Welcome to my blog

I was born in Guernsey (but now live in Brittany) and our main industry was growing tomatoes although that industry has now virtually disappeared. Growing tomatoes to a Guernseyman is like wine to a Frenchman, it's in our blood! I do not profess to be an expert, but I have picked up a few tips and techniques which work for me.

Please feel free to add any questions, comments or your own advice. As this is also an info blog, please add yourself as a follower as it could be a good source of information. There might be the odd post about my life in Brittany.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

End of season tomato ripening

As we are now getting a slight change in the weather and a drop in temperatures at the end of the summer, you could see a slight decline in how fast your tomatoes will ripen. There are a number of ways to make sure you harvest all the fruit left on the plant by the end of the season, however any un-ripened can be turned into chutney.

My tomato plants have been trained over the paths, but now is a good time to stop the heads 

  Tips to encourage end of season ripening of tomatoes

  • De-leaf your plants up to or slightly past the ripening fruit - This will let more sun onto the fruit and also aid air circulation to help prevent diseases.
  • Nip out the head of your plants - This will encourage the remaining fruit to swell and ripen slightly faster than if the plant was still growing.
  • Remove side shoots - Once your plant has been de-headed you will find that the side shoots will be slightly more vigorous, so keep removing side shoots, so all the energy goes into the remaining fruit.
  • Slow down on watering to avoid splitting fruit -  If you over water after the plants have been stopped or have slowed down growing, then you are more likely to get splitting fruit.
  • Do not close down the poly-tunnel or greenhouse - If you try to raise the temperature by closing down the greenhouse then you are inviting fugal disease problems, so still keep your greenhouse well ventilated as there is more humidity about as the temperatures drop.
  • Avoid Blight - If you tend to get blight at the end of the season, it is a good idea to give a preventative spray with a Bordeaux mix.I do find that after spraying my plants tend to slow down, but it will not matter at this time in the growing season. 

 Double cropping Tomatoes

As the sides of my poly-tunnel are quite low I stopped the plant head at the wire instead of training them over the paths,which I do on the other rows. This leaves me space to add a second set of plants in the row. You can see that I have removes all the leaves from the older plants, to encourage the fruit to ripen. The second set of plants are quite thin as they were planted while the first set still had plenty leaves on so the plants were too shaded. However they will soon grow stronger with more light. If you do try double cropping please make sure that you plant the first set of tomato plants wide enough, a minimum of 20 inches is best.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Growing and Harvesting Sweet-corn

This seasons sweet-corns are best I have grown and it is probably due to two lots of rain at the right time, the first heavy downpour was just after they had been planted out so the plants got well established early on. We have not had a lot of rain for a while here in Brittany for a while, so I have been keeping them well watered with a can via the water butts.  it is hard work but I aim to get a good harvest of sweetcorn this year. I also raised my plants in the poly-tunnel giving them a better start that direct sown plants. 

You cant beat the taste of fresh sweet-corn on the BBQ, I tend to blanch mine first then smear will butter before finishing off on the BBQ. Another method I have used is to wrap then uncooked in wet kitchen roll, then  tinfoil crimping it all around. Add extra water and a knob of butter at the top, before sealing the corn in it's own little foil oven. This can then be put on the BBQ to cook for about 20 to 30 mins. You can check it every so often and top up the water as it must not dry out. Pre-blanch slightly if you want to save on the cooking time


Harvesting Sweet-corn

The only problem  I have now is when to start harvesting them as that are covered in a fibrous husk, which has to be carefully peeled back to reveal the corn. When the fluid inside each kernel is still liquid and the skin of the kernel is still tender then the cob is ready for picking so it is best test by puncturing a kernel with your thumbnail to make sure. If a clear liquid appears, then the corn is mature. If the liquid is milky, then the corn is ready, and if no liquid appears then the corn is probably over-ripe.
The time scale to test the corn is between 18 to 25 days after the first silk appeared, which is also when the silks change colour to dark brown or black. 
The top photo shows the silks turning brown, however, upon peeling back the husks you can see that the kernels still have not formed at the top of the cob, so It will be a few weeks before I can harvest.

Storing and blanching sweet-corn
Sweet-corn it's at it's best as soon as it is harvested and is best stored in the fridge. The sugar in the kernels soon turns to starch after a few days, so the sooner you eat them the better they will taste. You can store them long term but freezing them, some people just remove the husks than wrap then in foil before freezing. A preferred method is to blanch them before freezing. Bring some water to the boil, add the corn and boil for 4 to 6 minutes, then drop into iced water. You can then either leave the corn whole or use a sharp knife and  remove the corn from the cob before bagging and freezing.

Tips on growing sweet-corn 
 I prefer to raise my plants under cover as they have quite a long growing season, so they get a better start then direct sown plants. 

 As sweet-corn plants are wind pollinated they should be grown in blocks rather than rows, 45cm (18in) apart. Grow them in a sheltered, sunny position, protected from strong wind, on any fertile garden soil.

