2020 – Largest Tomato

Today we picked the largest tomato of the year. Marizol Gold always produces a few large fruit but this year it seems to have excelled itself. 846 grams (1lb 14 oz in old money) on a plant that has been looking “poorly” for a couple of weeks.

As I’ve said a few times in recent posts, whatever it is that has affected my tomatoes this year (wilt or bacterial canker) made me fear for this fruit as others have been dropping off before they’re fully ripe. (I think because of lack of water) but, with a bit of extra molly coddling, this one has survived. What we do with it in the way of eating, I’m not quite sure, its tipped us over 31kg of fruit so far (and more yet to come but nothing like this one).

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Mid September 2020 – The beginning of the end

Whilst there are still quite a few tomatoes still to come, its obvious that the plants are well past their best and we can see that the end of the season is in sight. We pulled up the first of the plants today which (surprisingly) was Summer Cider.

Our harvest so far has been much better than last year and about the same as we would normally expect. However, according to our records, earlier years continue to harvest for several weeks yet and I can’t say that I expect that to happen this year. Although there are a couple or three large tomatoes still ripening, most of the remaining fruit are standard sized red tomatoes and I would guess we have no more than 10kg of fruit remaining (30kg so far).

As I’ve said before, our problem has been a combination of Bacterial Canker, various forms of Wilt and grey mould of some sort. We’ve been cutting the affected/infected leaves off the plants but that doesn’t seem to have stopped the problem working its way back into the plant. The result is that the leaves die back, the stem dries up and the fruit drop off due to lack of water. Some of them (particularly the Summer Cider) also suffer from what I would call “grey threads” running through the fruit which makes them unpleasant to look at and therefore they get thrown away.

COVID19 has meant that we haven’t seen our children and grandchildren this year or had visitors so consuming the tomatoes has also been an issue. One solution has been tomato soup. We found a simple tasty recipe which uses about a kilo of fruit to make enough for between four and six servings so making that a few times has reduced the glut to more manageable proportions.

The rest of the garden continues to deliver although that too is showing signs of autumn. The dwarf french beans have finished but the runner beans (which we sowed later) have hitched on to the end and are keeping us supplied, courgettes and cucumbers are also over (earlier than I would have expected). The raspberries seem to have recovered from their battering by the wind and are giving us a couple of hundred grams a day which, topped up with a few alpine strawberries, adds to the cereal.

Our eating apples are willing to give us a lot more than we can eat but fortunately they’re not dropping off the trees so eating them both raw and cooked means that we can just about keep up with them. The cookers are not quite ripe but we’re beginning to get additional windfalls. We have loads of carrots which (hopefully) will keep in the raised bed. I’ll have to work out next year how to share the bed with something else.

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Recipe – Simple Tasty Tomato Soup – Deal with the Glut

In August and early September there is always a glut of tomatoes and whilst there are lots of ways of dealing with it, freezing, chutney, sauce, etc. this is another recipe which is also good in September when the days are getting a bit cooler, it makes an excellent lunch and freezes well if you want.

Ingredients (for 4) – ours in italics

  • 1 – 1.5kg tomatoes
  • 1 Onion
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • sugar
  • tomato puree (optional)
  • up to 1 litre vegetable stock

Method

Put a couple of tablespoons of cooking oil in a large pan, chop up the onion, carrots and celery and set them to cook for about 10 minutes until the onion is soft and slightly coloured. (The amount of carrots and celery is up to you but we put a couple of medium sized carrots and a stick of celery).

Chop up the tomatoes. We usually skin them and take out the green cores but again its up to you. The skins add flavour but can leave the soup with lots of bits in it. You could also take out the pips if you want but we don’t find that necessary.

When the tomatoes have cooked for another 10 minutes or so, add the bay leaves, half a teaspoon of sugar and some black pepper.

Then add the stock you want to make the total quantity of liquid up to about 1.5 litres so if you’ve used beefsteak tomatoes you’ll need more liquid than if you’ve used cherry tomatoes.

Look at the colour and adjust to your preference by adding some tomato puree. If you’ve used mainly red tomatoes you shouldn’t need any but if you’ve used other colours then the soup will be a different colour. We like to add a couple or three yellow tomatoes as we find it makes the colour brighter but be careful if adding green ones as it can make the soup look “sludgy”.

Simmer until everything is soft (40 minutes or so) then blend with a stick blender until its smooth. Check the taste and add salt, pepper or sugar to your liking.

That’s it, tasty soup in about an hour and a half with not a lot of input from you.

