Saturday, 26 May 2018

These tomato seeds are like gold dust

I try to avoid spending money on anything to do with the greenhouse: the idea is to grow things that will produce seeds or compost for next year - like a tech startup that's profitable from day one and doesn't need to rely on venture capital.

However, I usually buy the odd packet of seeds and this year, went down to my local garden centre to pick up a packet of tomato seeds and one packet of radish seeds. It was only when I got to the till that I found that the tomato seeds cost £4.99, which seemed excessive.

I didn't realise the price was written on the back of the packet and asked the person serving me whether she'd got it right. She showed me she had. I said they were expensive. She agreed and had a look at the packet. 

"Well, they're 'the exhibitor's favourite'," she read out. 

"Yeah right," I said. 

But I decided I'd give the exhibitor's favourite a go, and see whether they'd be my favourite too.

Back in the greenhouse, I opened the little white inner packet, which appeared to be empty. Oh no, there was a tiny little collection of about a dozen seeds in the bottom corner. There were so few that there was no question of trying to sprinkle them onto the soil: they'd all come out at once and land too close together. 

Instead, I extracted them each by hand and put them into the soil. Afterwards I thought there must have been a mistake. Surely some machine in a factory had gone wrong and failed to put the right number of seeds into the packet. 

I decided to email the manufacturers, Thompson and Morgan, point out their mistake and and ask for another packet. Back in the house, I had a proper look at the back of the packet and saw this:

"Average 15 seeds". How mean can you get? Surely the actual cost of the seeds is the least expensive part of their business? Still, if I'd looked, I'd have been warned. That's an average cost of 33 pence per seed. They must be literally worth their weight in gold.

So far, only the radish seeds are sprouting. I hope those precious tomato seeds aren't just going to disappear forever. 

Friday, 20 April 2018

The start of the greenhouse year

Gosh! I haven't written this blog for more than eight months. To everyone who's been checking hopefully every day to see whether it had sprung back to life, I can only apologise.

But we're back, and I'm officially pronouncing this the first day of the new greenhouse year.

Why? Well, because I've emptied it out, hosed it down, wiped the windows and replaced the wooden benches. I know you're going to be impressed:

OK, there's nothing much to see yet, but it's like a blank canvas waiting for the artist to create.

This is the third year I've had the greenhouse and I have to admit that I'm a little less greenhouse-proud each year. My cleanup operation wasn't as thorough as last year. But I think that if I can start growing all sorts of exciting stuff in it, my attitude will improve.

I would say 'watch this space' but this isn't a space. But through this blog, watch the space in the greenhouse, which will become less space and more green as the summer progresses.

Au revoir.

Monday, 31 July 2017

A crumble in the making


It's been a good year for blackberries in London. They're a couple of months early I think (as are the few mushrooms I've seen), but that's part of another debate.

Because they're early, I don't think people are expecting to be out picking, and I've only seen a couple of other people with their plastic containers in the woods and on the sides of paths.

But here's what I got from about 15 minutes of picking down at the end of my road.

And here's what they looked like when mixed with apples, some from our garden (again, early) and some garden rhubarb (the right time of year, I think). 

Now, stew with some sugar and a little water. 

Mix up flour with some margarine and more sugar and bake for 20 minutes or so. 

It was bigger than it looks there (the lumps of crumble are bigger than you think) and in fact I was able to make two decent-sized crumbles that were well-received. 

Living off the land! For the extras, once in a while. 

Friday, 10 March 2017

The start of the 2017 season


It's the Ides of March next week. The Ides of any month is really just half way through the month. So, for March, all that means is that we're 2.5 months out of 12 through the year, or a little over a fifth, but not a round number.

Of course, the Ides of March acquired its own significance through the murder of Julius Caesar in 44BC, but that's got very little to do with greenhouses, unless there's some connection with it being time to plant lettuce and other ingredients of a future Caesar salad. But that's not what I'm saying.

What I am celebrating - well, marking at least - is that today I did a kind of pre-Spring clean of the greenhouse, and I'm afraid there have been some sad losses over the Winter. How are you supposed to keep geraniums alive over the winter in a greenhouse? I was told not to water them too much, but frankly, during the cold days of November, December and January, I didn't feel like going outside, never mind watering anything in the greenhouse.

So I suppose I've only got myself to blame for the fact that about half the geraniums and a few other things seem to have died.

Today felt like the start of things because I reconnected the outside tap, confident that they'll be no more frost - or at least not enough to burst the outside pipe. That meant I could easily pull the hose into the greenhouse and give the survivors a well-earned drink of water.

A lot of the dead geraniums had become brown and dusty, so I have sorted them out, creating these pots where there was nothing left to save:

And these which look like they'll make it:

In some cases, the promise of great things this summer rests on the tiniest leaf:

But, hey, the more compact the plant at this stage, the healthier it'll be as it grows, I think.

Now I need to russell up some seeds and get ahead of the season - because that's what a greenhouse is for.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

The last tomato of summer


As I suggested just over a month ago, it's been a race between the advance of autumn and the reddening of my tomatoes.

Well, with Halloween just two days away, I've admitted defeat and collected my last tomatoes this afternoon. I have started pulling up their plants, partly to make room for the tulip bulbs I want to plant.

So here it is, the last tomato of summer.

And if you wonder why I've given up on the rest, this is why: they are looking seasonally spooky.

They are going to go brown before they go red. Sad that my most promising-looking green tomatoes have gone this way. Oh well, maybe next year...


Sunday, 25 September 2016

The race between Autumn and tomatoes


No matter how early in the year you start growing tomatoes, around now you always seem to be waiting to see whether they're going to have enough sun and warmth to ripen before the chill, dark days of Autumn.

Or whether they'll stay green until their plant dries out and then gets soggy and you just have to watch them rot. It's not good if dew and rain start appearing and the tomatoes are still looking like this:

In fact, with the changeable weather recently, there's been good news on the tomato front in my garden. This is what they've started to look like:

And several times, I've gone out into the garden and returned with quite a decent crop: 

But there's still plenty to play for. Some of the best plants are still looking like this: 

Please, just another few warm days, and it could be a bumper crop. 

Sunday, 7 August 2016

From greenhouse to gut?


I hate that phrase you hear on food programmes on the radio: 'from farm to fork'. But what would the greenhouse equivalent be: 'from greenhouse to gut'? 'From greenhouse to gustatory experience'? 'From greenhouse to getting supper'?

Well anyway, if we had a suitable phrase, we could have used it yesterday, because we went from this:

And this:

To this:

And this:

And jolly good they were, though I say so myself.

I planted both courgette and marrow seeds in the greenhouse a few months ago, but I can't remember which were where. I suspect the darker one here was a marrow and could have carried on growing more and the lighter one was a courgette. They seemed to taste the same though, and probably both better than a big marrow would do in a month or so. 

When you use a kitchen knife outside to cut a vegetable, you're turning something from the world of the garden into something for the world of the kitchen. Where previously, a bit of mud and the odd insect were perfectly acceptable, now tiny blemishes are examined forensically and removed before cooking and consumption. Imagine having to clean the greenhouse to the standard of the kitchen.