Into the greenhouse

Anyone who saw Gardener’s World last week would have heard Monty Don lamenting his tomatoes. (It made a change from talk of the box blight, from which he is still reeling 18 months after it reared his head). Monty’s tomatoes have been struggling: they are splitting, failing to ripen and, worse of all, not tasting as good as they should.

Well Monty, I hear you. Apparently we can blame the massive temperate fluctuations of August for the splitting, and generally it’s been cool which affects the fruit’s ability to ripen. Oh to be a farmer in Amalfi, who never have such issues.

Monty’s advice was to defoliate the tomatoes completely, which makes it sound like they need horticultural Immac. He has a point, however, so I’ve removed most of the leaves from mine and re-jigged the greenhouse to allow a bit of air movement.

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The over-full greenhouse

I tried some new tomato varieties this year, all from Seeds of Italy: I figure that the Italians know a few things about tomatoes. The real reason I grow tomatoes is to make vats of passata, perfect for bolognese and stews throughout the winter.

The cherry plums are massively prolific, perhaps too much so: as you can see, there’s still alot of green that needs to turn to red.

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Cherry plums: highly productive but the taste is so-so

This year I re-planted marmande, a good all-rounder, and tried golden boy, which as its name suggest, ripens to a golden yellow. The best for passata though is the gnarled ugly-looking fiorenta, which you can see poking up at the bottom of this picture. Its water content is low, so the tomato flavour when baked becomes wonderfully intense.

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Marmande (left) and golden boy (right): fewer fruits, good taste, but I wonder if they’ll all make it to ripeness. Spot the ridged fiorentina at the bottom.

The chillies have been ignored all summer but have done well for it. The three plants are groaning with fruit, all of it still green, and doubtless super super hot.

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Cayenne peppers, still skinny: literally, in that they’re all skin and no flesh. Suspect they will be SUPER HOT too. There’s a red fiorentina tomato in the background, the best for passata.

The peppers too have done OK for being ignored, although I think we’ll have to content ourselves with green rather than red. I might fry them until soft then serve them up with corn, chilli and a dollop of sour cream for a Mexican-themed supper.

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Green peppers, knobbly but pretty

Success now depends on some heat. After August’s rains, let’s hope for an Indian Summer come September. Because if not, God help us, I’ll be forced to make green tomato chutney.

Carrots and spring onions: hope over experience

A whole weekend passed with no outdoor time. We did a restaurant review on Friday night, headed to Tamworth for Matt’s mum’s retirement party on Saturday and then my friend Tune came for lunch on Sunday. Usually, a friend ‘coming for lunch’ means that you get angsty working out what to feed them and are then left with a mountain of washing up as reward. Not so with Tune. She’s from Calcutta, is an amazing cook and turned up bearing enough food for the entire street. These are the friends we need in life.

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The Scrabble letters say it all

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Proper Indian food. The green beans with coconut were properly delicious but the Kashmiri lamb takes some beating.

Both of us also had to fit in several hours work. I’ve been editing a book tracking the recent social history of Birmingham’s Stratford Road, which for years has been the arrival place for new migrants to the city. You might know it as the Balti Triangle. Editing a book essentially means staring at a laptop for days on end until the brain goes squiggly whilst getting cross at mis-placed apostrophes. So with the manuscript more-or-less signed off, I took two hours yesterday morning to escape. There was important work to be done.

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Daffodils are hanging on in there

The seedlings have outgrown their windowsills and needed sending off to big school, aka the greenhouse. For most gardeners this is not a big deal. For me it’s a commitment: once they’re in, I have to visit every day (or at least every other day) to make sure they get the watering they need. I’ve been putting this move off for several days, but no longer. The beans responded by shooting up 3cm, literally overnight, and we now also have baby corn, courgette and purple sprouting.

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Another year begins in the greenhouse

Another fast mover is the hop. I reckon this seemingly innocuous plant could take over the world; it’s already up to my mid-thigh and was barely a tiny shoot at Easter. The same can not be said for the broad beans which, despite being in flower, are laughably pathetic.

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Hops now come to mid-thigh

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Comically small broad beans. Other people’s are now two feet tall!

Of the seeds planted at Easter, only two brave little kale seedlings are through (I need to get on with sorting out a bird-protection system). Compared to a fortnight ago, when the ground was soft and yielding, today it is caked and hard, like the top of a chocolate pudding. I forked over an area to accommodate carrots, parsnips and spring onions, scattered the seed, and hoped for the best. This is the triumph of hope over experience – last year none, repeat NONE, of the carrots germinated and I had to re-sow most of our other seeds in May after the early lot failed.

To join them, I planted three pinks, which are in flower too early but whose scent take me straight back to my mother’s garden in Worcestershire.

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Dianthus, or pinks, are a classic flower of the cottage garden



Tomatoes, sunflowers, sweetcorn, courgettes, violas, chillies, parsley, coriander, basil to greenhouse.

PSB, sorrel and lollo rosso outside, still in seedtrays

Sowed carrot, parsnip and spring onion. Planted out pinks.


Started off more basil, squash, cavalo nero