, peppers and tomatoes could also be affected. The laws of economics mean that prices in shops and supermarkets are already being driven up, putting even more pressure on those trying to stick to healthy New Year’s diets.
Thompson & Morgan has long promoted the health and cost benefits of growing your own vegetables. The company is offering 20% off a collection of seeds of the vegetables most likely to become more scarce and expensive as the year goes on, encouraging gardeners to grow their own.
For those on a New Year health drive, home-grown veg is always going to be a better bet than shop-bought – for a start, it hasn’t spent weeks in transit and then on a supermarket shelf, so its nutrients and vitamins are fresh and ready to give you that 2017 ‘new you’ boost.
Growing your own has never been easier either; with a variety of ‘How to’ articles and videos on the Thompson & Morgan website, amateur gardeners can find all the information and support they need to grow a variety of tasty and nutritious veg.
I hope you have had a wonderful summer and are enjoying the fruits of your harvest. I have had the most successful year ever thanks to the reliable and strong seeds from Thompson & Morgan. I wish I had thought to count how many Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ seeds we had. We had such a glut we were giving them to friends, neighbours, family and hospital staff. My mum has made me pasta sauce and tomato soup on a regular basis and my brother took some to make me a chutney although I have yet to see it!
Unfortunately, I can’t take the credit for looking after the watering and feeding of the plants as I haven’t been well enough It’s thanks to Mark and mum that the greenhouses have been kept going. The only thing I did was prune the tomato vines down to five foot, pinch out the side shoots and cut off the lower leaves as the fruits were forming.
My Uncle Vince who lives in Solva says he’s had the worst tomato crop ever. He thinks they’ve not had enough sun and they have been affected by blight. My Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ have certainly lived up to the claim that they are blight resistant as so far there is no disease in our greenhouse and the weather is unpredictable at the moment.
Huge haul of tomatoes & delicious pasta sauce
Blogger Jean Willis who grows wonderful petunia displays sent me a few packets of seeds, the chillies didn’t take, they germinated well but a sudden hike in temperature when I was in hospital meant they were put under stress as they were on the hottest shelf in the greenhouse, all day. When they were watered intermittently at dusk the compost had dried out far too much,and they couldn’t recover. Mark had so much to do in the mornings I had to occasionally remind him by text to open the greenhouse doors and windows and damp down the floor. However, the Pepper ‘Sweet Bonita’ has been the best plant I have ever grown! They have even beaten the plug plants that I usually buy in terms of numbers of fruit, taste and size. Again I’m not sure if this is down to Mark looking after them, or that I have set the greenhouse planting up better than last year, by choosing the side closest to the house for the tomato vines so the heavy leaves and vigorous growth don’t shade out the sun for the slower and lower growing crops.
After carefully growing aubergines for my other brother, who still hasn’t managed to build his greenhouse (2nd year of having it) I ended up with too many plants, and I used up the last of my precious seeds. I gave a plant each to my auntie and mum, but both of them say that there are no fruits on theirs. Mum’s is outdoors as she does not have a greenhouse, and my Auntie Mary’s aubergine is in a pot in the greenhouse, but comes out to sit on the path in the day. Mum lives three miles away from me, and my auntie lives twenty odd miles away from me. I think it may be because the Enorma seeds tend to do better undercover.
I bought some cucamelons and they cropped really well, but due to having excess aubergine plants I could only grow them in a pot with a string frame in the greenhouse. They would have been better in the borders with a strong mesh support, however they did grow and fruit really well. It’s not something I will grow again though as I wasn’t keen on the taste, although it was funny watching people’s faces as they bit into the fruits and decided on what they tasted like or whether they liked them or not. Surprisingly it was my oldest niece Ffion who loved them. She even asked if she could take some home for her lunch box, I told her to take as many as she liked. This then led to her sisters Hattie and Gracie asking very sweetly if they could take some peppers, tomatoes and aubergines home to make a fruity rice dish for tea. I am glad I had more than enough for them to go home with.
