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Dublin: 6 °C Sunday 8 December, 2019
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From the Garden: Tomatoes are the most high-maintenance of all veg plants - but they’re worth it

As well as specific watering methods there is the regular pinching out of side shoots to allow air to circulate around the plants, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

TOMATOES ARE SURELY the most high-maintenance of all veg plants – but to my mind, they’re worth it.  

At this stage of their development, it’s about regular watering and sideshoot-pinching.

My tomato plants in the tunnel have suddenly taken off in the last few weeks and are now up to three feet tall, and growing literally by the day. There are even some early signs of tomatoes appearing on the vines and the plants are now in need of regular maintenance.

I’ve talked here before about the need for consistent watering with tomato plants – because they are a deep-rooting plant, it’s not all that effective to spray water at the soil (or worse, at the plant itself).

The key is to get the water right down to the roots. In the last few years, I’ve invested in a seep hose which makes the job of watering them a lot more straightforward (just leave the hose on for an hour every other day).

In previous years, with a smaller number of plants, I sink a container into the soil beside the plant and water into that.

Watering becomes a job of simply filling the container, confident in the knowledge that the plant is getting exactly 2 litres of water where it needs it most.  

Watering ‘at depth’ also means the plant is less vulnerable to drying out in very warm polytunnel days because the water won’t evaporate as easily from that depth. A healthy plant will need up to 12-13 litres of water per week.

Side shoots, which grow in the angle between the main stem and the leaf stem, seem to appear almost overnight and should be pinched out as soon as possible.  

Even though we’re pretty vigilant on these things (some would say obsessive), we invariably find a side shoot that’s managed to evade our clutches and has grown a foot or so.  

These side shoots are effectively the beginnings of a new tomato plant and therefore channel energy away from tomato production, which is exactly what you don’t want.

Letting them grow also creates a messy, dense jungle of foliage which prevents light from getting to your toms and encourages fungal disease.

Regular pinching out of side shoots means you get nice, tidy plants with plenty of room for air to circulate around them.

The Basics – Supporting Cucumbers

Greenhouse cucumbers need support in the form of canes or strings – ideally, these should be erected before planting.  Tie the plant to the cane at regular intervals as it grows up it.

You can pinch out the growing tip when it reaches the top of the support to stop it growing any taller.  OR, you can also train it so that it grows down the same support again (be careful when handling the stem – it can snap quite easily).

Unlike tomatoes, cucumbers benefit from a humid environment so spray the leaves on very hot days.

Pile compost around the base of the plants every couple of weeks – this will retain moisture.

Water generously.  

If you notice powdery mildew on leaves, (like a white mould – it also affects pumpkins,) use a milk spray – 10 parts water to one part skimmed milk.

Recipe of the Week – Early Season Veg with Fine Bulgur

This is a real mix-em gather-em of whatever trickle of new season veg you can snaffle from the veg patch, using the bulgur to bulk it out and make a meal from them.

It is delicious served with some barbecued lamb chops and tzatziki.

Use whatever fresh, new season veg you have to hand – I’ve even resorted to throwing in some very immature celery stalks with their leaves (delicious flavour) or some quick-blanched broad beans or peas.

Ingredients

  •  1 cup bulgur wheat (around 160g)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbs lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp of olive or rapeseed oil
  • 2-3 radishes, chopped
  • 1 small cucumber, sliced
  • 1 or 2 green onions or scallions, chopped
  • 1-2 celery stalks and their leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbs chopped parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbs chopped mint, chopped

Directions:

Put the bulgur wheat in a bowl with the salt and add 2 cups of boiling water.  

Allow it to stand for 10 minutes covered with a plate until the bulgur has absorbed all the water.

Strain off any excess water and leave it to cool.

In a large bowl, combine all the rest of the ingredients, add the bulgur wheat and mix it all up.  Serves 4.

Michael Kelly is an author, broadcaster and founder of GIY.

© GIY Ireland 2019 – all rights reserved.

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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