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My hunt for some reliable outdoor tomatoes begins – The Great Tomato Challenge 2018

I’m starting to get some harvests off my tomato plants. The dry weather is causing a few problems, however. The main issues seem to be on the fruits rather than the plants themselves. The plants will show some wilting on the leaves but quickly perk up if rain comes.  The prolonged spell of dry weather has caused blossom end rot on some of the varieties. This is, apparently, caused by calcium-deficiency and comes about because the lack of water locks the calcium in the soil so it can’t be transported into the plant. The varieties most affected seem to be the more cylindrical ones such as Orange Banana and San Marzano.

The erratic nature of watering has also cause splitting in the fruits, this time the larger types are most affected. The theory is that the toughened skins (a response to the hot conditions) are shocked by the sudden rush of fluid into the fruit when it does rain and so split. It doesn’t affect flavour or yield but it does make them less pretty.

You can see my last post showing a mug-shot gallery of the fruits on the plants here. 

The tiny varieties of Mexico Midget and Coyote are very cute but need to extra productive to get a reasonable yield. So far they’re not impressing me in their numbers. The flavour was nice, with Mexico Midget beeing juicier and with a better flavour.

I’ve been keeping little updates happening over on my Instagram feed.

The two proper cherries had more flavour than the little ones. Lizzano is so far leading the was in terms of cropping (being both the earliest to crop and so far the most productive) but the plants seem to have terminated themselves at a foot high and are showing no indication to grow any higher. Rosello had the better flavour.

Keep track of my harvests on my new geeky spreadsheet

The Kellogg’s Breakfast was a little bland. Principe Borghese had good flavour and there are lots more fruits on the plants to come.

Black Krim has the best flavour so far (we were just missing the mozzarella and basil) but has been impacted by skin splitting.

Black Krim How are the numbers doing?

Because the Orange Banana and Brandywine Yellow types have only 2 surviving plants I’ve subbed an extra Kellogg’s Breakfast and Black Cherry.

  • Rosello 3
  • Black Krim 3
  • Orange banana 2
  • Coyote 3
  • Mexico midget 3
  • Abraham Lincoln 3
  • Black Cherry 4
  • Brandywine Red 3
  • Mortgage lifter 3
  • Kellogg’s Breakfast 4
  • San Marzano 3
  • Lizzano 3
  • Principe Borghese 3
  • Brandy wine yellow 2
  • Minibell 3
The introduction

So why The Great Tomato Challenge 2018? I’ve had a few goes at getting some tomatoes from the plants in my little greenhouse but they’ve been much the embarrassment. The plants seem healthy but fruit-set can be poor, the fruit takes ages to ripen and mostly they’ll succumb to either blight or rot before a harvest can be had.

I’ve decided that 2018 is the year of the tomato. Now I have an allotment, with its availability of good light levels and space, I can indulge myself. I’ve tried growing challenges before (see the disaster that was my Chilli Challenge in 2014) so expectations need to be reasonable.

The goal is to find some varieties that can perform outside in the mild climate of Devon. I’m looking for a cherry tomato, a good salad tomato, and a good tomato for sauces. I’ll be judging them based on plant vigour/health, crop weight, and flavour.

The inspiration

I’ve been listening to the Still Growing Podcast this year and Jennifer (over at 6 Foot Mama) interviewed Craig Le Houllier who has grown hundreds of tomatoes as part of his obsession with heirloom varieties.

The Varieties

I looked at

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My hunt for some reliable outdoor tomatoes begins – The Great Tomato Challenge 2018 The plants are growing well despite the lack of rain

Since my last update at the end of June, the tomato plants have filled out a little but the biggest change has been the number of fruits. Despite having no rain, and no additional feeding, the plants have found a source of water (presumably by searching deeper into the ground) and are growing well.

Here’s my mug-shot gallery;

Lizzano has been the first to set fruits and the first to harvest. Initial taste-testing with friends at the weekend wasn’t overly encouraging though. There was a good balance of sweet and sour but overall it was rather bland. I’m hoping for better from the others.

I’ve been keeping little updates happening over on my Instagram feed.

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Building a Pallet Planter is the perfect weekend DIY project for the garden

After I dismantled my greenhouse I had some leftover wood. I also had an Acer palmatum that was looking pretty sad in an old wooden planter which was disintegrating around the root ball. As part of my recent Shade Garden redesign, I wanted to make a new Pallet Planter to balance out the space.

