End of Month View – Greenhouse and growing tomatoes

Firstly a little about the weather.  It has been an amazingly hot September; with virtually no days of rain except for a thunderstorm of the night of Sunday 18th when we had 3 hours of sheet and fork lightening and about 35 cm YES that’s more than a foot of rain in two hours!!!!!  I’ll write about this in more detail in a future post at present I’m still reeling from how much soil, in the form of mud, was deposited blocking our lane and worse filling the tomb-cum-store with mud and water and lifting everything off the floor and swirling it all around as if an elephant had been in there moving stuff around randomly.

To give you some concept of how high the temperatures are: we are still sleeping without a duvet and we haven’t had the central heating on since the beginning of April.  This will probably be fatal and it will become very cold within the next few days.

For this End of Month review, hosted by Helen the Patient Gardener I have been spurred on by Janet at Plantalicious to report about my experiences with a new greenhouse and give my thoughts about growing tomatoes in the greenhouse and outside in central Italy.

The greenhouse was erected at the beginning of March and the whole summer has been a learning experience.

Erection took place on 10th March

The greenhouse was erected at the beginning of March and the whole summer has been a learning experience.  There is a reason that greenhouses are not all that common in Italy, that being that during the hot months of summer it is unbearably hot to be inside!  Any work and harvesting of crops has had to be done either early morning or late evening.  This spring was hotter than usual so that I needed to put up the shading in mid-April, and it has been up ever since.  Without every plant would have shrivelled and died.  Even now, because the sun is lower in the sky, a lot of light and heat is still keeping it hot inside; I had expected to remove the shading my mid-September.

First tomatoes, basil and lettuces planted 27th March

I decided to have two beds at the side and the end with paving, laid on sand to allow for me to change my mind (and I have).  The beds are too wide, I can’t reach to weed at the back or harvest the crops easily.  When the tomatoes come out I’ll make the existing beds narrower and in spring when I don’t need the hard standing I’ll make another beds on the other side.  Although the 7 tomato plants were enough in the greenhouse as I grow lots outside too.  Lettuces grew amazingly quickly until it became too hot in early July.

I bought some citrus trees 31st March

My plan was to beat the weather and buy plug plants as early as they were available.  Put some in the ground inside the greenhouse and pot the others on so that when it was warm enough to plant outside (end of April) they would already be well established plants.  This worked brilliantly except when I bought my first batch of tomatoes I thought I had bought 3 different varieties – Marmande precoce (means early), cherry tomatoes and pacchino which are small and plum-shaped and had a wonderful flavour (these were fabulous grown outside last year); when in reality I had bought only Marmande.  This wasn’t so bad as they certainly fruited very early inside and out and they were a lovely salad tomato which were also great in Gazpacho and pretty successful cooked.  So the lesson is that I need to ask in the shop when I buy and confirm that I’m buying what I think I am.  My supplier sells 24 varieties of tomatoes in modules so there’s little incentive to start my own seed in January and have to heat the greenhouse which would add significantly to the costs.  I may try some next year because I am interested to know if I can be successful.

Where I bought my vegetable plants

onion and other plantlets for sale

You can see in the above image that the outer trays are reused with past labels above there are onion seedlings in trays marked as tomatoes!  At least this is obviously an error.

Acanthus seedlings - found in the garden

  • Acanthus seedlings – found in the garden
  • I grew these Echinacea and Verbascum from seed I had

I busily potted up seedlings I found in the garden and sowed some seed I had plus Janet of Plantalicious sent me some Knautia, sadly only 4 germinated and these later damped off when I potted them on.

5th June – first ripe tomatoes

My method for growing the tomatoes has been modified from last year (only outside tomatoes then of course) partly because people laughed when they saw I had only allowed one stem to grow per plant – although they did admit that my tomatoes were probably healthier looking than theirs.  This year I decided to allow 3 stems to grow from each plant and only stop the leader when it ran out of space at the top of the cane.  This method produced a huge crop of excellent tomatoes, the first Marmande in the greenhouse ripened on 5th June, which was at least a month earlier than last year.  Those planted outside as much larger plants also fruited and ripened much earlier than planting small module plants directly into the ground; I had wondered whether larger plants would take longer to establish.

All growing well

7th June tomatoes and basil for lunch, the first of many lunches with these ingredients

Melons begin to take over the greenhosue 28th June

I planted melons as soon as they were available for sale in mid or late April and by the end of May several fruits had formed and the foliage was taking over the end of the greenhouse.  Those I planted outside were much slower to grow and produce the first ripe fruit.

