This summer’s heatwave feels like a distant memory now, but it was a good one for ripening lots of tomatoes! However, if you’ve got green ones struggling in the cooler temperatures, here’s BBC Gardener’s World Magazine’s advice on the best way to ripen them: How to ripen late tomatoes.
Using the ethylene released by bananas to help ripen other fruit is a well known method, but while Which? Gardening agree with GW on most points, they differ on the banana:
You may have heard different techniques recommended for ripening green tomatoes, including putting them with a banana, but when Which? Gardening magazine tested different methods we found that putting them in a dark place indoors, such as a drawer, works best. Tomatoes left with bananas were one of the worst methods for causing the tomatoes to rot.
Our Autumn Show was held on Monday September 26th in the Old Library of Charlton House, having been delayed a week for the Queen’s funeral. We counted 56 attendees and there were nearly 100 entries across all the classes, a marvellous effort!
Our guest judge, Joe Woodcock, had agreed to undertake this onerous task again this year. He made it clear how impressed he was with all the entries, providing an encouraging commentary on the horticultural skills demonstrated, and explained why he selected the winning entry in each class.
The classes and winners were as follows: 1. Vase of flowers, 3 stems – Nicholas B 2. Bowl of mixed flowers – Georgina P 3. Vase of shrubs or foliage, 3 stems – Liz K 4. Display of ornamental seed heads – Viv P 5. Five Fuchsia blooms – Viv P 6. Ornamental pot plant – Pat K 7. Display of fruit, mixed – Lynda F 8. Display of vegetables, mixed – Annie H 9. Tomatoes (dish of 5) – Karen S 10. A display of herbs – Maggie T 11. Preserves – Maggie T 12. Baking – Coconut cake – Kathy A 13. Floral arrangement in a teacup – Debbie W 14. Largest Sunflower – Ruth Y 15. Highest yield, Potato – Ann F
Joe presented trophies to Annie H for Class 8, to Viv P for Class 5 and to Georgina P for Best in Show for her bowl of mixed flowers in Class 2.
This was held on Monday 20 September in the Long Gallery of Charlton House. As one of many new members of the Society since meetings were forced to stop by COVID-19, it was my first indoor meeting!
It was a very impressive event with a total of 66 entries and I didn’t envy our guest judge, Joe Woodcock, his task. But Joe made it clear how impressed he was with all the entries, providing an encouraging commentary on the horticultural skills demonstrated, and explained why he selected the winning entry in each class.
The classes and winners were as follows:
1. Vase with single stem of any flowering plant – Viv P
2. Bowl of mixed flowers – Margaret T
3. Five Fuchsia blooms – Ruth Y
4. Ornamental pot plant – Pat K
5. A display of fruit and vegetables – Mandy & Brownie
6. A display of herbs – Ruth Y
7. Floral arrangement in a teacup – Anna L
8a. Potato Competition – Pam D
8b. Sunflower head competition – Annie H
Joe selected as Best in Show Margaret T’s wonderful display of varieties of dahlia in Class 2. Class 7 the Floral Arrangement was selected by popular vote (using buttons) and the Potato Competition was weighed by the trusty scales of Hugh P.
Joe was kind enough to answer a few gardening questions at the end of proceedings, and tea, coffee and biscuits were provided to round off the evening.
We counted 56 attendees. Everyone seemed to enjoy the event and be grateful to be able to meet up in person again. Long may that continue!
Since my recent spinal surgery I have been frustratingly incapacitated. However who would not be cheered-up and consoled by a view like mine? From a prone position on my living room sofa I look out, through a huge glass sliding door, onto a beautiful panorama of colourful flowers. I had worked so hard in spring to prepare the garden knowing that my operation would put me out of action for a while.
Looking from the sofa my eyes encounter the patio first, which is packed with pots of pelargoniums, lilies, geraniums, dahlias, fuchsias and a huge hanging basket overflowing with lemon -scented begonias. As I write I lament the denuding of our lemon tree outside the window, which bore 18 ripe, juicy lemons in early summer. I can’t complain, however, as my husband and I have enjoyed the fruits of its bounty in the form of 36 gin and tonics on many warm summers evenings!!
Soft grey patio pavers slope down from the patio onto a small lawn, it’s curved edges lined, on every side, with colourful flower beds. Although I have been cursing the snails, which have been devouring most of the annuals that I grew in the spring, they have at least left abundant golden rudbeckia and fluffy blue ageratum which tumble merrily onto the lawn.
It’s a real delight to take a morning stroll (or hobble) around the borders to discover what has come into flower each new day. I have been thrilled with my new Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer ‘ that are in full bloom right now. Hugh and I were so impressed when we spotted them growing on Wisley’s trial beds, that I came home to order them that very evening.