 Sweet-corn  does not really like heavy soil, so add plenty compost. you can also mulch the plant to preserve moisture and keep the weeds down, be very careful when hoeing around the plants as they have very shallow roots. You can stake very tall plants if the are prone to bending over in the wind and keep the plants well watered in hot weather especially  when the plants are just flowering early on.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Cheap Fruit and Veg Cage

Our local pigeons have been having a good pecking at our cauliflowers and broccoli over the past months, despite a token number of old CD's hung on some string to scare them off. So I decided it was time I obtained a walk-in fruit cage type of structure, as I could use this for bird and wind protection on quite a few crops. 


The internet came up with some reasonably priced structures, but they were from the UK and the postage was quite expensive, or they did not deliver to France. Some obtainable in France were far too expensive, so I decided to have a go and build my own.  

Luckily a friend gave me some free netting which was perfect, nice and strong and just the right size. I had seen a few poly-tunnels built using plastic water pipes and wood as a frame, so I scavenged around the garden for bits and pieces, then bought some water pipe from our local DIY store. Every hoop is about 5m so 25m at just 17€ will do a lot as I only used two pieces on my structure. 
It is all very well having some off the shelf structure, but sometimes the cost really outweighs any crops that you harvest, so taking the time and effort to build your own is very worth while. 

For the end section I used two wooden poles, with two post knocked into the ground behind then and added some wire for tension at each end so I could keep the top two support wires quite tight. The blue water pipe was nailed unto two short post knocked into the ground, but old scaffolding pipes would be perfect for this.The water pipe is also nailed into the wooden frame at the top. 

 I built the structure over the Haricot verts and the Brassica and I will add a few crops that normally go in the poly-tunnel as it gets a tad hot in there at this time of the year. With the sweetcorn, celery and turnips coming up well it looks like it is going to be a good growing season this year. The early spring rain helped establish most of the crops, but we are having a very pleasant and hot dry spell now here in Brittany. Unfortunately Rain is forecast for the end of the week, but in a way it will be welcome as all my water butts are empty. 


Sunday, 22 June 2014

Early June first tomatoes ready to harvest

In the second week of June we harvested our first indoor tomatoes, which I have to say tasted far better than what we had previously been buying from the supermarkets. These are Coeur De Boeuf which are a Beefsteak style of tomato, very flavoursome and wonderful sliced with Mozzarella cheese and a little sea salt and pepper..  

Friday, 23 May 2014

Chocolate dipped strawberries

Now is the the time to start enjoying all the hard work in the garden by harvesting your crops, so with a spell of hot weather last weekend the outdoor strawberries have gone mad, so as well as Mrs  TK having to start making some tasty strawberry jam, she has also been dipping them in melted chocolate as we have friends around for dinner tomorrow night.

We are also harvesting radish, lettuce, asparagus, cucumbers, courgettes  and of course a great supply of fresh herbs. The problem is that it is all or nothing when you grow your own food, so you have to be resourceful and come up with novel and tasty ways to use all this lovely fresh produce. I do leave all that to Mrs TK who is a bit of a Galloping Gourmet.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Pruning the Vines

I pruned my vines  a while ago to leave one shoot every 6" to 8" as I had seen this on a pruning video and the idea is not to overload the plants so you end up with a better crop. My dilemma now is do I then just leave one bunch on each shoot and as many leaves as I can. If I do not do this I will be defeating the object of pruning as I will have many more bunches of grapes. I have Googled this and I cannot seem to find anything on the second pruning of the shoots, but it makes sense to do this . 

This photo shows the shoot on the right with two bunches so far, do I cut the second one off and also cut off the head of the shoot. I do know that later on I have to also thin out the bunches, less is more as they say!

Vines to prune

Unfortunately a fox killed our 3 chickens last month, so we have decided not to get any more. These are the first lot of chickens that we have lost to foxes in 5 years, but having to lock them up at night and let them out first thing in the morning was getting a bit of a pain. However, we will miss our own lovely fresh eggs with bright yellow yokes. 

We have decided the turn the old chicken run into another vegetable patch as the soil should be well enriched, I have planted out some cape gooseberries to see how they do outside, also some broccoli and Brussels sprouts   and sown some French beans. The end near the lawn I have sown a strip of wild flowers, so we will see if they can compete against the weeds that will eventually come up with them.

The new Veg patch

Last weekend was another bombshell as our Appaloosa Dill had to be put down. She  had various problems over the years, I think mainly due to her past hard life with her previous owners. She was such a gently giant and so well natured, we will miss her so much. Anna, our French trotter has been going crazy this past week missing her soul mate. So she has had lots of treats and scratches to show we care and we even gave her a nice grooming and a shower on Sunday as it was so hot.

