Hartley Magazine

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Starting Tomatoes in the Greenhouse

In The Greenhouse with Lila Das Gupta

There are two kinds of gardeners in this world: those who enforce a Darwinist “survival of the fittest” regime, and those of us who practice a kinder, gentler sort of horticulture.
Planting two seeds and pulling out the weaker of the two is something I find almost impossible to do: I don”t parent that way (chocolate biscuit for the child who made it on the school council, no supper for the one who got five spellings wrong), so how can I be so brutal to my plants?
I”m telling you all this as a roundabout way of explaining why I ended up with 90 tomato plants. I may have got a bit carried away by planting 10 varieties – in my defence the greenhouse did seem so much larger when I first got it. I planted 9 seeds in a Sudoku-style grid in square pots. Then when they all burst through the soil so enthusiastically, I hadn”t the heart to kill any of them off.
Now that the flowers are starting to open the ten I”ve selected can go into grow-bags, the rest are gradually being distributed to grateful, but bemused, neighbours who have thoughtfully repaid their gifts with bottles of wine and orange squash.

I’ve made two observations from my greenhouse. The first is that without adequate light, the plants can become “leggy”. The tomato plants stuck in the far corner which is shaded by a tree suffered from this, so I had to solve the problem by moving them to sunnier parts and swap places with other plants.

My other observation is that some plants (eg. annuals) don’t like to be in a greenhouse for weeks and weeks on end. Medwyn Williams, the king of the vegetable show-bench reckons that most multi-purpose compost contains enough nutrients to last a month. I calculate that about 6 weeks of pampering in a greenhouse is the upper limit for most plants at this time of year. Too much coddling is like giving children too much pocket money — usually no good comes of it.

The other point that one should always calculate (and I have to say I”ve learnt the hard way), is that you have to work backwards from when you are going to plant outside. Raring to go I planted a selection of annuals in February because I wanted to play with my Vitopod Propagator, but then the pots were just taking up valuable space in the greenhouse because I couldn”t put them out till mid May when the risk of frost had passed. In the end I booted the annuals out early after hardening off, in order to make way for chrysanthemums and grow-bags, but it has caused quite a few sleepless night. One last frost and my borders will look like something from Apocalypse Now.