I’m not the most gifted carpenter. I’ve done a couple of woodwork classes but I’m only ever working with the most basic of competencies. For this project, I used a circular saw, a cordless drill, a hammer and screws.

The pallets came from a local electronic supply company who posted on facebook that they had lots of pallets available for free. I used the strength of these hardwood pallets for the majority of the structure. The left-over wood planks from the greenhouse were used to fill in where needed.

I need a better method for removing parts of pallets. I wasted a lot of wood hammering it apart. The basic structure is two pallets forming two of the faces and the four uprights. The cross wood was added to form a cube and to create a base.

Once the planter was constructed I gave it all a coat of varnish to protect the wood from rotting and to make a more uniform finish. I like the different shades this created on the different wood. I also tacked some old compost bags to the inside to give even more protection from the wet soil so that this lasts as long as possible.

One clever idea that didn’t pan out was to put four casters on the bottom of the planter. I knew it was going to be heavy when filled so the idea was that these would allow it to be rolled into position. I didn’t take into account that it is placed on gravel which means the casters are sod all use. With the help of my charitable neighbours, we were able to get it into position using planks.

I’ve planted the Acer palmatum in it and that is looking great. To fill the planting space I’ve put in Aquilegia fragrans, Digitalis mertonensis, and a geranium.

The post Building a Pallet Planter appeared first on My Potting Bench Blog.

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These are the gardens at Hampton Court that I like the best.

This year we decided to go back to the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show. Most years we choose one of the large shows to visit and it’s been probably 5 years since we last went to Hampton. It’s a larger, more relaxed, and less crowded sibling to Chelsea.

There can often be a lot of discussions about which gardens are the best, combined with extra scrutiny about which medals were awarded and whether they were justified. I’m just going to show the ones that I liked or had features that I’d like to have in my own garden.

My other blog about my trip to Hampton Court focusses on the plants.

 Feature Garden

Piet Oudolf has been invited to design a special feature garden as a horticultural hero. It’s his typical prairie style and it was beautiful.

Lifestyle Garden

NAME: The Entertaining Garden

DESIGNER: Anca Panait

The stone walkway was the first thing that caught my eye. I love how it adds a balance between the formal structures and the rough planting. The glossy copper bar looks great and started a conversation about whether you’d prefer it to stay shiny or to be tempered to a green hue. There’s a green/living wall of herbs you can use to flavour your cocktails. We’ll be nicking this idea.

Show Gardens

NAME: Brilliance in Bloom

DESIGNER: Charlie Bloom

The metalwork in this garden really appeals. I like the cut-out steel screens. The fountain set within one of these screens is something I would take home.

NAME: Elements Mystique Garden

DESIGNER: Elements Garden Design

I liked the colours in this garden. The dark and smokey planting contained the chocolate cosmos, which is a favourite of mine, and I’m always impressed by a charred wooden fence.

NAME: The Landform Garden Bar

DESIGNER: Rhiannon Williams

This is the second of my most favourite gardens to feature a bar. I won’t dwell on that too much. The dark metalwork and the natural wood was what I liked about this one. Orange isn’t a colour that I normally pick up in a garden centre but seeing it used like this made me think again. Overall this was my favourite small show garden at the show.

NAME: Best of Both Worlds

DESIGNER: Rosemary Coldstream

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My hunt for some reliable outdoor tomatoes begins – The Great Tomato Challenge 2018 The tomato beds are filling up.

It’s been a month since the little Tomato plants were planted out into the big wild world. Since then we have had not one drop of rain to help them along. For the first 2 weeks they did get some watering can attention but the waterbutts are now empty.

Despite the drought conditions, and the recent heat wave,  they don’t seem to be doing too badly. The leaves will wilt during the hottest weather but they are still coping.

I’ve been keeping little updates happening over on my Instagram feed.

The leaders of the tomato pack

I had to do some in-phone editing of these photos in order to make sure they’re labelled properly so I apologise for the quality.

Tomato ‘Lizzano’ – the first to set fruit Tomato ‘Principe Borghese’ Tomato ‘Mortgage Lifter’

It’s interesting to see all the different forms starting to emerge. The leaves of the Orange Banana are odd dangling things and the Black Krim have a nice purple edging to them. Apart from the shape of the fruits, and eventually the colour, there are glossy fruits forming but also a matt finish on some of the larger varieties.

Tomato ‘Black Krim’ Tomato ‘Kellogg’s Breakfast’ Tomato ‘Orange Banana’ Tomato ‘Minibel’

I knew the Minibel was a smaller growing type but they are actually tiny! The large bean poles look stupid, unused, beside them. Depending on how they taste they may be perfect for container growing.

