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Tomatoes at last

Posted by Guy Barter on 26 Sep 2008 at 07:51 AM

It has been a long wait and expensive in fungicide, but at last the outdoor tomatoes can be gathered by the bucketful; the slightly blight-tolerant ‘Ferline’, a moderate sized beefsteak cultivar, is the heaviest cropper by far with masses of bright red, tasty succulent fruits, but my favourite is ‘Russian Black’, really a chocolate-maroon sort of colour, with a tangy, salty fresh flavour to its massive ribbed fruits.   Wide spacing and a weed suppressing paper mulch have kept airflow up around the plants and backed up with fungicide the crop is disease free.  The cold nights are causing metabolic disorders so the crop will only last two weeks or so.

While waiting for the last crops to mature, maintenance tasks can be done before the soil gets wet and heavy to work.  As a start the edges were cleaned up.  Normally a carefully directed spray of glyphosate is used to maintain the grass edges but with the summer wind and rain this has not been possible, so it is back to the old way with edging iron and line to make crisp satisfying straight edges. The first steps for the big end of season clear-up have been taken.

Despite warm days the nights are cold and signs of slowing growth are unmistakable; weeds treated with glyphosate take over two weeks to die; tender weeds such as galinsoga make little growth but cold season weeds such as chickweed grow rapidly and the torrent of courgettes and beans has slowed to manageable trickle; tomatoes and sweet corn ripen very slowly.

Cool season crops such brassicas and root vegetables are all making very good growth and the caterpillar plague seems to have been thwarted by timely use of bifenthrin.  The last two weeks have been the weeks of the cauliflower.  I had rather hoped that the cauliflowers would mature a bit later, but apparently not.  However my timing of calabrese seems better with heads beginning to appear for the last half of the month.  Somewhere in the sea of green cabbage leaves are five romanesco cauliflower plants without any sign of heads so far, so they might arrive in October which would be perfect. 

Florence fennel, leeks, squash and pumpkins could all do with a bit more growth and the fennel and leeks have been watered to help them along.  Celery, celeriac and swedes appreciate a moist soil so these have been watered too.  All are lush from feeding in August and it is too late for fertiliser to do any good.   Leeks should not be such a lush green and a sudden sharp frost might induce rotting of frosted leaves.

Courgettes and dwarf French beans have had wire hoops placed amongst them – when frosts are forecast fleece will be deployed, suspended over the hoops, to protect them.  Often an early October frost spoils a crop which might have given a useful yield until hard November frosts.

The big pesticide sprayer has been put away.  The last potato foliage showed blight and, being a lost cause, was removed and the potato rows covered in a black plastic sheet to keep the spuds safe until their skins have set and they are ready to store in two weeks time.  Tomatoes remain to be protected but this is small job that can be done with hand-sprayer and with the nights chilly they are at little risk.  Blight needs a temperature of 11C to germinate and we have been having rather colder nights lately.

The big herbicide sprayer on the other hand has been used to apply triclopyr to waste ground ready for this winter’s allotment reclamation programme.  Brambles, nettles and even bindweed have been reduced to ruins ready for clearing the plots with fire over the winter.

The burning pile is getting larger as the stumps of potentially clubroot infected brassicas are stacked to dry, blighted potato haulm and weeds that have run to seed are drying slowly and hedge prunings from the back garden are added as kindling.   Destruction of debris will ensure a clean start to next years crops which are about to start with planting of the over-wintered onions. 

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