Go away in May, pay for it in June! This could easily be a tempting advertising slogan, instead it expresses my frustrations perfectly. After sailing around the Baltic leading a gardening cruise for two weeks I returned to find that heavy rain interspersed with frost and strong winds had taken its toll on both greenhouse and garden – in late May!
It may be typical for some areas but not sunny Hertfordshire and it reflected the unsettled weather so far this year. Even as I write, spring has still to decide when to start and it better hurry up as summer is on its way! Yet despite the trials, gardeners must be positive. The collective despondency I shared with several shrubs, their new growth hanging lifeless and brown was followed instantly by optimism; there‘s nothing that cannot be cured with pruning to an outward facing bud and there‘s time for plenty of re-growth as we‘re still in early June.
In the greenhouse where temperatures tumbled despite the warming breeze from a thermostatically controlled heater, cucumbers, who love to be cosseted, expressed their displeasure with yellowing leaves. They will soon recover with a shot of general fertiliser and constant higher temperatures and humidity that will surely follow this month. My other treasures survived unspoiled. There‘s never been a better time to grow vegetables, there‘s such a wonderful choice; this year I‘m trying two Russian varieties of tomatoes, ‘Black Plum‘ and ‘Black from Tula‘ though if you look closely their tints are rich, deep mahogany brown. They are among the many cultivars that came to the west after the fall of the Berlin Wall where a huge selection of crops had been developed over the decades.
There are some pretty peppers too, ‘Chervena Chushka‘ a Bulgarian heritage variety, is said to be good for roasting and varieties from the continent including Italian ‘Golden Treasure‘ with glossy golden-yellow peppers is destined for black painted pots. A couple of awesome aubergines, ‘Listade de Gandia‘, streaked mauve and white and lavender coloured ‘Pintung Long‘ from Taiwan which is narrow, about 12″ long and shaped like a sausage will certainly be eye-catching.
I‘m also growing a cucumber from north America called ‘Boothby‘s Blonde‘ with pale green skin which should be eaten when about 3″ long or cooked if allowed to grow longer. All came from a catalogue called ‘Simply Vegetables‘ The peppers and aubergines will be transplanted until they are large enough for 9″ pots in 50:50 mix of John Innes no 1 and multipurpose compost; combining the two types creates an open yet moisture retaining medium; they will be fed at every watering, first with general fertiliser like Westland ‘Feed All‘ concentrated plant food, changing once the plants are established to their concentrated tomato ‘tomato‘ fertiliser.
Growing tips are removed from peppers when they are about 6″ tall to encourage branching; aubergines should wait until they‘re slightly taller at 6-12″, 3-4 branches will produce 5-6 fruit, leave any more and they will not reach a decent size. Gardeners often overlook the ornamental value of aubergines but some will stand guard outside the greenhouse as decoration during the summer before ending their brief but brilliant career in a moussaka!