Sowing this week

There was little time for sowing this week, but we did plenty of planting out. One has to be careful with tender plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. We usually plant these in the glasshouses and polytunnel around the first week of May. The weather has been mild, though, and the temperature has not dropped below five degrees in the polytunnel for a couple of weeks, and has barely been anywhere near freezing this year, so we decided that it was probably a suitable time to plant these out.

We started by planting two courgette plants, Verde d’Italia, one in each of the main glasshouses in an otherwise unused part of the borders. Grown under cover, these will fruit just a little ahead of their outdoor counterparts. Whilst I can be fairly confident that cold will not be a problem now under cover, there is still a small chance of a frost outdoors, so we will wait for another week or two before planting our other courgettes outdoors.

We grow four dozen tomato plants, with 19 in one of the glasshouses and a further 29 along one side of the polytunnel. We alternate the planting of the polytunnel borders; each year, one side houses tomatoes and the other sweet peppers. I had potted on some of the most developed tomatoes a few weeks ago, and these were in great condition now. The rest, though, had become a little overdue for moving on, which was another reason for planting out this week, rather than spending time potting on. Most plants are planted out at the same depth that they were originally growing at, but tomatoes are one of a few plants that not only tolerate being planted more deeply, but actually benefit from it, as they develop new roots from the stem. I like to plant them up to the seed leaves.

Next, we planted out the sweet peppers. We had some germination problems with our chillies and sweet peppers this year, so had to supplement our home grown plants with some bought from Simpson’s Seeds and Plants, www.simpsonsseeds.co.uk. These have grown on nicely since we bought them a few weeks ago, so were in good condition for planting out. The chillies are also ready for moving on; hopefully, I will get around to potting these up in their 10 litre containers next week.

Each year, one of our two large glasshouses is planted up with a row of tomatoes and the other with cucumbers and other crops; we alternate these each year. This year we have some new things to try – tomatillos and cape gooseberries – closely related species of Physalis. We allowed plenty of space for these, as I am not yet sure how large they might become. The tomatillos had certainly put on a lot more growth than the cape gooseberries, with the first buds already developing, but both sorts seemed healthy. We also planted out our old fashioned Telegraph cucumbers, which are reliable producers of a good quantity of rather large and fine quality fruits, along with the small pickling cucumber Piccolo di Parigi. We finished the planting in this glasshouse with a row of aubergines, Black Beauty and Violetta Lunga. I have not been entirely impressed with the latter; it seems a little slow to get started and does not appear to be as productive as some other sorts. We will see how it performs this year, but if it does not impress, it will be removed from our list. We have a Tuscan variety to try instead for next year.

With the planting of the polytunnel and glasshouse borders, we refitted the automatic watering systems, which were removed during the winter to prevent them from being damaged by freezing. Each of the polytunnel borders, along with the beds in both main glasshouses, are watered with soaker hoses. These perforated hoses slowly seep water along their length and are ideal for getting moisture to the roots of the plants. They are particularly suitable when plants are grown in long rows, as they are in this situation. Each soaker hose is controlled by a timer so that watering is automatic. I try to set these to provide a minimum level of watering, and can then turn them on manually if and when the plants need a little extra. Automating the watering of our under cover areas really does save a lot of time, as, during the summer months, it would be a daily chore.

This year, we are growing two types of sweetcorn: an F1 hybrid, Lark, which has performed well for us in the past, along with an open pollinated variety, Golden Bantam, that we are trialling for the first time this year. Golden Bantam appears to be a marginally quicker variety to mature, perhaps earlier by about one week. Even so, the Golden Bantam plants are currently markedly more vigorous than those of Lark despite being sown at the same time. We planted out Golden Bantam in the polytunnel, and risked planting Lark outdoors. This should nicely stagger the harvest. Both varieties are planted in blocks as they are wind pollinated.

Sweetcorn planted in the polytunnel

Sweetcorn planted in the polytunnel

Finally, we planted out the Beurre de Rocquencourt beans that were sown a couple of weeks ago. We put these in the main bed of the polytunnel. We sowed some more direct, as well as the climbing bean Meraviglia di Venezia, which develops very nice yellow waxy pods that will follow on from the dwarf Beurre de Rocquencourt.

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