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.
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.
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..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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Now that my tomato plants are well established planted out in the soil and are having regular weekly feeds, they are putting on a nice growth spurt and need de-shooting. The only tomato plants that do not need de-shooting are mainly the bush varieties, so they can be left to their own devices. I tend to grow cordon style of tomatoes indoors to get the maximum crop from the space, they also crop all season where as bush varieties mainly crop over a short period. More info about tying up plants, with a short video
Side shoots are easy to spot, as they normally grow out between a leaf and the stem. However, as shown in this photo, this side shoot is growing straight out of the stem. It is easy to identify as it is thinner than the main stem, so just pinch it out with your finger tips or a small sharp knife as close to the stem as possible. More info about removing shoots
Twin Headed Plants - You will find that some tomato plants will split into a double head, in this case just cut out the weakest one, or if in doubt leave it a week or so to see which one is the stronger head.
No Head On Tomato Plant - You will also occasionally find that a plant suddenly has no head, so you are left with just a truss. In this case you will need to let a lower side shoot take over as the main stem for the plant. We call this Growing Blind and I do find it happens more on beefsteak tomato plants. Here is an example below, which luckily shows a nice shoot which I can use as the main plant.
I have also tied up most of my tomato plants this week, box cord is best as it rots in the compost heap and is slightly wider than polypropylene string, so will not cut into the plant with a heavy load later in the season. Some people use poles to support their plants, but with such a heavy crop on them they will slide down the poles.