Tomatoes. Picture this; Ripe, deep red, juicy, rich, full of flavour. As you bite into them, they yield gently, and fill your mouth with a slight tang. I had vague memories of tomatoes like these, and I was getting tired of the slightly green, crisp, hothouse grown Dutch bullets that the supermarkets pass off. As I cycled to the gym one afternoon I noticed that several of the houses near me had greenhouses, complete with old men with pipes and dozens of gorgeous succulent tomatoes.
I looked on Ebay for a greenhouse and found one at a reasonable price not too far away. Ben the teenager and I drove over to look at it and, over a couple of hours one evening took it apart, put it in my Wife’s Kangoo and brought it home, with the loss of just one pane of glass due to Teenage Son not realising that without clips there was only dirt holding the glass in place. Laid out on the grass, it was difficult to see how so little aluminium could support so much glass, and being second hand there weren’t any instructions. It took a bit of thought to put it together and I had to go and look at a couple of other examples to work out how the door and the ventilator fitted back. But after a few hours the frame was in place. Positioning it took a while; as the garden faces North finding a reasonably sheltered but sunny spot took a bit of thinking. Glazing it was easy and despite the blood on the glass it seemed to do the job. I used border edgings to make a raised bed inside, found some staging and shelving, filled it with potting compost and was all ready to go.
A trip to the local garden centre was surprising, I hadn’t realised how many types of tomatoes there were. I chose moneymaker and alicante and planted the seeds out in room by the airing cupboard. Each packet had around 50 seeds and about 90 plants came up; seedlings surrounded us. Having coaxed them to life it seemed really mean to only pick the strongest; some were given away, 15 went into the greenhouse and the rest were dotted around the conservatory and garden in a plethora of grow-bags, pots, crates and anything else that could be encouraged to hold compost. Then, just like the song, the rains came. Tomato blight spread like, well like tomato blight I guess. The greenhouse was full of a fine dust that spread to the other plants nearby; what little fruit I was able to save by spraying looked inedible. Overall, this was a failure. Ten or so plants though. were in grow-bags about 30 feet from the greenhouse. They had been planted out fairly late and hadn’t been doing very well because of the cold weather, however once all the other plants were laid waste they shot up. The result was a reasonable, albeit late, crop and several jars of green tomato chutney, which I am still enjoying a year later.
Learning from my mistakes, this year has been slightly different. I sterilised the greenhouse and the soil with Jeyes Fluid. The smell is earthy but the glass has stayed clear and the plants inside have all done well. Only 25 seeds were planted and all 25 came up. The greenhouse has about 12 nicely separated plants all doing well. There is also a paraffin heater in there for the cooler nights. In the grow bags on the floor there are aubergines, sweet peppers, long peppers and chilli peppers. Two cucumber plants are also beginning their climb up the wall as well as several pots of courgettes. There are flowers on most of the peppers already and small buds on the indoor tomato plants, the outside ones are just starting to pick up.
Overall, this bodes well for a good crop of fruit nicely spread over the summer. What really struck me about the whole experience though was thinking how marvellous it was watching fruit develop from such tiny seeds, only to suffer a major disappointment when they all died. There were however, lessons to be learned. The first one was not to give up. The second was to review what happened last year and the third was to plan properly for the coming growing season. I spent a significant amount of time over the winter preparing the greenhouse and reading up on where I went wrong last year. This year I chose blight resistant varieties and planted fewer of them. I have also expanded into other fruits and have been watching them leaping out of the pots. The real joy in all this was creating something as brilliant as a tomato from something as tiny as a tomato seed and watching this ancient process play itself out while I watched.