One of the main reasons for the increase in gardening activity at our house was to grow our own fruit and vegetables. As mentioned previously, we have 4 raised beds that have been neglected for a few years now and so it makes sense to restore and use them. They are in an ideal spot in the garden where the ground is relatively level.
The first thing that I wanted to grow was tomatoes. What could be easier right? Furthermore the Isle of Wight is quite famous for them (http://www.thetomatostall.co.uk/). Not as much as the garlic (www.thegarlicfarm.co.uk), but Island tomatoes are great.
In my head I thought that I’d dig over one of the raised beds (I’d already sprayed the existing 3 feet high weeds with Roundup), mix in some compost (not home-made, naturally), add some tomato feed, and plant the little, erm, plants.
I researched some tomato varieties that seemed to be ideal for me to grow so off we went to the garden centre – I was after Gardeners Delight (they sounded perfect!). My plan was instantly thrown out of the window as they only had one plant, and I wanted three. Oh well, what’s the worst that could happen? So I ended up with 3 different types of tomato plant instead, one of which is Sweet Million. And some canes as I thought I’d need them at some point.
Back home and armed with my trusty fork, I headed off to the raised bed. Now, this was a couple of months ago before we’d had any rain, and the soil was like concrete. Really hard. The soil appeared to be a bit like clay and, having been baked in the sun, it was as hard as a brick. I could break bits up, but I didn’t think that this would be the fertile and nourishing soil that the tomato plants would want to thrive in. A cactus might have survived…..
So, the next idea was a tomato grow bag. Surely this was the obvious choice? They even came with instructions which made it seem really easy. However, having looked at the depth of the tomato bag and the height of the cane I thought that I might have a problem with the canes staying up right so I located the bag next to some fencing where I could tie the canes higher up to make them more secure.
I cut out three holes in the top of the bag with my Stanley knife and popped in the new plants – I guess they were about 3-4 inches tall. I put the canes in and tied the plant to the cane and the cane to the aforementioned fence. Then I watered thoroughly, as I understand that tomatoes need a lot of water. The issue with growing in the bags though is that the water just kind of runs off and they don’t hold that much liquid. The consequence there is that it seems to dry out pretty quickly. I think ideally, and I’m happy to be proved wrong, the bag needs to sit in a tray of water, but it might be that this would mean that the soil would become waterlogged. Is this a bad thing for tomatoes? Probably I guess…..but better than drying out?
The thing that I never really got was this term “pinching out”. Something to do with pulling out shoots that are 45 degrees to the main plant stalk and means that the plant’s energy is concentrated on the main areas where the tomatoes are going to grow. Well, I’ve given that a go but, a couple of months later, I can report that I have branches going in all directions some with fruit, and others without. We have had about 4 ripe fruits so far, but the skin seems a bit tough and this is apparently due to the plants not having enough water. So next year I’m going to do things a bit differently.
Ideally I would grow the plants in a greenhouse, but I don’t think that I’m going to be able to do that from a financial point of view, but they will definitely be grown in the ground. What I’ll probably do is buy a couple of the tomato growing bags and mix that into some good quality topsoil so that I know the right nutrients are there. I can also really push the canes into the ground then so that they can support the tomatoes weight without needing to be supported higher up. This also allows me to really soak the ground without the bag overflowing so that water won’t be wasted and the ground won’t dry up.
In the meantime, we can either eat what we’ve got or make some tomato chutney from those fruits that are too tough to eat. I am happy to report though that all 3 of the plants are now bearing fruit which is slowly ripening. Time to pick some of my basil and have them with some mozzarella. And some salt of course. Please note salt police – tomatoes should only be eaten if there is salt on them as it really brings out the flavour.
One day I’d like to try growing tomatoes upside down – that looks like a good way to grow them and allows the fruit to be exposed to the sun a bit more and the weight keeps them out of the way of the shade of the leaves. Has anyone tried this at all?
- Watering Can – there is something satisfying about watering plants from a watering can. My favourite is an old fashioned aluminium one with a long spout. Ideally the water should be sourced from a water butt in order to recycle the rain, but obviously that’s not always possible. As far as I know new plants should always be well watered when first planted
- Secateurs – the tool I use most in the garden. Cutting back, dead-heading, opening bags of compost. I’ve got a cheap plastic handled one which is fine for now. Don’t leave them out in the rain though…..
- Gloves – brambles hurt whether you have gloves on or not, but they’ll save you from the smaller scratches and scrapes. I also find them invaluable when digging as they stop the blisters which can be a real pain. I tend to buy cheap ones regularly as I either rip them or lose them – for some reason I have several singles of the right hand which aren’t much use. In my limited experience the more expensive gloves don’t wear any better.
