Having my allotment gives me the freedom to grow varieties I’d never even heard of and never found in my local store. After mastering the basics of growing my own produce, I thought why not grow the weird, the wonderful and the difficult! Every year I grow my staple potatoes, carrots, strawberries, but I also challenge myself to grow new crops. Of course there’s ups and downs but it’s the unknown that’s exciting.
In the spring I brought a second hand greenhouse for £20 (bargain) with a free potting bench thrown in. The bargain greenhouse wasn’t such a great idea when taking it apart and back together again (lots of swear words involved) but it was all worth it. I’d never grown greenhouse crops before but the obvious decision was tomatoes, chillies, sweet peppers and aubergines. When I say I challenge myself, it doesn’t have to be a variety only found in the amazon rainforest, I mean I enjoy growing anything I haven’t grown before.
After making a three sided raised bed in the greenhouse I filled it with soil from the allotment (heavy clay) and mixed in lots of manure. I’d been growing my seedlings indoors up until this point so I transplanted them in the greenhouse after the risk of cold weather had gone. I had a back row of tomatoes spaced at about 30cm apart and then a front row of the chillies, peppers and aubergines.
I grew four different varieties of tomatoes, principe borghese, tigerella, pear and cherry. I got the seeds free with a magazine so I didn’t spend hours researching a heirloom variety, my one goal was to get some tomatoes, regardless of the variety! Saying that, I did research the seed varieties I had and found out which were cordon and which were bush types.
As the plants grew I somehow managed to lose some of the plant markers! At that point I had no idea which plants I should be pruning and which I should be leaving. I did become clear which ones were the bush variety as there were so many stems coming from the base, where as the cordon varieties seemed to have one obvious main stem that was thicker than the rest. I gave them a hard prune taking off any side shoots. I also staked the plants as they were getting tall and unruly!
When the first flowers appeared I tried to spray them with a mist of water whenever I could remember, apparently this is suppose to help the fruit set. Every week I’d cut back more foliage, it surprised me how quick the little devils wanted to grow! I didn’t realise they would be so demanding!
Research told me I should wait until each plant had 4/5 trusses of tomatoes. The greenhouse had turned into a jungle and I had no idea which truss belonged to each plant. It got a bit ridiculous! I decided there were a fair amount of flowers so I dived in with my Secateurs, I felt like a crazied hairdresser when a client asks for a inch off and you give them a bob. I literally cut off 90% of the foliage in the hope that the plant would drive all of its energy into the developing fruits.
Weeks passed and the plants got their regular haircut. The fruits started to develop and began their traffic light colour change. I decreased my watering and gave them regular feeds of seaweed fertiliser. A kind instagrammer also suggested sprinkling a teaspoon of sugar around the base of the plant and watering it in.
The result was an abundance of sweet juicy tomatoes far better than the shops! I’ve been picking huge bowls piled high every week and I still have more to come. Even in September I’m still pruning off most of the foliage as they are determined to get leafy!
Although I grew a bog standard crop, I really felt proud at my first attempt. I put my success down to the hard pruning and decreasing the watering. My favourite variety was the pear tomatoes and next year I plan to move on to some more unusual varieties.
My cayenne chillies have also done well and are ridiculously hot, I put a quarter of one into a curry the other night and that was enough! The peppers again did well and I’ve already brought some more varieties for next year. My aubergines on the other hand were a complete disaster, not one single fruit just lots of flowers! I’ll be doing some research over the winter to find out where I went wrong and give them a go next year.
As I said, growing your own is full of ups and downs, the ups are delicious and the downs just make me more determined to try again. Here’s a chilli chutney recipe I’ve made over the weekend to use up some of my tomato and chilli glut. It’s perfect with cheese and crackers and a cheeky glass of port on a winters night!
I scaled this recipe up for the amount of tomatoes I had which made 5 medium sized jars! Perfect for Christmas presents too!
1350g of chopped tomatoes, I used principe Borghese as these are a variety for cooking sauces but whatever you have grown!
12 cloves of garlic
Big piece of ginger
6 teaspoons of bullion powder
450ml cider vinegar
Finely chop the garlic, ginger and chillies, then place in a heavy saucepan with the remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for around a hour until thick and sticky. Sterilise your jars and keep stored in a cupboard.