How are the numbers doing?

Because the Orange Banana and Brandywine Yellow types have only 2 surviving plants I’ve subbed an extra Kellogg’s Breakfast and Black Cherry.

  • Rosello 3
  • Black Krim 3
  • Orange banana 2
  • Coyote 3
  • Mexico midget 3
  • Abraham Lincoln 3
  • Black Cherry 4
  • Brandywine Red 3
  • Mortgage lifter 3
  • Kellogg’s Breakfast 4
  • San Marzano 3
  • Lizzano 3
  • Principe Borghese 3
  • Brandy wine yellow 2
  • Minibell 3
The introduction

So why The Great Tomato Challenge 2018? I’ve had a few goes at getting some tomatoes from the plants in my little greenhouse but they’ve been much the embarrassment. The plants seem healthy but fruit-set can be poor, the fruit takes ages to ripen and mostly they’ll succumb to either blight or rot before a harvest can be had.

I’ve decided that 2018 is the year of the tomato. Now I have an allotment, with its availability of good light levels and space, I can indulge myself. I’ve tried growing challenges before (see the disaster that was my Chilli Challenge in 2014) so expectations need to be reasonable.

The goal is to find some varieties that can perform outside in the mild climate of Devon. I’m looking for a cherry tomato, a good salad tomato, and a good tomato for sauces. I’ll be judging them based on plant vigour/health, crop weight, and flavour.

The inspiration

I’ve been listening to the Still Growing Podcast this year and..

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Taking a few steps now can mean the difference when keeping plants in the garden alive during a Heat Wave

The recent hot weather may be great for boosting the nation’s morale but for our gardens it can be disastrous. Sudden spikes in the temperature can put plants under immense stress and, for some, maybe the end of them. This is my list of 10 simple emergency tips you can use to protect your plants, whilst still being sensible with your water usage (and water bill!).

ONE: Group pots together

Provided your pots aren’t too large and you’re physically able to shift them without causing yourself damage, this can be the simplest way to give them some extra protection. Pots not only lose moisture from above but their sides are exposed to the sun toom, meaning the heat ramps up at the root ball. Plants in the ground only have to worry about evaporation from the soil surface, those living in pots have double the trouble.

By bringing all your pots together they each shade the other. This means that they function more like plants in the ground. The clustering of foliage also means that humidity is kept higher around the leaves and will protect against excess evaporation.

Pots grouped together to conserve water and make watering easier. TWO: Move pots into the shade

Whilst you’ve got your muscles working, or the sack truck handy, you might as well move them all into a shady area of the garden. Unless you’re hosting a garden party or a wedding reception, the aesthetics of the garden are secondary to plant survival during a heat wave.

When the temperature is too much we move into shadier parts of the garden but your plants don’t have legs to achieve this amazing act of self-preservation. Cluster them all in one shady area for a few days until the worst of the heat passes and your plants will thank you. On the plus side, you never know what accidental planting combinations may occur.

THREE: Temporary shading

Again, not for those of a sensitive aesthetic disposition. But constructing a temporary shade using a sheet and some poles can give you a temporary area out of direct sun at the worst times of the day. If people are coming round for some drinks in the evening then it’s easy to take these down. This is a useful technique if you’re not physically able to shift the pots around, or if they’re too large for sensible repositioning.

FOUR: Water at the ends of the day

I get frustrated seeing people stood in the midday sun spraying a hose over their borders. At this time of the day most of the water coming out of the hose will evaporate and drift away. When the temperature gets too high or the air too dry then plants aren’t even taking up water from their roots. They’ve closed down waiting it out.

Another problem is the water droplets which then cover the leaves of your plants. Ever set fire to paper using a magnifying glass? The same thing happens to the surface of leaves that have water droplets sitting on them. It’s wasteful of water and actively harms the plant; don’t do it.

Instead, plan to do your watering first thing in the morning or last thing at night. This way the plants have the chance to take up the water and use it. I end up watering mostly at night because mornings seem too busy already, the downside being that damp conditions in the evening are perfect for slugs and snails who are starting their nightly campaign to rid me of seedlings. Make your own choice.

FIVE: Deep soaking

A light sprinkling on the top surface of the soil is unlikely to help anyone. You need the water to get deep down into the soil to be of any use and to stay stored down there away. Spend time on each plant, wait for the water to drain into the soil and then water again.