Anna and Dill

Monday, 12 May 2014

Mid May in the Poly-tunnel and Garden

The weather is still very unsettled but luckily no frost, however it has been hard on some early planted outdoor crops with all the wind and rain here in Brittany. I have used the frame from the mini greenhouse that I had in the poly-tunnel to shelter some plants from the rain while they harden off. The temperatures have been OK but too much rain early on will takes it's toll if plants are planted out too early.

We have started picking strawberries but the birds seem to get to some of them just before we are about to pick them. A net covering seems to have sorted the problem, but I do plan to build a large walk-in fruit cage using the thick plastic water pipes and strong netting. You really can't beat the taste of home grown strawberries after the forced Spanish and French ones that have been for sale in supermarkets over the past month.

Raised beds are so much easier to work with and require a forking over at the start of the season and some manure added over the winter. We are harvesting lettuce, radish and the courgettes are also nearly ready to be picked.

In the poly-tunnel thing have certainly moved on, as the rain has not effected the crops and the temperatures have been quite high. I have taken most of the lower cucumbers off this plant to build up a stronger plant for the rest of the season which is the long term plan. 

Too many cucumbers at the start is not always good long term. Notice how dark the plant is, this is a good sign and shows it has not been over-watered as cucumbers are very prone to damping off if the roots are too wet. This is also the reason I grow them in a pot buried into the soil with the bottom cut out of the pot.

 It looks like the lower bunches have set well on the tomatoes, there can be setting problems if the night time temperatures are too low early on in the season. I am feeding and de-shooting them once a week and will take off a few of the lower leaves for better air circulation. 


 As per normal I have quite a number of tomato plants spare which I have grown from seed. I am very tempted to plant some outside but I always have had blight in the past  on outdoor tomatoes which tended to spread to the poly-tunnel. My plan is to grown them in the fruit cage when I eventually build it and maybe have some of the roof lined with plastic under the netting to keep the rain off, which will at least keep the plants totally dry. I think my problem in that past has been to grow tomatoes mainly designed for indoor growing and I should choose a more hardy plant. I really have to discipline myself to dump my excess indoor plants.

If anyone can recommend a good outdoor variety then I would welcome your comments.


Wednesday, 30 April 2014

3 for 2 offer on packets of seeds from Suttons - ends today!

 Please note this offer has now ended, but Suttons always have other offers so well worth checking out their website.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Leaf burn or scorch on Tomatoes and Cucumbers

A common but not always a major problem with tomato and cucumber plants is leaf burn or scorch normally on the tips of the leaves. This problem can be cause by too much sun on a dry plant or too strong a concentration of fertilisers. 

Burned spots on tomato plant leaves can be a result of too much fertilizer or improper fertilizing practices and  appears as scorching that begins at the edges of the leaves. The leaf edges look dried out,and eventually  brown and brittle. To avoid root injuries that lead to leaf burn, do not allow fertilizers to come in direct contact with the plant’s stem or roots. 

 Scorch from Fertilisers
If you water using a branded liquid feed, please follow the dilution instructions carefully and use half strength on small plants. You can start watering once you see the first trussed forming. Double strength fertiliser will not make your plants grow twice as fast, it will kill them.

If you are using a home-made fertiliser with Comfrey or nettles, then please make sure it is well diluted or you could burn the roots and leaves.

If you are applying fertilizers in a granular form, gently fork it into the soil about  with 4 to 6 inches  from the plant’s stem and be very careful not to damage the plants roots as they are close to the surface.By doing this they plant will not receive all the nutrients in one go, thoroughly water the fertiliser in  following the application and repeat the process every 10 days or so.

Sometimes you can get leaf scorching from residue in the compost you maybe using, either the slow release fertiliser was not mixed in enough, or the manure you used to make compost was not rotted down enough.

Sun Scorch
Seedlings are very prone to scorch if allowed to dry out at any-time. As they are usually in small pots there is little reserve for the roots so they do dry out very quickly on hot days, so could need a light water a couple of times a day until,they are transplanted to a larger plot. Sometimes with a sudden change in the weather it can be worthwhile adding a little shade to young plants on very hot days in early spring. 

This cucumber plant is showing signs of leaf burn. As you can see it starts on the tip of the leaf and sometimes spreads to the rest of the leaf, especially with young leaves. You do not need to remove the leaf at this stage, but it much of the leaf is damaged than it is better to remove it. I would say that this particular leaf burn was caused by the plant being slightly too dry on a hot day, but it difficult to distinguish between sun burn and fertiliser scorch. 

This young tomato plant has quite severe scorch and you can see that the two lower seedling leaves have shrivelled up, so it is best to remove them. The upper part of the plant is nice and green so they problem has past and no real long term damage will occur. Scorch usually appears at the start of the season on young plants and is easy to spot as it starts on the tips of the leaves and is dry and crisp. 

This is a severe case of cucumber leaf scorch, the dried leaves around the base of the plant are Comfrey leaves and this could have causes a high concentration of potash around the roots if there are more Comfrey leaves below ground around the roots system, or again too little water on hot days with a small root system.

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