Growing pains…or pleasure: confessions from a kitchen garden
Today we picked the last few green tomatoes that remained on the plants we had so carefully cultivated from seed. They are wrapped up in brown paper bags and will slowly change colour and ripen. I only wish I had weighed just how many tomatoes we have harvested from the ten plants we were left with, having given many more away to friends and family. The plants have been discarded and the pots and saucers are stacked up in the shed.
This was a first; I have previously grown tomatoes from bought plants in growbags, but starting them from seed? In early March, once we knew lockdown was imminent, and knowing we were going to have to find new ways of amusing ourselves we raced off to the garden centre. I grabbed some packets of seeds: tomatoes, radishes, rocket and spinach. Everything else had already been snapped up and there really was not enough room in the garden for large-scale potato, leek or carrot beds. We would have to be content with salad vegetables. And so the learning curve began.
The kitchen soon resembled an oversized greenhouse cum hothouse. Not the most elegant, but as no one apart from us could see it what difference did it make? Then came the excited first sightings of something poking through the little pots of compost; is that a delicate tendril or just a speck of dust?
Of course it always pays to read the instructions. If anyone is planning to grow radishes in a trough I now know that you must plant sets of seeds every 2-3 weeks. Otherwise life just becomes one big radish fest. And you have to be particularly cruel to your tomato plants, otherwise you are asking too much of them. So whether you like it or not, pinching out the intermediate shoots is essential, as it stops further growth once you have a maximum of 6 trusses set. A friend described it as ‘a bit like killing babies’. I would not go that far but it is so tempting to let that new bunch of pretty yellow flowers turn into fruit like all those below.
The rocket we grew was so fiery it nearly took the back of your head off, but the spinach was much less successful – it never got beyond the limp and pathetic stage. We were fortunate when our range of plants broadened thanks to some judicious swapping with our neighbours. We became proud owners of a pepper plant, courgette plants and a holy basil plant.
You probably know that courgette plants can be male or female; the trouble is that only female plants produce fruit, i.e. courgettes. Sadly ours seemed to be exclusively male, so we had to be content with cooking the courgette flowers. Life can be really tough at times.
We now have umpteen mini boxes of home-made tomato passata in the freezer. The garden terrace looks huge now we have removed all the pots, and all that remains are the blueberry bushes, which produced masses of berries and are now having their own private Autumn display. Who needs an arboretum?