Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Beat the blight

image mayIf you’ve ever grown potatoes or tomatoes, chances are you’ve experienced the blight that can affect them late in the season. It’s a fungus like infection spread by miniscule spore like microbes that are whipped around on the wind and thrive in a damp summer. Whole crops of tomatoes and potatoes can be totally wiped out in a matter of days, or weeks, devastating the plants and destroying any chance of a crop. It’s the same disease that caused famine and mass starvation in Ireland in the 1840’s and the death of a million people. A population that depended on the humble spud for cheap food. It was a cruel lesson in the failures of monoculture.

I often wonder what we would live on if there were a natural disaster or catastrophe that closed the supermarkets or left us fending for ourselves. Gardeners would fare better than most, having the skills to grow their own, but as a country, these days we import more than we grow.

Disease resistance is something that has been bred into many modern crops. That’s a great thing if it stops gardeners (and other growers) from reaching for the pesticides. Not that there’s a lot you can do when blight takes hold because once infected the disease sweeps through the plants at great speed. And once you’ve had a dose of the blight in garden and greenhouse it lingers and overwinters ready to flare up again as soon as conditions allow.

Blight resistance has been high on the agenda for plant breeders for decades, especially for tomatoes and potatoes. This year sees a leap in availability and has me hopeful of being able to grow great tomatoes indoors and out this season.

There’s a brand new and exclusive blight buster, blight tolerant Tomato that has it all! The new and world exclusive, Crimson Crush, (http://www.suttons.co.uk) can apparently shrug off the worst tomato blight and still produce high yields. It’s also been bred for growing outdoors, though with the cool weather we have had in recent weeks the greenhouse has to play an important role in growing them on, I’m not sure I am brave enough to plant out my tomatoes just yet.

Crimson Crush plants are available from Suttons Seeds. It is a cordon variety, so you have to keep pinching out the side shoots. Confession time, I love to root these and make more plants and as this ones supposed to be good outside, well there could yet be a forest growing in my garden, a good test for blight and a potentially huge harvest if we have a late summer.

Organic Blight Resistant Tomatoes

image may 4Delfland Nurseries (http://www.organicplants.co.uk) is a fantastic source of organic plants and has a collection of six different blight tolerant tomato plants for May Delivery. There’s an early yellow cordon, called Clou, an early indeterminate called Dorada, Mountain Magic on compact plants, Primabellla, another cordon with late blight tolerance, Primavera an early orange/red cordon and Resi, with a columnar shape and dark sweet fruits. All are suitable for outdoor growth, but currently growing on nicely in my greenhouse for now.

Since competition for greenhouse space is so hot this year, the fact that I can plant these outside and still have a good variety of greenhouse tomatoes too is great news. Garden planted tomatoes once they’ve got their roots down don’t need constant watering and attention and I can concentrate on the ones inside that will be sweltering in the heat but thriving in the protection of the glass. It’s a win win scenario as far as I’m concerned, the more I can grow outside means more room for the quirky inside. Currently the greenhouse is nurturing a image may 3crop of Inca berries, some species begonias, a batch of edible dahlias as well as aubergines, cucumbers and peppers.

The manuka plants I’ve been growing for the bees are in flower and just outside the greenhouse in the sun, waving their pale pink flowers at passing bees on the way to the watering hole. I’ve taken some cuttings and am growing them on in ericaceous compost to share among my bee friends. The warm weather has been great for rooting cuttings and I’ve dozens of them growing on now to plant far and wide. It’s an exciting time, but with Chelsea looming there aren’t enough hours in the day.