- Fork – me and forks generally don’t get on. I must have broken 3 so far – 2 on the shaft and one now has 2 prongs (the pointy bit) rather than 4. I now have a stainless steel and timber one which was a bit more expensive that the plastic ones and is still in one piece
- Spade – again stainless is best as it won’t rust. In an ideal world spades and forks should be washed and dried after each days use. However, its not an ideal world.
- Trowel – this is a garden trowel rather than a builders trowel which is completely different. To be fair I have planted using a builders trowel but I was desperate. I have a cheap plastic handled item which is ok. You don’t put much force through them so they’ll rust before they break. Unless you clean and dry them of course.
- Trowel Fork – its the size of the trowel but has prongs like a fork. Really useful if you need to break up some soil before digging a hole with the trowel. Same rules apply
- Trug – very useful for filling with cuttings / weeds. Different sizes are available and the first thing to go will be the handle – eventually the sunshine turns the plastic brittle so they snap. They’re a bit more structured than a bag so you can just throw weeds into them without missing and clearing up the ensuing mess.
- Hoe – these are good for light weeding if the weed roots are at the surface of the soil. And using them is a lot less back breaking then pulling them up by hand. Simply work over the surface of the soil, pile up the weeds and then throw them in the trugg.
- Wheelbarrow – now I have one of those romantic notions about using a wooden wheelbarrow to cart the new plants around in, but it’s never going to happen. My advice would be to have a plastic container bit and metal chassis, which now seem so be all the rage. It will rot after about ten years unless you keep it indoors, and few of us have enough space for that !
Health and Safety – recently I have become more aware of the importance of H&S when working in the outdoors so please assess the area that you are going to be working in and the tools that you are using. Then imagine with worst thing that could happen and try and mitigate that risk. At the end of the day its not worth doing something that is going to cause injury or worse that means that you won’t be back in the garden for a while
Five years ago our lives were very different. My wife and I were both commuting for at least 2 hours a day whilst using a childminder to look after our young family. We were on a treadmill of long days and early mornings without a great quality of life. Something had to break and unfortunately that was me. From that point we decided to work our way to a different kind of life and now here we are on the Isle of Wight. We have opted to try and simplify our lifestyle.
We recently moved house and I was talking with a neighbour at the weekend whereby he asked me if I was a gardener. I answered negatively – that sounded like a profession to me, but it did get me thinking. I like the idea of gardening, but not being a gardener – to me that means doing it for others and that’s too much responsibility.
Our new garden is much bigger than any we have ever had before and has been neglected for some time. There is an area of raised beds for a vegetable patch, these are overgrown with weeds right now, but I’m using a small corner of one of them to attempt to grow some runner beans. First lesson – use long canes!! This is my first effort. I am also growing some tomatoes (in a grow bag), chilli’s in a pot, and a cucumber plant.
I would like my children to get some appreciation of where food comes from and the effort involved in producing it – that’s really important. I also want to be able to prove to them that it can be done and its cheaper / healthier / tastier / better for the environment to grow your own food if at all possible. As ever, time is the main problem, but now that I have left the rat race behind there is more of a chance that I’ll be able to spend some proper time in the garden.
Other jobs that I’d like to be sorting in the garden sooner rather than later (but I’ve got to get used to the fact that the seasons affect what grows and when so I’m not sure when the best times will be yet) include:
Weeding, digging over, and planting up the front garden so that it has a cottage garden feel (I’m investigating what this actually means)
Encourage the front hedge to be consistent (fill in gaps, grow higher). Its brambles, ivy, and bind weed right now
Sort the lawn out so that its actually more grass than weeds
Clear out the pond, relining and refilling it, re-bedding slabs, and restoring the waterfall that used to run into it many years ago
Behind the pond is a shady area – I’d like to try and see what kind of “woodland” planting I can do here – I’m thinking ferns, moss and so on
Establish a hedge along the side of the garden for privacy
Recommission the raised beds for a vegetable patch and then work out what needs to go where
Have a wild meadow patch to encourage the bees and butterflies
Build a greenhouse or similar – something to keep the plants warmish in the winter
Replace the dilapidated shed before it falls down – this will require proper money
So my problem is that, other than watching Gardeners World on a Friday and having a bit of enthusiasm, I have zero gardening knowledge. I can dig a hole and that’s about it. I’ve tried learning some plant names but then promptly forget. I generally describe plants as red flower, purple flower, long grass, dead twigs, so I really need to get my head around this and work out a strategy for remembering the names.
However, armed with the internet and the team at Gardeners World (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006mw1h/episodes/guide) I’m sure I can make a pretty good go at this. I just need to fit it in along with everything else. I’ll be keeping you updated with what I’m doing and how it’s going – please let me know how you think I’m getting on and if you have any advice!