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Tomato Problems – Wilt

With September with us, I was hoping that the tomato season would be extended through this month and into (at least) next. I usually get tomatoes all the way through until mid-November with the late beefsteak varieties providing something all the way through.

However, this year (2020) I don’t think its going to be like that. The Bacterial Canker I wrote about earlier is now causing Wilt. The leaves are drooping and nothing I can do seems to improve the situation (in fact the normal advice seems to be to destroy the plants and cut ones losses. Its guilty of the discolouration of the fruit, the fruit dropping green and mould on the plants, leaves and fruit. So I think I’ll be luck if I get fruit for much more than a couple of weeks.

So nothing to be done for this year, I’ll pick what comes and keep the greenhouses as clear as I can of fruit and infected plants. A good clean of everything and no re-use of my compost next year and hope that its better.

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August 2020 – Report so far

Most things are doing fine. The tomatoes are cropping well with much the same weight of tomatoes as the previous couple of years so far. The 2018 crop seemed to peak in a few weeks time so it will be interesting to see how they compare. 2019 wasn’t a very good year overall, this year looks like it might be better.

A number of the plants look like they have some form of problem which I suspect might be Bacterial Canker so I’m trimming the leaves off if they show problems.

The French Beans are getting away from us. Although we’ve got lots of blackfly on the dwarf beans which seems to have knocked them back, the climbing ones (which are on the other side of the tunnel) seem to be free of the problem and producing in volume. The same is true of the courgettes. The plants outside the tunnel got blackfly badly and aren’t producing much but the ones in the tunnel (by the climbing French Beans) are producing enough to keep us going. The blackfly originated on the second sowing of Broad Beans. The first (overwintered) sowing was fine but the ones sown in February/March got hit badly with no beans to speak of. I should have pulled them out earlier. You live and learn.

Cabbages and carrots are also fine The carrot thinings more than adequate. The cucumbers are producing more than we can sensibly eat, except for the white cucumbers which taste foul. Very bitter. Never grown them before and won’t do so again. Finally the Physalis plants are dominating the greenhouse. Right up to the top and pushing themselves over. I only hope that the quantity of fruit make it worth it. The ones outside are much more manageable only a couple or three feet high but with reduced fruit to match.

Finally the fruit. The apples are being had by the squirrels and magpies but there seem to be more than enough to go round. I just hope that they’ll still be there when they’re ripe. Raspberies are just starting and there’s a gentle crop of alpine strawberries, enough to add to breakfast each morning.

Nothing like enough to be self-sufficient but too many to eat all at once.

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Tomato Problems – Bacterial Canker

This year (2020) as every year, my plants seem to wilt with the leaves dying back. This year it seems slightly worse than normal but I keep going through cutting off the affected leaves and hoping for the best. However, it seems to have infected some of the fruit as well and some of my Summer Cider have developed brown “threads” running through the fruit. It has discoloured the fruit and it doesn’t look pleasant (although I can’t tell whether its affected the taste) but I’m not eating them out of choice.

I’ve been looking further around the web and everywhere else and I think I’ve found the answer. Its Bacterial Canker. The list of symptoms of the leaves is:

Yellow to tan patches form between veins.
Edges of leaf turn brown, with a yellow border.
Dark, sunken veins on leaves and petioles.
Wilt on lower leaves.

The fruit can appear mottled.
In the worst case, the whole plant may collapse and die.

So what has happened to cause this, particularly this year? There are a number of causes, most of which I’m guilty of so I’ll list them here:

  • Basic lack of hygiene: I grow in pots with a mix of old and new compost so if the old compost is infected then it will carry through to subsequent years (guilty so next year new compost only);
  • Strings and canes: My plants are twisted up strings. This year (out of laziness) I didn’t bother to replace the strings that are tied into the bottom of the pot so again if they were infected it will carry through (new strings next year);
  • Infected Seed: Most of my plants are from saved seed (either my own or other people’s). If the seed is infected it will again carry through. (Suggestions are to soak seeds in a weak bleach solution before sowing – I’ll try that);
  • Hot & Humid Greenhouse: The year has been up and down in temperature but there’s nothing I can do about that (I’ll have to suffer).

One thing that is interesting is that the first plant that I noticed the problem on was seed that I had saved from a plant at my allotment (a blight resistant variety that failed to what I assumed was blight but could (of course) been canker).

The solution is to “be a better grower” next year. What I hope is that the plants will crop enough to give us a good harvest of tomatoes this year.

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Recipe – Fantastic Simple Red Tomato Chutney

This year (as usual) we now have a glut of tomatoes. There are only so many one can chop up and freeze, or turn into tomato sauce or eat, so we’re aways looking out for other things to do with them.

