I’ve a very interesting tomato bed on the go this season: two plants each of Santorange, Aviditas and the blight-resistant Crimson Crush, each a first-time grow for me. I bought them all as tiny grafted plug plants and they’ve certainly lived up to grafted plants’ reputation for vigorous growth. Therein lies the interest, and indeed the challenge, as each plant has grown at least one extra main stem from the base, so it’s as if there are a dozen or more plants.
All good in theory but pushing out those extra stems, their leaves, side shoots and extra flowers is sapping all the energy away from swelling and ripening the tomatoes. The typical bunch of Santorange in the picture below looks exactly the same size and colour as it did a week ago, when it should be maturing rapidly in this hot weather.
So today I topped off each main stem, removed leaves near the ground, pinched out all the elbow shoots and gave them a good feed with Tomorite. Some more sun this week and hopefully things will start to ripen. There’s a dwarf supermarket tomato plant at the corner of the bed, variety unknown, which is knocking out ripe fruit at the moment, so that’s OK to be going on with.
There may be a theme going in here, as many other of the vegetables are growing very slowly and are behind where they should be in early August. Half the broad bean plants are still in flower, not having set any fruit yet. There are lots of bees going from flower to flower so pollination isn’t a problem in theory, but I did notice when manually pollinating the chilli plants that there appeared to be very little of the dusty white pollen on the small brush I was using. Given that most of the plants around the garden will have suffered some heat stress and under-watering during the scorching July we had, I wonder whether low pollen production is an offshoot of that.
Where most growers are enjoying a glut of courgettes, my three plants are almost dormant, with hardly any fruit. There was the usual couple of huge overgrown examples when I came back from holiday, but since then nothing. And the big leaves were starting to turn yellow. So I’ve given them plenty of water and a good liquid feed. It’s tricky to tell just yet, but it looks like there are some new healthy-looking green shoots coming through at the centre of each plant.
Nearby a large kale plant is being ravaged by caterpillars, the by-product of the incessant wave of cabbage white butterflies occupying the garden this year. Resigned to not being able to harvest any, I’m leaving the kale there as a sacrifice/diversion from the lettuces alongside.
Rosedale is one of my favourite lettuces and can be picked as cut and come again. Just this week the caterpillars are starting to get interested, along with beetles, so I’ve given them a once over with a veg-friendly crawly death spray. It’s certainly a challenging year in terms of keeping pests at bay.
The chilli and sweet pepper plants have reacted well to the stress of the recent heatwave though, setting lots of fruit. The ‘Ace’ sweet peppers have about five large block-shaped fruit each, some starting to turn red, and the Jalapeno chillies each had a few ready for picking today.
I’ve a special interest in the ‘Pearl’ chillies, which came as substitute plants from Suttons when they couldn’t deliver satisfactory Medinas. Pearls are apparently quite a delicacy: small cherry-sized, scarlet red and sold pickled in jars, though difficult to get hold of in this country. Hand pollination was the order of today to help them along.
Accompanying the peppers in the mini greenhouses are some Moneymaker aubergine plants. The name Moneymaker is most associated with the variety of tomato which, although a high-selling seed, produces pretty bland tomatoes. I’m hoping that the aubergine equivalent is better as I’ve a weakness for Baba Ganoush and it’d be great to make some with home grown fruit. Again, I’m trying to force the plant into ripening the fruit by chopping the top off, along with any unnecessary lower leaves.
The last bed needing some extra effort to bring the produce forward is one where I sowed two types of shelling/drying beans: Cannellini and Pinto. They came from a nice selection from Jungle Seeds. I’ll sow the other varieties next season, but for now the plants are very leafy but still only just flowering. The harvest season will be over before we know it, so I’m going to try stressing the bean plants (not feeding, clipping the tops off, etc.) to try and force them into setting fruit.
It’s a funny old year so far in the veg garden, with crazy weather, pest proliferations and recalcitrant plants. But those factors just make it all the more interesting and involving and I humbly count myself lucky to be in the thick of it. More next time 🙂