Lower leaves removed to allow in more light and air

I read in an Italian gardening magazine that the foliage should be removed below the level of set fruit of the tomatoes.  I had never heard of this before but decided to experiment as with three stems per plant there were a lot of leaves and I was concerned that there wasn’t a very good circulation of air that might cause disease.

first melon of the season 10th July

another tomato salad

The only tomatoes that I grew from seed were the yellow, pear-shaped ones in the salad above.  I had been given a couple of this variety of tomato a couple of years ago and I’d saved the seed.  When they germinated I couldn’t believe just how many plants had come from just two fruits.  I didn’t think these had a great flavour but friends have disagreed and I do love them roasted along with peppers, onions, aubergines etc.  They also add a good variation in colour so I will save some seed and sow them next year.

Ready for the oven for roasted tomatoes

First picking of the San Mazzano 24th July

San Mazzano (I chose the kind that did need the side shoots removing) are certainly the best for making sauces and good too in Gazpacho but I think they are needier than the other varieties.  My soil is volcanic and so very fertile and I don’t actually feed anything apart from putting a bit of slow release fertilizer in the planting hole.  I intend mulching with manure this winter and I will try to feed at least the San Mazzano next year.  The tomato crop was enormous and there were moments during the summer when I thought I might turn into a tomato myself as I was eating so many.  I also think these would have benefited by having only two growing stems.  I have made and frozen sauce, frozen some as halves with seeds removed and dried some and put them under oil – hopefully enough to last until next year’s crop.

One variety of tomato was very disappointing Cuore del Buie (Ox heart).  They went from green to rotten (maybe I should have eaten them green); the fruits were very large but the plants weak and they succumbed to some form of blight or virus in the greenhouse and outside so I removed and burnt them.

These were the only tomatoes I grew from seed

I didn’t restrict the growth of the yellow, pear tomatoes and they have rewarded their freedom by producing a huge crop and are still fruiting well,  I’m not so keen about how untidy this is and think I might try a wigwam design of canes for these and other small tomatoes, and I’ll just tie in what I can.

Quick germinating Asclepia tuberosa

I have been collecting seeds from the garden and am beginning to sow them.  These Asclepia tuberosa germinated in 3 days.  I showed their amazing seed cases and dispersal method in an earlier post.

Festuca glauca

Secondary stems now reach the roof

The heat was a problem in that pollinating insects stopped entering the greenhouse although the door was open day and night from mid-May.  I did remember that my father used to tap the canes of his tomatoes to set the fruit and so I began doing this but not efficiently enough.

28th September, still harvesting from the secondary stems

The heat was a problem in that pollinating insects stopped entering the greenhouse although the door was open day and night from mid-May.  I did remember that my father used to tap the canes of his tomatoes to set the fruit and so I began doing this but not efficiently enough.  So the top trusses (numbers 6,7 or8) didn’t have such a large number of fruits as the lower, earlier ones had.  I decided to follow Bob Flowerdew’s recommendations and allow a couple of the lower side shoots to begin to grow and remove the original main stems as they finished fruiting.  As you see below this was quite successful although I think I might actually follow his suggestion of treating some of the earlier side shoots as cuttings and potting them on so they are ready to plant to replace the parent plant – I think they will be stronger and produce more fruit if treated in this way.

Something's eaten my basil!

Up until a week ago all the basil, whether in the greenhouse or outside, has grown almost uncontrollably, now something but I can’t see what, has almost eaten all the leaves of the greenhouse plants

Hemerocallis seedlings

Probably the last melon

Peppers are forming again

...and ripening

Purple basil and tomatoes outside

Basil - how do I stop it flowering so quickly?

Marmande precoce still producing good fruit

These yellow pear shaped, mini tomatoes have been amazingly prolific

Sorry that was rather a long post, if you’ve read this far, thank you!

I’d like to thank everyone who joined in with Garden Bloggers Foliage Day – there was a terrific response to this important feature of gardening.  I will continue posting this meme on the 22nd of each month I hope you’ll join in.