This is the time of the year when I would be planning my winter crops, things like cauliflower, broccoli, onions turnip, spinach and Christmas Potatoes. I would be sowing seeds, sifting compost, and keeping an eye for spaces in the greenhouses to pop the plants into. However, the way it’s going I will still be eating summer fruits in the winter. The aubergines are still fruiting, as are the peppers and cucamelons, although I think the tomatoes will be finished by the end of the month. I also have been now banned from working with compost, and am not allowed into the greenhouses or garden without gloves on as I have started Chemotherapy. My treatment is weekly and for a possibility of eighteen weeks, with an operation after, so all I can do at the moment is delegate tasks to mum and Mark.
Just because I am having this treatment doesn’t mean that my gardening life has stopped, it’s just changed down a gear. For my birthday Mark bought me some Primula Vialii plug plants and they have been transplanted into individual three inch pots to overwinter on the shelves. These are in the small greenhouse along with three aubergines in pots, a massive begonia which is in the aloe borders. A squash plant is also in the small greenhouse, that I thought wouldn’t make it and the money tree which has put on loads of growth through the summer.
The big greenhouse has the tomato plants, aubergines, peppers, cucamelons and the basils. I also seem to
have a woodlice invasion too! But it’s my fault they are there as I didn’t tell Mark and mum to pick up all the dead material from the borders. Yesterday I had poor mum picking up the odd split tomato, dead leaves, spent trusses and random snails all in order to keep the greenhouse as clean as possible to help prevent diseases forming. I don’t mind the woodlice, but I occasionally heard a startled squeak from mum when she uncovered them under a leaf. I have stopped using slug pellets in the greenhouses as the plants are strong enough to cope with the irregular munch. I felt quite empowered saying snip this, cut that, compost that bit. Poor mum, but I did pay her in fresh raspberries and apples from the garden, and another tub of tomatoes.
Another great garden haul
The strangest thing to happen since I’ve being diagnosed with Cancer is that I’ve met some wonderful Thompson & Morgan customers in the three hospitals I have been in, and one of them a lovely lady called Lynne said she always reads my blogs. I was really shocked at this, because I only ever expect family or friends to read them I did say I still am as surprised as anyone else when things grow, as I’m still learning how to garden. I also had good advice from another great lady called Sally-Anne (aka Purple Pip) who insisted I get out in the fresh air as much as possible. I’ve made friends for life with Hazel, Kelly and Monica, and the support from Bloggers Geoff, Caroline and Jean has been incredible.
I am really hoping that I will have something to blog about in the next month or two if not I might just do a short winter blog, if not I will just have to rely on Geoff, Caroline, Jean and all of the other writers for my gardening fix.
Until next time, Take care, and Happy Gardening,
Thompson & Morgan customer Mrs Raisborough moved to her new home in Hook Hampshire twenty years ago, which had a third of an acre garden with nothing more than meadow grass and a few fruit trees. While new to the area and in need of garden plants, she befriended a neighbour who was also a local garden centre owner. Sadly the garden centre was due to close due to her neighbour retiring, and as he closed his doors he gave Mrs Raisborough a gift of lots of plants and 40 packets of seeds, 20 of which were Thompson & Morgan’s Tomato ‘Sungold’ variety.
Tomato ‘Sungold’ 1996 packet & Tomato ‘Sungold’ 2016 packet
Every spring time since 1996 Mrs Raisborough has sown one packet of the Tomato ‘Sungold’ seeds, and every year those seeds have germinated to provide a full crop of delicious ‘Sungold’ tomatoes. One year she decided to sow two packets as she thought the seeds viability must have gone by now. Low and behold the two packets germinated, as had all the others and the extra tomatoes were sold with all the proceeds given to charity.
Mrs Raisborough said in her correspondence: “I have never been so well supported by a company such as yours for such a length of time for so little outlay.” And she goes on to say: “Tomatoes growing from seeds sown this year with a date on the package ‘Sow by August 1996’ – You couldn’t make it up!!” We have to agree with Mrs Raisborough, at Thompson & Morgan we knew our seeds were of a high quality but even we did not expect germination from twenty year old seeds.
The tomatoes have been enjoyed year after year by Mrs Raisborough’s family, friends and visitors to her garden for twenty years. Mrs Raisborough said: “Thank you for the reliability and surprise that your packets have given me over the last two decades.”
“Well done Thompson & Morgan and well done Tomato ‘Sungold’!”