I Say Tomato

August 9, 2017

Despite not having a greenhouse, yet, and the other half being under strict instructions to repel all attempts by desperate gardeners to give us some, at some point this spring two orphan tomato plants appeared in our porch.

tomato plants

When it comes to growing veg, tomatoes are a bit technical for me – especially indoor ones. You seem to have to do everything for them, from feeding and watering to tying them up and pinching them out and generally ministering to their every need. We seem to have one vine type, which has already split its stem after it grew too tall for its support and fell over, and one bush type which is scrambling everywhere and is likely to grow up your leg if you stand too near it while answering the front door. These ones have been variously repotted, propped up, pruned, fed with something that comes out of a plastic bottle and had to be actually purchased (anathema to me – must go and plant a comfrey patch), watered and generally given a level of care and attention I associate with pets, or maybe even children, rather than plants.

tiny tomato fruit

Meanwhile, although both of them look quite decorative in a triffidish sort of way, neither of them has been that keen to actually do the thing that people grow tomato plants for, which is producing tomatoes. The bush one is seems to have one or two fruits per truss and the vine tomato seems to have gone on strike, setting precisely two fruits since I repotted it. Apparently they are self fertile, and all you need to do is gently shake the plants to release the pollen, but it seems that a few bees mightn’t go amiss, or failing that an electric toothbrush, which really does seem a step too far. Otherwise Professor Google suggests that the problem might be that they are too hot, too cold, too humid or too dry, which more or less sums up both gardening-by-internet in general and tomatoes in particular.

Still, despite a distinct shortage of sun this summer at least one of our tomatoes has started to ripen which – given the amount of love and attention I have been lavishing on them – feels almost as if a first-born child was graduating from university.

Did I mention that I don’t actually really like tomatoes?

tomato ripening


Come in, you’ll have had your Summer…

August 11, 2016

I was thinking yesterday, as I was woken yet again by the sun at 5 am only to watch the morning cloud over and the day descend to endless drizzle, that it would be kinder of the Weather Gods not to give us that daily hour of hope and expectation, but just start the day off as they mean to go on. And then we were woken this morning by the sound of rain against the skylight and I decided I’d take what sunshine I could get* (and maybe invest in some blinds for the bedroom).


Still, rain or no rain, I had to get myself down to the greenhouse back at the old house – or the allotment as it is now known – if only to water the other half’s plants and harvest some produce. Because, even with the rain spattering on the roof, it’s all going great guns down there.


The tomatilloes lie in wait: none of them are ready yet, but we know they will be soon, and once they start cropping, by god they are prolific. Last year we had to resort to depositing bags of tomatilloes on people’s doorsteps when we ran out of room in the fridge. This year we’ve put in fewer plants but they seem to have compensated by becoming even more prolific.

The chillies are taking their time, but the purple jalapenos are worth it for the flowers alone.

purple jalapeno flower

Time to dig out the Mexican cookbook and dream of warmer climes, and summer…

* Obviously, it would be even kinder of the weather gods to start off sunny and go on like that, but we’ve had our summer and we know better than to hope.

To Those that Have Shall be Given

September 2, 2015

The Other Half took another step into the realm of gardenerdom this week: he has been presented with someone else’s vegetable surplus. It is apparently an iron law of vegetable gardening that you never get anyone’s garden produce* until you have a plot of your own and then you can hardly fend it off with a stick. For no sooner does he boast about his triumphs in the Any Other Vegetable category at work, than he finds three courgettes on his desk (then again, it could just be some sort of an initiation…)

surplus tomatoes

Help, send tomato recipes

He’s now considering whether to escalate with his tomato surplus, but to be honest, that’s the sort of dangerous move that ends up with you standing in the kitchen googling marrow recipes…

* Apart from the gentleman I met in Bigtown who was reminiscing fondly about being sent by his mother down to the local allotments to pick up some leeks for the family tea. Not *their* allotment, you understand. Just *an* allotment …

Falling Behind

February 6, 2015

I hardly dare mention this, but we’ve had over a week now of clear skies and bright winter sunshine. Of course, clear skies also come with hard overnight frosts – but also a brilliant full winter moon that was a welcome companion riding back from the village the other night, with only a rather feeble battery-powered lamp to guide me home. The snow is still sticking around but that just makes the sunshine brighter, and in February we are none of us going to turn our noses up at a bit of extra light, wherever it comes from.