Beyond the alstroemeria, Geranium ‘Rozanne’ never fails to impress with masses of rich blue flowers from June to October. They create an excellent foil for Rudbeckia and blue spires of Perovskia beyond. I’m so proud to have grown 6 different colours of Phlox this year. My latest addition, called Phlox ‘Blue Paradise’ is an incredible purplish blue. It’s just wonderful!
Towering flame orange Tithonia (Mexican Sunflowers), Cosmos ‘Purity’, Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ and evening primrose all add excitement and height at the back of the borders. Fortunately each bed is so jam-packed that there is not much room for weeds!
The only problem is… it’s snail & slug heaven! I have been shocked to find that this year’s snails must be a super-breed with jaws strong enough to eat through the hairy tough stems of sunflowers( all of them!!)
A tantalising glimpse of a brick-paved area and vegetable patch can be seen through an arch beyond the lawn. Today Hugh re-potted his banana tree and it can now be seen waving it’s huge leaves behind the bird bath in the middle of the brick circle. I can just about glimpse the scarlet flowers on the runner bean canes in our miniature veg plot on the far side of the brick circle, reminding me to ask Hugh to keep picking the veg for dinner each day. The enormous cucumbers (‘Swing’ F1) have been a real surprise this year. I grew them up a vertical support for them just before going into hospital and so many have grown in a few weeks just from one plant in one pot!
Well, I could carry on like this for ever. I haven’t even mentioned my new shade border with 4 newly purchased, remarkable clematis. (the best has turned out to be one called ‘Pernille’) My enthusiasm for my garden never wanes! Unfortunately the same cannot be said of my stamina which is being curtailed by too many painkillers currently.
Although I could not join you all in Charlton House garden for the first real live meeting since Covid struck, I will be thinking of you all and hoping that the evening goes well.
Recovery from my op can take months but I am determined to bounce back in record time so wish me luck. Anyway how could I fail to recover quickly when I can see the biggest incentive outside my window?
A suggestion made by Anna has prompted me to think what we can learn from random gardening mistakes, or shall we say, unplanned activity.
I use a lot of salad vegetables and always have a variety of leaves growing to use as a base for additional ingredients. I sow a selection in various seed trays, which I then prick out and later plant into the garden. A few years ago, at the tail end of the summer, I sowed seeds into their seed trays as usual. For whatever reason, I failed to prick out and then felt it was too late to do anything much with them, so I was left with several seed trays full of fresh young seedlings. And I left them. But what happened then was that they provided me with a steady supply of cut-and-come-again salad leaves (the kind you pay a fortune for in bags in supermarkets) to enjoy through the winter. Ever since then, I use this method to provide me with small young and tasty salad leaves, throughout both the summer and winter. I do this with Mizuna, Endive, Rapa da Foglia (turnip greens), mustard, rocket as well as the usual lettuce varieties which we grow. I am sure it works equally well with chard and beetroot and members will have their own varieties to suggest here. Obviously the mild winters we have been experiencing do help, I am not sure what a sharp frost would do. Ultimately, the plants will become very rootbound, but growth in the winter slows down, so this takes a while to happen.
Trays of seedlings sown 5 September.
The usefulness of this method is also that you could do this on your kitchen windowsill, balcony, or whatever space is available.
Whenever I am asked about my plans for dealing with a glut of produce from my allotment, my initial response is usually, “Chance would be a fine thing!”
I’m still on the lower slopes of allotmenteering, constantly marvelling at the (seemingly) effortless heights achieved by my neighbours.
Storm Ellen did her best to scupper my chances of a substantial tomato haul, but thanks to a tendency I have to cram things close together in the ground – I can’t get over how much space I have! – the plants and their stakes more or less held each other up. In spite of many hours agonising over the seed catalogues and subsequent cossetting of seedlings, I have to report that the finest and most prolific tomato crop on my patch this year comes from the gift of a neighbour. In the early days of lockdown she realised that she wouldn’t be able to get any seedlings from garden centres in time so she simply dried the seeds from some piccolino tomatoes she had bought at the supermarket and planted them.
Amazing results! She shared out dozens of seedings with nearby allotments, and now I am in the happy position of trying to decide what I should do to preserve this abundant harvest.
Last year, caught out with no plan for the cherry tomatoes on the eve of a holiday, I turned to Google for help. A combination of the words, “tomato”, “glut”, “preserve” and “easy” produced a range of solutions (literally) involving vodka.
All I had to do was pierce the tomatoes, pop them into a sterilised glass jar, add the celery salt and chillies that I didn’t have (but that doesn’t seem to have been a problem), cover with vodka and store the jar in the fridge. I was assured that the residual vodka would be the perfect base for a Bloody Mary, and that the tomatoes would form an impressive element of any tray of canapés. Do they ever get that far? Do they heck! With admirable restraint, I have enjoyed the odd tomato or two straight from the jar over many months.