I once heard from advice on Gardeners Question Time that you should water lightly as a first round (in order to soften the surface which can form a crust) and then go round again for a second prolonged dowsing. Seems sensible to me but probably time-consuming.

SIX: Mulch

If you’ve given your garden a good watering the last thing you want is for all that precious liquid to evaporate back out again. By covering the area with a mulch you effectively bury it and keep is locked near the roots. You can use organic matter or even grit or gravel. It depends what you have to hand and your design ideas.

SEVEN: Selective watering

Not everything in the garden needs watering. This is especially useful if you’re on a water meter or have concerns over the environmental impacts of water use in the garden. When deciding what to water use this simple approach;

1 – Pots – Plants in pots don’t have the ability to reach down to get water sitting deeper in the water table. They are reliant on you to get what they need so they come first.

2 – Selective edibles – salad leaves and water-hungry crops like courgettes and climbing beans will really suffer if allowed to dry out. Contrast this with carrots (once germinated and growing away nicely) which use their tap root to go deep to find water, and to store water, and will be fine with minimal watering for a while.

3 – Newly planted – New herbaceous plants establishing in a border are particularly prone to suffering in drought conditions. Their resident neighbours have had some time to get their roots down and will compete for moisture. This extends to newly planted shrubs and trees too. However, trees and shrubs long established don’t need your attention at the moment and can be passed over for more needy individuals.

EIGHT: Greywater

‘Greywater’ is a term used to describe water that is being reused after its initial purpose has been served. This can include washing up liquid, water from washing machines, even air dehumidifiers and condensing tumble driers.  If your water butts have run dry, or you’re on a meter, it’s okay to use this type of water for watering non-edible plants.

There are some caveats; some of the chemicals in washing powders and liquids aren’t suitable for ingestion so you have to be careful where you use this water. Environmentally-friendly products are available but the evidence for their safety for this purpose hasn’t been established (or they’d be shouting it from the rooftops). Also, accumulation of chemicals in soil, and pots are particularly susceptible, can be detrimental to plant health.

I think for short-term emergency use the benefits outweigh the cons but you need to be selective in where you chuck it.

NINE: Raise the humidity

It’s not all about water at the roots for some plants. The dry air can be a huge issue and will cause leaves to desiccate. One way to counter this is to try and increase the humidity around the plant. The simplest way to do this is to put trays of water around your pots.

TEN: Water for birds

Don’t forget the birds! They’re part of your garden too and a lack of water is dangerous. If you don’t have a pond in your garden or in your area try putting out a shallow tray of water for them. Make sure it’s not so deep that it’s a drowning risk (that won’t help them at all).

A shallow tray of water for garden birds

The post Ten emergency tips to get your garden through a Heat Wave appeared first on My Potting Bench Blog.

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Joining in with this popular garden bloggers meme

The Six on Saturday meme was started by The Propagator and you can find links to other garden bloggers taking part in the comments on his weekly posts.

Roses are the big thing in the garden this month and they seem to be having a better year than last year. There’s also a bit of a theme of missing labels.

ONE Climbing Rose ‘Gertrude Jekyll’

This was the only rose in the garden when we moved in. It has survived being pruned down to the ground 4 years ago. It’s the second-best smelling rose (after Margaret Merill). The flowers start off a bright pink and then fade as they age. They’re larger at the earlier part of the year and then get smaller.

TWO

This isn’t the best photo, I don’t think iPhones like the colour red. It’s a hybrid tea type rose with a velvety petal in a lovely deep red. I’ve lost the label but ‘Thinking of You’ rings a bell.

THREE Hybrid Tea Rose ‘Moody Blue’

My ‘Moody Blue’ is looking better than this photo suggests. It flowers for most of the year once it gets going and the colour is an antique / dusky pink which is quite unusual.

FOUR

I need to keep better records of the plants I put in the garden. I’ve trawled the archives of this blog but can’t find a reference to putting this in. It’s a climbing rose.

FIVE

This guy featured in a ‘Wordless Wednesday’ post in 2014 and I’ve tagged it as Moody Blue but that’s incorrect. It was a cutting I took and it lives in the front planters. The heat and lack of moisture don’t do it any favours, it never grows very big each season, but I normally get a few flowers.

SIX

This one I did mention in the blog post Storm Damage: Recovery in 2014. Although unhelpfully it’s mentioned as ‘white rambler’ soI don’t know its proper name.

If you’d like to find more information on some of the best roses I always recommend David Austin.

The post Six on Saturday: 16th June 2018 appeared first on My Potting Bench Blog.

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