Cold though it is, even February marches on. I was reminded this morning that time stops for nobody, and gardeners least of all. I haven’t got my seed order in yet – hell, I haven’t even thought about it – but my gardening buddy in the village has already got his first tomato seeds in, and his onion sets sprouting on the windowsill. Time to get myself up to the greenhouse and get back in gear. Just as soon as I can find my vegetable beds under their blanket of snow…

Grasp the Nettle

June 5, 2011

One excellent way to discover you have holes in your gardening gloves, I find, is to spend an afternoon pulling up all the nettles with the intent of making nettle tea for my tomatoes. Supposedly it’s best made with comfrey, but you have to actually grow comfrey whereas I find that nettles just grow themselves – all I had to do was wait a bit until they were big enough, put on a stout pair of gloves, and learn the hard way that it’s a complete myth that if you grasp a nettle firmly enough it won’t sting. Actually, come to think of it, I’ve no idea why it should be nettles that you use and not any other weed, unless this particular idea is the result of a bet between gardening writers as to who could make their readers do the most painful and ridiculous thing and get away with it. No doubt decking came a close second…

But that’s all by the by and the nettles are in a bucket now (I meant to make it ages ago, but had to wait until I got around to replacing last year’s bucket. Plastic may last forever but it turns out plastic buckets don’t, or at least not in the form that holds water. Bah. And then I find this thread recommending using milk containers instead. Doh. Next year), topped up with water and weighed down with a large stone, waiting to miraculously be transformed into plant food. I did this last year, and I even took some photographs meaning to blog about it but I never quite got round to it. Partly because the resulting photographs were pretty uninformative, if a bit revolting, but mainly because photos themselves cannot do anything like justice to the resulting smell. Put it this way, if you read the word ‘tea’ and started thinking of some sort of wholesome brew, think again – nettle effluent would come closer. Put it another way – if you had murdered someone and buried them under the rose bushes, a batch of nettle tea brewing alongside would quickly mask any of the resulting odours (and provide an excuse if the plants put on a growth spurt to boot). Fortunately for you lot the STP (Smell Transfer Protocol) standard has yet to be perfected so I can’t bring it to you in smellovision, but I may have to have a crack at putting it into words as it gets into its stride. You have been warned

I keep meaning to read up more on plant nutrition and become a proper gardener, the kind who can remember the difference between nitrogen, potassium and the other one and keep track of what supplies what and why and when, but every time I start to look into it properly my brain starts to hurt and gardening starts to feel like work – the sort of thing you can get wrong. And that’s no fun, so I go back to randomly googling stuff on the internet and doing the things that sound as if they make sense, or at least might make a vaguely amusing blog post. And all I can say is the nettle tea seems to work, at least for me. Although I’m very glad that, as a tomato-sceptic, I don’t actually have to eat the end result. Me, I’m sticking to the veg I feed on coffee.

Fried Green Tomatoes

October 20, 2010

This year I swore I wasn’t going to grow tomatoes. I don’t really like tomatoes, and besides they never grow properly up here unless you’ve got a greenhouse and if they do grow they never fruit and if they do fruit it never ripens. So I didn’t buy any tomato seeds and when tomato seeds mysteriously appeared in my seed order I didn’t plant them and I didn’t buy any tomato plants at the village plant sale and despite all that, summer came around and I found I was the foster owner of one unwanted orphan tomato plant (I think the magic words ‘it’ll just go in the bin otherwise’ were uttered at some point). And this year it actually flourished, possibly encouraged by copious amounts of coffee grounds and stewed nettle. We stuck it in a sunny spot and watched as it set fruit, and the fruit gradually ripened and then not so gradually split from all the rain in September (it’s all very well saying not to overwater your tomatoes, but nobody told the weather Gods that). But there was still tons of fruit – more tomatoes than I’ve ever managed to grow – probably because I’d looked at all the complicated instructions about picking off the smaller fruit and removing the side trusses and filed them under ‘life’s too short’ along with mushroom stuffing and ironing. And it was almost all of it green.
And that’s where we were until last night, when the first frost came and my little orphan tomato-plant-that-could keeled over leaving us with a substantial family of unripe tomatoes to support.
Chutney recipes, anyone? Unless you’ve got a better idea?

Move Over, Stonehead*

August 19, 2008

One major design flaw in our move to the country has been the fact that we have moved to a place with no garden of its own. So any thought of growing our own vegetables – let alone keeping our own hens – have had to be postponed. But, nothing daunted, I did at least buy a couple of tomato plants when we moved in to put in a couple of pots by our front door.

That was May. June passed, and July, with the plants growing like weeds in the rain, and flowering away like mad, but producing no actual tomatoes. Having consulted t’internet, I then spent the first part of August gently brushing the flowers in an effort to get some fruit to set. And then I saw this:

My first tomato. Giant fingers for scale...

My first tomato. Giant fingers for scale...

One fruit. Given the cost of the plants, plus the compost, and time, this was shaping up to be the most expensive tomato of all time. But that was not all. One day later I found this:

Second tomato

Second tomato

and this:

Third tomato - a plum tomato this tim

Third tomato - a plum tomato this time

in fact, a grand total of 5 tomatoes in all…which have an approximately zero chance of ripening before the frost comes. Somehow I don’t think the world food crisis will be solved by my efforts alone.
Meanwhile, in other news, the other half has fixed our signal booster and we once more have access to BBC and the olympics. If our usual effect on British sporting efforts holds, expect Team GB to go crashing down the medal totals – we’ve already screwed up the Madison**. Sorry about that.

*To see how it’s really done, go here

**Surely the Mornington Crescent of the sporting world