As holidays are more or less out of the question in 2020, I will have some more time to think about what to do with my expected glut of tomatoes and be on hand at the right time to deal with them. I wondered what suggestions CABAHS members might have: what is your favourite way to preserve tomatoes?
Perhaps we can start a separate section, sharing ideas for making the most of our produce.
Do you ever plant things in your garden and forget that you have done so? I have clearly planted these tulips in a pot (last year? The year before?) and they have surprised me by coming up a treat.
That is probably part of the interest in planting bulbs. It is deferred gratification if ever there was an example. The anticipation of beauty to come. To some extent it is similar to sowing seeds, although here there is less of an excitement of immediate colour. Gardening is a thing of hope!
March and April are hugely busy in terms of seed sowing. At home I have a small patch given over to vegetables. It used to be bordered by trimmed box, but with the depredations of the box moth, all this has had to be removed. This year, I have decided to sow the annual Salvia Viridis to create the borders. It used to be grown so much, but seems to have become less popular and I haven’t seen it for years. I am hoping this will create an attractive foil for the tomatoes, salad greens, shallots and climbing beans that I plan to have here.
For my allotment I have my usual courgettes ( three varieties) tomatoes ( four varieties) runner and French beans, potatoes (earlies and maincrop) cucumber, beetroot, celeriac, cavalo nero and purple sprouting broccoli. I am going to add carrots, turnips and swedes. If the seed stocks in the garden centres on the weekend of 22 March are anything to go by, a large proportion of the population is anticipating a problem with food supply! I hope I have enough to feed the extended family.
My allotment soil is incredibly heavy and successive years of cultivation have done little to break it down. For those new to gardening, this could be very off-putting. Watching Monty Don or Joe Swift or Adam Frost plant vegetables in soil that is honed to a fine tilth you could blow on it and create a hole and then be confronted by the average plot, is something that might make you quail. In the week before lockdown ( are we all thinking in terms of ‘before lockdown’ and ‘after lockdown’ now?) I had two guys dig over the plot, but this still leaves large clods of soil which need to be broken up. I am now in the backbreaking process of doing this. Only then can I direct- sow into the soil, or plant things like French beans.
As we had quite a small turnout on Monday (understandably!) I thought you might like to know a little about Russell’s great talk. Russell started his talk with some facts, such as that when war broke out in 1939, nearly 80% of Britain’s food was imported. Imports were by ship and German blockades threatened supplies almost immediately.
A “Dig for Victory” campaign was started and people were urged to use any spare land to grow vegetables – this included parks, golf clubs and even the moat at the Tower of London:
The campaign featured lots of posters, this one was interesting because as Russell pointed out, the man is using the wrong foot. In fact the photo was taken using a mannequin’s dummy leg!
Much of the campaign’s success, which was overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture, was thanks to the Royal Horticultural Society’s role in teaching men and women across the country how to grow vegetables year round.
Another way of increasing food production was down to the War Agricultural Executive committees which were formed in Autumn 1939 and given expansive powers over farmers and landowners in the United Kingdom. After performing surveys of rural land in their county, each Committee was given the power to serve orders to farmers “requiring work to be done, or, in cases of default, to take possession of the land”. Committees could decide, on a farmer’s behalf, which crops should be planted in which fields, so as to best increase the production of foodstuffs in their areas.
Russell told us about the Womens Land Army too. This started in WW1 but was re-established shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, in June 1939. It was finally disbanded in 1950. At its peak in 1943 over 80,000 women worked as ‘land girls’. They came from a wide range of backgrounds including towns and cities as well as the countryside.
He included lots of anecdotes about how dedicated the girls were, telling a story about one girl who turned up late with plaster in her hair, and asked the farmer not to mark her as late because she got there as soon as she could. Her house had been bombed that night! Another walked miles through waist-high snow to get to her farm and then apologised for being late.
Russell told us that one of the most missed vegetables was the humble onion. As they were nearly all grown in France, there were shortages immediately. One time, the post office received a parcel of onions where the address label was missing, so it went to lost property. They had 38 people turn up to claim it was theirs!
There were children’s campaigns too. Doctor Carrot popularised the myth that carrots could make you see in the dark.
We also heard about Cecil Middleton, who was really the first “celebrity gardener” on radio. He broadcast in Britain during the 30’s and 40’s, especially in relation to the “Dig for Victory” campaign. He was very knowledgeable but his programme went out on Sunday afternoons, and he had a soothing voice, so his main claim to fame was that he sent people to sleep after their Sunday lunch!
We thanked Russell for his entertaining talk and asked him to judge the Show Table and call the raffle. (We should really have had a loo roll as a raffle prize..!) It was a good evening, especially as we are going to have a bit of a break in meetings now. Take care everyone, stay well!
Russell Bowes is a freelance garden historian, garden tour guide and researcher.