I planted my tomatoes out this week. I have worked out now what I was doing wrong and why my plants seem so stunted compared to other people’s. I am over watering them. The compost appears dry, we are having sunny weather and the polytunnel is getting super hot (too hot for me to work in there during the days). I thought that tomato plants need lots of water and being in pots they would need more – WRONG! This peat free compost I am using seems dry at the surface, but underneath it is sopping wet still so the poor little plants were trying to grow in a tropical marsh. I transplanted them in to bigger pots (which is when I found they were not as dry as I’d thought) hardly watered them at all, and they perked right up.
The trick is to stick a length of cane or stick into some of the pots to the bottom, when you feel the urge to water, pull out the stick and feel how damp it is – that will tell you if the pots need water. After two weeks the plants were looking a lot happier and had filled their new pots with roots. Rather than pot them on again, I just planted them right out into the tunnel. That involved cutting back much of my self sown salads, which are rather past their best now. The kale still had some good pickings on and I was going to try making kale crisps (which are rather yummy) but unfortunately I just ran out of time that day and they all went rather limp. I left the roots of the plants in the soil generally, dug a good sized hole, put about three shovels of my mature compost (rather grey from all the wood and paper ash that went in that heap) in the hole and mixed it in a bit. I have found that since I’ve left the polytunnel untidy, leaving cut back plants on the surface, the soil has a better texture and doesn’t dry out as much. The plant debris also stops seeds from germinating. The tomato plants were popped in a random order, the soil level was deliberately left a little lower than the surrounding soil making it easy to water them in, and the holes can be backfilled to earth up the stems as the plants grow. Hopefully I won’t lose the little labels telling me which is which. I’m not expecting wonders from them this year, since I am late getting the plants in, but hopefully, now I know what I’m doing wrong, I can get a bit ahead next year!
While I was clearing the undergrowth in the polytunnel I found three other good things. Firstly the unknown citrus is not dead! I had cut it mostly back but not removed it, more from wishful thinking than a belief it would recover, and hey presto! new shoots from near the bottom of the trunk! I’ll tidy it up a bit once it’s a bit bigger, and perhaps fleece it next winter, but it may be that it will always die back and never flower.
Another good thing was a very welcome resident toad. It was heading into the area I’d cleared in the polytunnel, so I had to relocate it back in a quiet area for its own safety, but I was very happy to see it. A few years ago I saw a small toad in the tunnel on a number of occasions, but haven’t seen it for a while – maybe this is the same one, but it’s now rather fat and much larger! I don’t think the pond made the difference – toads prefer running water I gather. It’s funny, you would have thought, particularly over the last few weeks it would be a bit hot for it in there, but it is obviously happy enough!
Whilst I was in the tunnel taking photos I also noticed that my olive tree has flower buds. I only bought it last year so am very excited about this.
The final good thing was that it rained today. This is not normally something one cheers about on Skye, more something one takes for granted! However we have actually had about three weeks dry and rather warm weather, so the plants in the thinner soil were starting to get yellow, mostly things were fine for me though.
It was more the timing that was perfect. I have been moving soil from under the barn to my orchard area. A good exercise when the soil is nice and dry – lighter to carry and not slippery underfoot. I had reached the end of the area, bar a strip near the track which will be harder work, since there is more nettles and couch grass in that bit, together with stones mixed in from the roadway. Yesterday I dug the last little bit to make the area level, loosened the whole area to a fork depth to try and remove a bit more of the creeping thistle, marked out some paths with edging stones (I’d removed these as I went) and then broadcast all my old seed (and a little fresh seed) in the hope that at least some are still viable to compete with the weeds (I had quite a bit of green manure seeds that I bought for the allotment in Solihull and we’ve been here ten years now!). Now we have a day of soft soaking rain and it couldn’t be better to water the seeds in!