Tomato Recovery!

You may remember that last time, I posted pictures of our horribly distorted tomato plants. I sent pictures of them to the RHS advice service, and they confirmed the cause was herbicide damage – even though I never use weed killer in the garden! There were some fruits on the plants, so I decided to cut off the most affected parts (the tops) and hope for the best. And things started to look a little better.

You can see that the fruits are ripening nicely. In fact, we’ve been enjoying them for more than a week now. I just hope we’re not poisoning ourselves! They taste OK. Hopefully those nasty chemicals won’t have made their way into the fruits. This is how the top of the plants looked…

I never thought I’d see them produce trusses like this…

This one is exceptional mind – they’re not all so full. The cuttings from the offshoots are outside, growing in the garden soil, and they look perfectly normal, which supports the idea that the compost was contaminated with weed killer. They are starting to set fruit, but it’s late in the season now, so there might not be time for the fruit to ripen. I guess I should start looking for a recipe for green tomato chutney!

Elsewhere, the runner beans plants that are growing on the new pergola this year (in the autumn I’ll get some more permanent climbers in) are finally starting to produce beans.

They’re quite late. I had a nightmare with the white flowering variety I tried first. I tried everything – numerous sowings in pots, in different composts, in the ground, but they just wouldn’t germinate. Finally, I resorted to sowing them on wet kitchen towel on the kitchen windowsill. Even that didn’t work too well. Most of the seeds rotted. From a rotting, fly-infested mess I salvaged three mouldy seeds, with pathetic, weedy shoots, and planted them in the garden. Two of the plants survived, and are producing some beans. But most of the plants are Scarlet Emperor, grown from seed later on, after I’d given up on the white ones. The red-flowered plants are more vigorous, and producing more beans.

There have been a few disasters this year. I’m going to use the rather pathetic excuse that I’m somewhat new to growing produce, being more of an ornamentals man (though by no means an ornamental man!)

The courgettes have been a learning experience. I intended to grow those up the pergola too, but they never really stretched out in the way you would expect; just stayed as small clumps at the base of the uprights. I think the problem might have been that they were sown (indoors) too early, and by the time it was safe to plant them out, they had been sitting around for too long. They are producing, but intermittently, with a lot of the fruits rotting while still small. The weather has been up and down – too hot and dry at first, then cold and dull. More excuses!

The new fruit trees that were planted in the lawn in late winter have rewarded us with…

…one apple! Actually, one of the pear trees had a fruit earlier on, though it’s not there now. I’m not complaining – by rights you should remove any fruits that form in the first season to make the trees concentrate their efforts on roots and foliage. But I’m sure this one apple won’t exhaust the tree!

The sunflowers – sown to fill in for the first year while we get the garden sorted (in the long term the beds will have mostly perennials) have been a glorious success, but I’ve given up dead-heading now. The seed heads can stay over winter for the birds. Storm Francis tore the sunflowers to shreds, along with the beans -the garden looked like it had been hit by a cyclone.

Being able to cut sunflowers for a vase over perhaps two months was a luxury I will try to keep in my memory all winter…

text & images © Graham Wright 2020

Termata Disaster!

The tomatoes started so well this year. We grew them from seed (Gardeners’ Delight) on a windowsill. They germinated quickly, grew strongly, and it wasn’t long before they needed potting on. When the weather had warmed up, we moved them into the greenhouse. Flowers came, followed by nascent fruits. We potted them up into their final, large pots. They continued to grow. But we began to notice some curling in the leaves. The new leaves, as they came, didn’t look quite right – too thin and spidery. There was clearly something not quite right, but it wasn’t until recently that we noticed just how bad things had become…

Not a pretty sight, is it? But what could be the problem? A virus, maybe? The lower, earlier leaves had curled a little, and had brown and yellow markings, but it wasn’t blight, because the plants weren’t so much dying as becoming hideously deformed. It looked like an example of weed killer damage, but how could that be, when we don’t use any weed killers in the garden, and when we generally buy organic, peat-free compost? I did wonder whether it was drift from the weed killer used on the adjacent farmland, but I don’t think the timing was right, and it’s unlikely enough would have drifted into the green house to cause the problem.

I sent pictures to the RHS for their advice (you have to be a member to use this service) and the answer came back that yes, it almost certainly is weed killer damage (to which tomatoes are very susceptible) – almost certainly from the compost. The RHS expert didn’t seem especially surprised. It seems that there isn’t too much control over the material that goes into compost.

Weedkillers are used extensively, including by councils, on roadside verges etc. ‘Weed & Feed’ type products are used in large quantities by householders on their lawns, which then grow like Billy-Oh. The clippings are sent to be recycled by the local council, who sell on the resulting compost (which, of course, will be heavily contaminated with chemicals). Perhaps this is one of the problems of avoiding peat (which, I would guess, is free of chemicals in its raw state) – you have to make compost from other materials, which may not be so pure.

We need to continue to move away from using peat, because of the degradation its extraction causes to the environment. But makers of compost really should be ensuring the material they use isn’t contaminated. Particularly if they’re labelling it as organic.

Annoyingly, we can’t remember which compost we used for the tomatoes. We potted them into their final pots early on during the lockdown, when it was very difficult to get compost. We had to bite the proverbial bullet and buy a few bags of non-organic compost from the Co-op. It may well have been that batch that was contaminated. But I’m not going to make any allegations at this stage.

We took offsets from the plants before they started to distort. It’s easy to do – you just pick out a reasonable sized side shoot, pop it into compost, and it roots in no time. These plants are now a good size, and are setting fruit. We’re taking no chances with them – we’ve planted them outside, in the soil (there isn’t much room left in the greenhouse anyway). It will be interesting to see how they progress, but so far, they’re fine.

I’ve got a plan for next year. I’m going to record what compost we use, and I’m going to grow one of the plants in soil from our garden, as a control. If that plant is OK, but the others have the same problem as this year, I’ll have evidence it’s the compost – and I’ll be straight on to the manufacturer. I’ll let you know what happens, and I’ll name the culprits if there is a problem.

For this year, there are some fruits that don’t seem to be affected lower down on the plants, and they’re beginning to ripen. I just hope they won’t poison us!

As a great robot used to say, ‘What a bummer Buck’…

text & images © Graham Wright 2020