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.

My Breakfast today

Yesterday when I opened the greenhouse door in the morning there was an overwhelming perfume of MELON!  So this morning I ate just fruit for breakfast, all of it from the garden.

All harvested yesterday afternoon

There were many more raspberries and strawberries but I’d eaten them before I thought about writing this post!

The melon weighed in at 1.75 kg, its weight was just beginning to make the stalk come away from the fruit.  Here it is growing in the greenhouse and in all its glorious stages.

In the greenhouse, at the end of last month

Just picked

Cut, it was very juicy

I still can’t quite believe that I can grow melons, which is the reason for the excessive number of images.  Those of you who have this Ikea chopping board will understand the size of the melon.

Figs are really my favourite fruit and this year there are more than ever before but the birds have also decided they rather like them so I don’t know how many they will leave for me.  The strawberries are being very productive and the raspberries are still producing enough to eat some every couple of days; new stems have grown that will produce more fruit next month, I imagine.

We are eating meals that consist many of vegetables as there is so much produce being harvested.  Yesterday evening we barbeque-grilled peppers, sliced aubergine and zucchini (courgettes) and I made a tomato salad with T. Mamande precoce (early) and a yellow pear-shaped tomato that I grew from seed that came from a tomato a friend gave me 18 months ago (I had been worried that they wouldn’t come true from the seed as she had many different varieties.

The green herb on the tomatoes is a thyme-like herb that tasted of pepper, sometimes I use basil as well.

Grilled aubergine and zucchini


Refreshing Cucumber and yogurt

For a little appetizer I cooked a cob of sweetcorn.

There is something so very satisfying about harvesting and eating immediately crops from the garden.  I especially love picking strawberries and raspberries and eating them still warm from the sun.