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.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Early De-Shooting of Tomato Plants

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.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Advice on Feeding early Tomatoes

Now that my tomato plants have settled down after being planted out in the poly-tunnel, they are really starting to put on a growth spurt. I have given them a a couple of high nitrogen feeds as opposed to the normal high potash feed for tomatoes, which is for fruit production. I have found that by the time the plants reach the tie wire just before my first picking that the heads are quite thin as the plants are so ladened with fruit, so I am trying to get a good balanced plant early on in the season. 

This shows a 1.2.3 NPK ratio

If you have trouble finding a high nitrogen feed then look for flower feeds some of which have a higher nitrogen content. On the label you will seen the NPK Nitrogen, Phosphate and Potash. All feeds usually contain extra elements in smaller amounts, but NPK are the major three. 

A normal tomato feed will  roughly be a 1.1.3 ratio, so more potash than nitrogen.So you are looking for 1.1.1 or less potash than nitrogen.

At this time of the year it is best to apply a diluted liquid feed, with a watering can. On very young plants apply half strength for the first few weeks.

 The three major elements essential for plant growth do different jobs, so here is a quick run through.

N – Nitrogen Is for stem and leaf growth. Nitrogen deficiency results in older leaves turning yellow with new growth being weak and spindly. Basically nitrogen in responsible for the strength and vigour of you plants.

P – Phosphorous – This is for root growth and photosynthesis. Symptoms of deficiency would include poor germination and establishment of seedlings, mature plants showing stunted growth and dark blue/green leaves or reddish-purple stems or leaves.

K – Potassium (Potash) – For flower and fruit production. Lack of Potassium results in yellow areas along leaf veins and leaf edges. Fruits like tomatoes may be stunted and lacking in flavour.

For growth the plants do requires nitrogen which is easily leached out of the soil, so is not always present even with adding manure or granular feeds to the soil earlier on.  There is also little or no reserves of nitrogen in the soil and it will leach out of pots and grow-bags quite quickly.

Home-made Feeds - While home-made feeds are a very cheap alternative to commercial products, I would not recommend using them on young plants as you will not know the exact strength and could burn the roots and foliage.

This Coeur de boeuf beefsteak tomato plant is forming nice trusses, but the head of the plant is getting a little thin, so good nitrogen feed should sort this out. 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

First feed for tomatoes

Just re-posting this as a reminder.

I had planted my first tomatoes in the greenhouse a few weeks ago and noticed  that the lower leaves were going off colour, so a few days ago I gave them their first feed and already I have seen a difference.

You can see the yellowing of the lower leaf and the patching on the other leaves on the first picture. The second picture shows a far healthier plant under a week later, far bushier and greener. Obviously, the plant did need time to settle in after being planted, but the feed did make a difference as well.
It has been very warm during the past week in the greenhouse, so I lightly spray the toms with water a few times a day to keep them cooler while they are making a better root system. As you can see there is no sign of scorch, which a lot of people worry about. However, I would rather risk a little scorch to keep my plants under less strain.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Greenhouse Structures

Just like a house, all outdoor structures and the greenhouse structure is made up of specific parts. Your knowledge of these components and parts will significantly contribute to your success as a greenhouse gardener. After all, you can easily spot structural...

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Guard your tomato plants from Jack Frost

Just as I thought it was safe to plant out my nursery raised tomato plants in the poly-tunnel, then Jack Frost decided to make an appearance. The downside of a poly-tunnel is that it does not offer frost protection so the only way to try and protect your crops is with fleece or a small cheap paraffin burner, which I am on the look out for as it is worth burning a little paraffin for a few night to save your crop.

As a rule of thumb at this time of the year, a night without cloud cover could result in a frosty morning, usually if there are clouds about you could be lucky and not have frost. Well that's my theory,which seems to work for me when early night temperatures are around 5 degrees.  

Photo - davesgarden.com

Those of you with glasshouses might just survive the frost slightly better as these structures do tend to remain very slightly warmer than a poly-tunnel. You could also line your greenhouse walls with bubble wrap, this will offer extra protection, but you will loose a little light but well worth the compromise. 

Frost protection with fleece
A little fleece goes a long way, I managed to just about cover all the plants in my poly-tunnel last night for 10 euros, so well worth it. So make sure you indoor crops are protected, tomatoes really cannot take any frost, they will die instantly as I found out last year at my own expense. The fleece might not protect against a heavy frost but fingers crossed it will save my plants from the light frosts we have been having here in Brittany.

I have decided to create a new Facebook Page for Mr Tomato King, please pass by and give us a  like.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Slug Beer Traps

Well it didn't take long for the slugs to find my newly planted courgette and eat the head off, hopefully a shoot will grow so I should be able to save this plant which I had potted up ready to re-plant in the garden in a few weeks.
I have put some slug pellets down in the poly-tunnel in anticipation, but obviously that didn't deter the little blighter. I have now added a few 'Beer Traps' which might catch a few slugs that seem to be attracted to the taste of beer. There are a plenty of commercial traps on the market, but why pay! A jam jar or a deep lid seems to do the job, although I understand some traps are designed so they can't climb back out. 

