The time is (nearly) Ripe

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.

Six tomato plants gone wild!

Six tomato plants gone wild!

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.

Santorange tomatoes, yet to ripen

Santorange tomatoes, yet to ripen

Hefty Crimson Crush tomatoes, from golf ball to tennis ball size

Hefty Crimson Crush tomatoes, from golf ball to tennis ball size

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.

Anonymous supermarket tomato plant - first to ripen

Anonymous supermarket tomato plant – first to ripen

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.

Some of the few broad beans so far

Some of the few broad beans so far

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.

Foot-long courgette

Foot-long post-holiday courgette

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.

Purple-topped Rosedale lettuce

Purple-topped Rosedale lettuce

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.

Instant salad: freshly picked Rosedale lettuce and Carmen cucumber

Instant salad: freshly picked Rosedale lettuce and Carmen cucumber

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.

'Ace' sweet peppers starting to turn red

‘Ace’ sweet peppers starting to turn red

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.

Beautifully-coloured Moneymaker aubergines

Beautifully-coloured Moneymaker aubergines

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.

The makings of a bumper bean bonanza!

The makings of a bumper bean bonanza!

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 🙂

The sun sets over the broad beans after another good day of vegetable growing

The sun sets over the broad beans after another good day of vegetable growing.

6 responses to “The time is (nearly) Ripe

  1. How odd. I know that tomatoes are a bit later there, but your bell peppers and eggplant does so much better than ours do. I have not grown eggplant in years. It is not productive enough here. Bell peppers only start to produce now, and finish shortly afterward. Like eggplant, they are not really worth the work.

    • Yes I’m lucky with the peppers and eggplants – they were both strong grafted plants to start with and we’ve also had an extraordinary hot summer here in the UK, which is quite a good mix 🙂

  2. What an interesting post. It’s as if those plants each have their own personality and behaviour. This extreme weather hasn’t suited all of them, then.

    • Thanks Sue, that’s an interesting point – the different plants are indeed all very distinct in their behaviour this year. It’s unpredictable, but all the more involving and interesting as a result 🙂

  3. Hi Bill – nice post. We visited friends yesterday and their greenhouse tomatoes are like yours, still green but shapely and promising. So I’m sure you’ll have a bumper late August crop. we have courgettes and cucumbers coming out of our ears – wish I could post you some. Amazed you still have broad beans, mine are long gone; did you sown them very late? I had some good lettuce seeds from Real Seeds called Reine des Glaces (decribed as a ‘toothed crisphead’ which have survived the heat very well, the cut and come again went straight to seed. But very few pests which I take as an ominous sign because we garden organically. It’s not only bees; the fall in insect life is quite dramatic and does not I think bode well for the future of gardening. J

  4. Thanks Jessamy, that’s very interesting to know. Yes the broad beans went in late, so I’m hoping for a few more weeks of sunshine so that some more will come through. I’ll have a look at Reine des Glaces (what a great name). If you need any pests, let me know – I could send you thousands! 🙂

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