Monday, November 9, 2009...9:30 am

Gardener’s World

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From your gardening correspondent:
Tomatoes-grobagFaced with the prospect of utter media meltdown earlier this year, I thought I might end up having to forage for food around the local area, given that a lot of the work I was banking on had fallen off a cliff.
I did actually scrump some apples from the lane running behind my house, and gathered blackberries, Darling Buds style, from Farnham Park. But I soon realised that the biggest boost I could give my weekly food budget was to sidestep the supermarket when feeding my other half’s addiction to vine-grown tomatoes.
With that in mind, and inspired by the heroic efforts of my fellow blogger Soilman, I invested a few quid in a do-it-yourself grow-your-own-tomatoes kit from the local Homebase. “This will save a bit of money,” I thought, smugly. “We can enjoy fresh tomatoes off the vine all summer, and it will cost just pennies.”
Oh, how you all laugh. And rightly so.
I thought my early theoretical training on BBC Gardener’s World magazine would give me a solid grounding in all this. But frankly all it really achieved for me was the ability to spot typos in Latin names. In itself, not an unworthy talent. But not that useful in practical horticulture.
Let’s just run through all the horrific errors.

  1. Buying a kit from Homebase. I mean, really. Apart from the cheap nastiness of the black plastic propagator thing and the dubious quality of the compost, I had a packet of white label tomato seeds to plant that certainly weren’t Vittoria or Yellow Sungold (see how useful those days at the BBC were). I did wonder if I should ditch them and try some decent seeds from Mr Fothergill, but I was £7.50 in the hole already so I thought I’d save a bit of money.
  2. Planting the seedlings in early May – about a month later than recommended on the instructions. I don’t know how much of a problem this was, actually. Probably much less than all the other heinous errors.
  3. Leaving the propagator out in May’s torrential rain. Yeah. That was clever. And not checking it for a week. Unsurprisingly when I did finally look the soil was swimming in water. I did wonder why no little seedlings had appeared.
  4. Crowding my plants like Japanese commuters on the Tokyo metro. At last, many weeks after sowing the seeds, and some time after blotting most of the excess water from the propagator, I got around to planting out the seedlings in my brand new Gro-bag. How proud I was of my nurturing skills. What a shame I planted all of the dozens of little seedlings in the same bag. Yes. It was only many weeks later that I looked at the instructions again to see that I should have planted only three plants per Gro-bag.
  5. Not culling most of the plants when I had the chance. It’s just that I didn’t want any of those precious seedlings to go to waste. By the time I realised it might be a problem, the plants had achieved a thicket-like status that, I admit it, I was simply too scared to tackle.
  6. Not feeding the plants regularly. Not sure if this was good or bad, given that they didn’t actually have any room to grow in. But I’m sure my sadistic regime of feast and famine didn’t do them much good.
  7. Not staking up the plants. You may have noticed that my tomato plants are sprawling in indolent profusion all over the pathway. Forgetting that this was not a decorative border but a crop, I thought that looked rather charming and didn’t bother doing anything to support them at first. So they started sagging. And then pretty much collapsed.
  8. Not pinching out my plants. I actually still don’t really know what this is, or how to do it. But I could hear the despair in Soilman’s voice when he realised I hadn’t.
  9. TomatoesNot harvesting when I finally got some fruit. It was well into September before I started to see little green tomatoes growing on the vines. Thinking “Oh, they’ll ripen”, I just left them there. To rot.

Finally, after some sensible advice to gather the tomatoes and put them on a south-facing windowsill to ripen gently, I harvested everything I could and did just that. And waited to make a nice autumn salad with my lovely, glowing red, home-grown tomatoes.
RottenIt was with some disappointment, then, that I found myself faced with this. It’s still a mystery to me how the couple of dozen tomatoes I managed to salvage went from firm and green to wizened and diseased with absolutely no period of ripeness in between. Any ideas from the allotment brigade gratefully received.
TomatoBut no! There was one lone tomato left. And after quickly quarantining it from the leprous mass it actually turned a healthy shade of red. I could retain some shred of self-respect through all this.
And so came the Evening of the Ceremonial Eating.
I could hardly make a salad with it, as it was so small it would have got lost among half a lettuce leaf and a bit of cucumber. It was more of an exquisite morsel – and should be presented as such, with a drizzle of oil and balsamic. A bit like this:
How was it? You may well ask. As tasteless as a forced own-brand supermarket Value tomato. But about 200 times more expensive.
Back to Waitrose. Sod the cost.

1 Comment

  • Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Tragedy!
    Gardening: harder than it looks. I’m still cocking it up, and I’m supposd to be able to find my arse with both hands… horticulturally speaking.
    The thing is, you mustn’t give up. Because you WILL produce a money-saving, delicious crop when you’ve figured out what to do. Think of it like learning to install an open-source CMS; the disasters and hair-pulling moments of acute frustration are just part of learning how to do it…

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