 Other ways to deter slugs and snails from WikiHow

Plant other plants that deter slugs. Certain plants push slugs away from them, either because the slugs hate the texture or taste of the plants. Plants like swiss chard, ginger, garlic, chives, mint, red cabbage, chicory and foxglove will keep your garden clear of slugs. Plant these in a barrier around the entirety of your garden, or keep them around each individual plant. You can also choose to mix the leaves of these plants into the soil as a type of mulch, as well.

Beers traps work well

Grow Your Own Forum - Simply the Best

A warm welcome to any members from the Grow Your Own Forum that have visited my blog lately. I have recently re-joined the forum as it is by far the best place for growing advice on the net, with a wonderful friendly membership.

I happened to buy a copy of Grow Your Own Magazine a week or so ago and it made me realise what I had been missing. The advice is always bang up to date and gives you a to-do-list every month and the GYO forum is the icing on the cake.

We all have to start and learn from the basics, I might know a little about tomato growing and other indoor crops, but not a lot more about anything else. So do not feel that you cannot ask very simple questions on the forum, I know I have in the past and it is the only way to learn.

Thanks again to the forum members for welcoming me back, it is much appreciated.


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Watering Young Seedlings

Seedling composts hold very small amount of nutrients, but enough so the seedlings can grow until they are transplanted. These nutrients are easily washed out with over watering, especially nitrogen which is the most important nutrient for growth.
There are number of ways of preserving these nutrients and you should always have a drainage tray under your seedling trays, so you collect the excess water when watering. Even a fine hose on a watering can, will sometimes give too much water. In commercial growing they usually have seedling trays on capillary matting and water overhead with a fine mist, so the compost is always slightly moist. 

Seedlings raised on capillary matting with mist watering (Photo Bare Mtn Farm)

On a smaller scale I tend to use a 5 litre hand help sprayer to mist over the seedlings a few times a day, depending on the weather. This keeps the compost nice and moist without over-watering. Many people wonder why their seedlings seem to stop growing and think that it could be poor quality contaminated compost, which it could well be. However over watering could be another option. 

Water with a fine spray so you do not over water

There is something very satisfying seeing your first seedling sprouting their first pair of leaves, these are the easy ones, lettuce, which came up in about a week along with some beetroot. The tomatoes will take about 15 days, so I am expecting them any day now. 

My shop purchased tomatoes and peppers have been planted out in to the soil this week and are very healthy looking plants they will give me  an earlier harvest until my home raised plants start producing. Last year I did a second crop in between the first crop. I just grew the first crop to the wire (2m) then stopped the head and removed most of the leaves to give more light for the new crop. I have added granules of slow release fertiliser into the beds, and earlier in the winter I dug in a generous helping of well rotted manure.

Young pepper and tomato plants in the poly-tunnel

Saturday, 15 March 2014

2014 season March - A greenhouse within a greenhouse.

A greenhouse within a greenhouse, within a greenhouse, or should that be poly-tunnel!

As we have had a very sudden change in the weather, I took the plunge and sowed a number of seeds in the poly-tunnel. Not wanting to be caught out like last year with some sudden late frost in March, I spotted the perfect solution to have a secondary barrier for my seedlings at a local supermarket. This mini greenhouse fits perfectly inside my poly-tunnel as an extra frost barrier, but still has plenty of light.


 I also have a plastic cover over the seedling tray on more delicate seedlings like tomatoes and peppers. It is 20 to 25 degrees in the poly-tunnel and slightly higher in the mini greenhouse, so I have started venting in the day as it should be about 20 for germination. In saying that, I germinated tomato seeds at about 35 degrees in Portugal in the 1980's as we could not cool the seedlings down enough even in a darkened shaded area. We had wonderful healthy seedlings, so no harm was done.
I tend to close the door of the mini greenhouse at night, because despite the warm days it is still quite chilly at night here in Brittany.

I have also been down to the local garden centre to day buying a few plants, these will give me an early start to the season and my own sown plants will be a follow on and additional crops. These tomatoes, pepper and courgettes are lovely healthy plants, but will need spacing out and planting ASAP. I just hope we do not get any frost, but I will keep some fleece handy just in case. Tomatoes really cannot take any frost and as I said previously last year, I lost all my first bought plants.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

2014 Season in the Poly-tunnel

Like most of you I have been hibernating over the winter with all this wind and rain that we have had, not the best sort of weather to even venture out into the garden. 

Mud, mud, glorious mud.
Ready for the season

The past few days have given us a taster of what's to come, well here in Brittany at least, I had almost forgotten what the sun looked like. This sunny weather has spurned me into clearing out the poly-tunnel and spraying it with Jeyes fluid, hopefully this will kill and bugs that have over wintered inside. 

Last year, I was foxed by the weather and planted some garden centre raised plants in late February only to have them all die with an early March frost. Unfortunately poly-tunnels are the worst for winter protection as the temperature is the same inside our outside of the poly-tunnel. Glass structures will give slightly better frost protection and will hold the heat better if you have a little paraffin heater to keep the frost off.

Next week I think I will risk buying some early tomato plants and sow tomatoes and other crops. In the meanwhile I will plant a few lettuce in the poly-tunnel as I have a few seedlings ready to go in.

Happy Birthday Holly

Holly was one year old on the 1st of March and is as lively as ever. She is banned from the veg garden and poly-tunnel as she just runs around like a whirlwind, but hopefully she will settle down an be my work companion like Bramble our last springer was.   

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