This year (2020) our mix of colours is heavily biased to wards red tomatoes so sauces and such like are being made in abundance. This is a very simple, flavoursome red tomato chutney which we would recommend.

Ingredients (makes 1kg chutney)

1kg ripe tomatoes chopped (don’t skin them)
500g red onions
4 Garlic Cloves
1 Red Chilli
4cm ginger (or 2 heaped tsps chopped ginger)
125g soft brown sugar
150ml red wine vinegar
5/6 cardamom pods
1tsp paprika

The combination of Ginger and Chilli adds a bit of heat so you can adjust it to suit your taste.

Method

Tip everything into a large pan and bring it to a gentle boil;

Turn it down and simmer for about an hour. Go away but revisit it every 15 minutes or so to give it a stir.

Turn up the heat so it comes to a gentle boil to boil off most of the liquid and the mixture darkens and thickens a bit like a jam.

Put it into heated sterilised jars and leave it to cool before putting on the lids.

Most of the tomatoes we used for this were Sandpoint.
This will keep for a few weeks (longer if you put it into the fridge) because there’s not a lot of sugar and the vinegar is not acting as a preservative, don’t expect it to last as long as other chutneys. (Not that it matters as you’ll soon eat it).

Chutney with lunch (more tomatoes and our cucumber)
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Recipe: Warm Sausage Salad

At this time of year (July – August) we get a glut of salad items to the point where just eating them as a cold salad isn’t enough. We’ve found a number of recipes for warm salads and have found this is one of the most versatile. The basic recipe can be extended by adding other ingredients without harm.

Ingredients

  • Olive Oil
  • Sausages (100g per person)
  • red onion
  • 1 tsp wholegrain mustard
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • cherry tomatoes
  • red wine vinegar
  • Optional Cooked Ingredients
    Courgette
    Peppers
  • Salad Ingredients
    • lettuce/leaves
    • avocado
    • cucumber
    • Optional
      Radishes
      sugarsnap peas
      etc.

Method

Heat the oil in a frying pan, cut up the sausages into the pan and add the onion frying for a couple of minutes until browned & soft.

Add the mustard, sugar, cherry tomatoes and other ingredients you want to cook stirring them to coat with the mustard & sugar.

Put the salad ingredients except the avocado into a bowl and pour over the sausage mix. Then stir them together so the sausage mix is well distributed through the salad. Split the salad between serving bowls.

Add the wine vinegar and a little water to the pan to deglaze it pour it over the salad in the bowls.

Slice the avocado over the top of the salad (this is to stop it breaking up when you stirred everything together.

That’s it a light warm salad that makes use of the glut of fresh goodies coming from your garden at this time. Serve it with bread rolls.

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Cherry Tomatoes in July

As the tomatoes start ripening, I’m pleased to see that we’ve grown a range of different colours, particularly in the cherry varieties. The standard and beefsteak tomatoes are yet to really start doing anything but here’s a picture of the varieties we picked today.

The only new ones for this year are the Dancing with Smurfs which are (supposedly) “blue”. They aren’t really much more than a slightly darker brown (or at least not yet) but fun nonetheless.

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Guttation – Droplets on the Leaf Edges

Sometimes, usually overnight or when the weather is cool and damp, droplets of liquid form along the edges of the leaves of plants. This is “Guttation”. Not to be confused with the early morning dew, guttation is caused by the “water potential” in the roots of the plants. Because transpiration doesn’t occur at night or in the damp when the plants stomata are closed, if the soil is wet, the pressure of water trying to rise up through the plant can’t evaporate so its forced out through special glands at the edges of the plant.

Is this bad for the plant? Not really, its part of the normal process of growth. However, there are three things that could cause harm to the leaves. Firstly being damp, fungal spores (such as blight) are more likely to settle on the leaves and infect the plant. This is made worse by the fact that Blight is encouraged by high humidity and warm weather so, if its damp and warm you’re best not go into the greenhouse if you might have blight spores on your clothes. Secondly, if the sun suddenly springs into life, droplets of liquid can focus the suns rays and burn the edges of the leaves (this is also a reason not to get leaves wet when watering). Finally, the liquid contains nutrients and (if you’ve been overfeeding your plants – a relatively common fault of all amateur growers) the edges of the plant could get nitrogen burn which can be mistaken for a number of other problems.

Should you try to stop it? Giving your plants the right amount of water (enough to stop them wilting but not enough to drown them) will reduce guttation but then you need to be able to predict the weather better than I can.

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