GARDENING: No Chelsea Flower Show but plenty of tomatoes!

Tom's tomatoes in borders and pots.Tom's tomatoes in borders and pots.
Tom's tomatoes in borders and pots.
Friends reminded me recently that they should have been on either their planned cruise, driving south or spending a week at the holiday cottage.

So last week it was my turn to say `We should have been at Chelsea.` Instead, we viewed it from afar and with mixed feelings.

For several years it`s been something to cherish, a few days in the `smoke` taking in galleries, the theatre, and that gardening event. There`s no horticultural show like it for this fellow. It represents the cutting edge of the profession where a diversity of specialist nurseries and designers come together in competition and are accessible to all. The impact of cancellation after so much preparation can only be imagined, so something had to be organised by way of consolation not only for them but also the adoring public.

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The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) decided this would be a week of online virtual Chelsea for their members, and the BBC opted for afternoon and evening programmes highlighting recent Chelsea Shows. I followed both, anticipating that nothing could replace the real thing. However, it did rekindle fond memories of past visits, offer an insight to the content of exhibition stands that were in an advanced state of planning for 2020, and strengthened the resolve to return.

Survival without a crop of tomatoes to harvest at will does not bear thinking about. So, over the years I`ve progressed from growing them in a sheltered, sunny part of the garden, to indoor windowsill culture, and a makeshift plastic and canes structure outdoors. But that`s all in the past. Now it all happens in the unheated greenhouse border.

Thankfully, we had packets of seeds to hand before the current lockdown began. I`d decided on four varieties this time; `Alicante,` `Tigerella,` `Britain`s Breakfast` and `Gardener`s Delight.` As anyone who raises them from scratch knows, with so many seeds in a packet there are always going to be extra young plants to find good homes for, but travel restrictions have also impacted on plant movement making some waste inevitable.

Friend Tony generally has young plants of `Gardener`s Delight` surplus to requirements from which I benefit, but this time the lockdown caught him off guard. However, his green-fingered wife Cynthia saved the day by salvaging seeds from a tomato in the weekly shopping. The resultant plants are currently thriving so here`s to innovative thoughts.

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Having guided my young tomato plants through cold nights and three changes in pot size, last week saw them introduced to their growing site in the greenhouse border which had been prepared for their arrival. Every-so-often we have a complete change of the soil to avoid an attack of tomato root disease that can come with constant use. Out went the soil, in came a generous layer of horse manure which had spent two-year maturing. Devoid of any ill fragrance and completely matured, any roots would revel in it.

Plants were introduced in two stages, some directly into the border, others in large pots whose base had been all but removed. Apart from this being an interesting way of cultivating tomatoes, there is an objective in mind.

Those in pots are encouraged to function through two separate root areas, one in the pot, the other in the border. So, I water the potted plants for two weeks or so until their roots penetrate the substrata below. From that point onward daily water is directed onto the border, weekly food into the pots. This is commonly called a belt and braces job. Supplementary feeding begins once the

first truss of fruit is formed.

Peppers also feature in our greenhouse vegetable growing. These can be grown on rapidly from seed and are harvested at the green or red stage.

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Red hot chilli peppers provide a different challenge. They need to be sown early and grown on in warm conditions. Best option is to let the nurseryman take the strain, place a mail order and have them delivered as plug plants. I`m growing the current world record holder `Trinidad Moruga Scorpion` which registers 2.2 million on the Scoville Heat Units scale. Needless-to-say, it`s grown for fun rather than a food source.

A packet of sweet pepper seeds can normally be sourced from garden centres, but when there`s a lockdown what can we do? Rely on the lady of the house is the answer, just as friend Tony had when short of tomato seed.

A month ago, I found said lady placing a tray of small pots in the greenhouse propagator, `Each contain two seeds of red pepper` I was told.

They`d been saved during food preparation the previous evening. From mature pepper to propagator. `They will germinate won`t they?` I was asked.

Reputation at stake I replied `Yes` and now we have a surplus of healthy plants in their first pots. Red peppers anyone!

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