24 thoughts on “End of Month View – Greenhouse and growing tomatoes

  1. Wow, Christina, first of all, what a super greenhouse, that is on an industrial scale, so huge ! I thought how on earth is she going to fill it, but then I saw all your tomatoes and other seedlings, it had to be that big didn’t it! Sorry to hear about all your rain and the damage caused, your hot weather seems to have come to us, from wearing winter jumpers last week, we are now back to T shirts for a few days.

    • Hi Pauline, I think the wide-angle photos make it seem bigger than it is although I am aware I’m lucky to have such a space. 3.5 x 4 metres. I think and hope I’ll make even more use of it during the winter. Christina

  2. Wow, that looks more like an ‘end of season review’! 🙂
    I’m very very very envious of your beautiful greenhouse! Anyway you are right: too hot inside in summer!
    I think the best tomato to grow is Pachino. Prolific, scented, tasty, and no viruses. I had quite a lot this year too. My season has gone anyway, my basil is happily in flower since the beginning of this month and its taste changed anyway so I let it rest, I took tomato plants away a month ago because they were packed with baby shed bugs, they’re like space invaders, aren’t they? Birds gather in electric lines, those bugs gather in my house! 😦

    • Hi Alberto. Yes as a small tomato I think pachino is the best, as I explained I thought I had bought these but that’s not what they turned out to be. Next year I will make sure I buy what I think I’m buying. The shield bugs are horrid! They all want to hibernate in my house too. Because their bodies are hard they can even crawl under the fly screens; I find them around every window when I open them – I can’t squash them because I hate the smell, so I have to gently coax them back outside – I hate them.

  3. Gosh, what a stunning range of fruit you’ve grown; love the different tomato varieties and it’s really interesting to read your experiences of each. You’ve certainly put your new greenhouse to good use already this year, despite dealing with far higher temperatures than us (we’ve yet to need to shade our greenhouse even in summer!).
    Some lovely ornamental seedlings raised too, very industrious! I’m hoping to cram our greenhouse full again next year; I’ve some seeds to sow now that will hopefully overwinter there, though I’ll have to keep an eye on them in the frosts as our greenhouse is unheated.

    • Hi Sara, I don’t intend to heat my greenhouse either although I do have heated trays for starting seeds. If it is very cold I may try to section off a space that is ‘double wrapped’ in some way with a heated tray inside which might keep that area frost free. I’m amazed you’ve never shaded you greenhouse, I had to most years when I was living in the SE of England. Christina

  4. I am very jealous of your wonderful tomato crop. I am going to try harder next year and will try some outside though no doubt we will have a cold summer! Thanks for joining in again this month

  5. What a fabulous tomato crop (and while I am envious of your crop, I am even more envious of the place you bought them, mislabelled or not – the planst look really good). Interestingly, my best toms this year were the Cuor di Bue – I’m constantly amazed by how well Italian toms do here in West Wales – but I did have to race blight for the last ones.

    • Yes, the place I buy plants is amazing; due to the fact that the locals buy vegetables but not really ornamentals. Vegetable growing is seriously important to people here. Did you pick your Cuor di Bue while they were under-ripe? Christina

    • Hi Ronnie, thanks for subscribing, I appreciate that. I still pinch myself when I see the melons growing, but then the local farmer had a whole field of them so really it is just right plant (crop) right place! Christina

  6. Now that’s QUITE a review of your garden season. You’re very lucky to have such a special space. And from what I can tell, you’re using it quite well. I love that golden little pear shaped number. Hard to believe some of those gold varieties rival some of the best reds. Keep up the good work.

  7. Hi Christina, what a great post – so many wonderful tomatoes. I’d never come across letting each plant establish three stems, or Bob Flowerdew’s tip of stopping the main leader and then letting a couple of newer stems establish. I will have to remember those tips for next year.

    I’m really impressed at how well you have used your greenhouse this year, particularly with all the hot weather. You have so many great looking seedlings going, such a shame about the knautia though. Will you grow e.g. lettuce crops in the greenhouse over winter? I’ve decided to give it a go, once I have done a thorough clean of the whole greenhouse later this week.

    • Hi Janet, I’m not sure how well growing 3 stems would be in the UK, I think it works here because of the heat and sunshine, but I think you could try letting a secondary stem grow when you’ve 5 trusses or as I will do next year treat the sideshoot as a cutting and allow to grow on and plant when the first crops are finishing. Yes, I intend trying to grow some salad crops during the winter, maybe even broad beans as I’ve never had a great success with them outside here, although it shouldn’t be difficult as they are farmed locally. Christina

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