IT’S BEEN A relatively quiet week in the veg patch, but I feel like I’m poised in a sort of phoney-war gap in the middle of some monumental projects. Getting the 80-odd tomato plants in to the ground in the big tunnel a few weeks back was a huge job that I am glad to have behind us.
This week I had to do the first batch of side-shooting (see below) on them, but that’s light enough work, even with that number of plants. I had some worries about the continued cold nights in the tunnel and they did seem to be shivering somewhat, but with the improved weather in the last week they’ve really taken off.
Last week I also got the climbing beans out of module trays and in to the ground in the big tunnel. They are also doing well but there’s some slug damage at the end of the row, which I am hoping won’t become a bigger problem.
Slug patrols with a torch after dark have resumed, as have my attempts to lure them into beer traps. This week I planted out two courgette plants (one yellow, one green variety) from the potting shed in to the ground beside the tomato plants.
The rest of my plants will go out in to the soil outside, but not quite yet. The polytunnel ones will hopefully give a slightly earlier crop.
In the potting shed, the hare-brained project of 100 squash/pumpkin plants is lurking ominously. Sowing the seeds in module trays was the easy part – but they will have to be planted up in to pots next and that’s going to be quite the job (never mind how much space they will take up and the amounts of compost required – yikes).
Ironically this was supposed to be Mrs Kelly’s project but having dreamt up the idea as a way to (a) use up a rough piece of land in the field beside the tunnel and (b) maybe pay for next year’s holiday by selling a couple of hundred squashes – she subsequently took off for a girl’s weekend leaving me and kids to get the ground ready. That’s some swizz.
Anyway, I suspect they will have to be potted up in the next week or so, so she won’t get off too lightly.
Salad leaves and herbs
This year the small tunnel is being dedicated to salad leaves and herbs only – and it’s absolutely flying. I have grand crops of coriander, parsley, spinach (perpetual and annual), chard, baby kales, lettuce and oriental green mixes already.
Unusually for me, I am following my own advice of sowing the lettuce and oriental leaves little and often – a couple of rows every couple of weeks – and it really pays off in terms of having a good supply of nice, small leaves at hand. Having always sown oriental greens in module trays for later planting, I have to concede that sowing them direct as per Richard’s advice is much, much better. Just don’t tell him.
The key I think is fertilising the soil at sowing time with a handful of poultry manure pellets and dried seaweed per square yard. The seaweed, it seems, has the advantage of turning the slugs off.
The Basics – Side Shooting Tomatoes
As tomato plants grow, “side shoots” appear at a 45° angle between the main vertical stem and the horizontal leaf bearing branches. Left unchecked these will grow in to mini tomato plants and they suck the energy from the plant (energy which it needs to produce all that lovely fruit).
These side shoots therefore need to be nipped out with your fingers. If you do so, the plant will produce more fruit.
You need to check your tomato plants once a fortnight or so and nip out any shoots that have appeared. If one gets away on you un-noticed and is very large, remove it carefully with a secateurs – it will tear the plant if you try to nip it out. It’s amazing how tidy a tomato plant looks if its sideshoots have been nipped out, and conversely how unruly it will look if they are not.
Incidentally, these side-shoots can be planted in to a pot and will become a brand new tomato plant – thrifty or what? A neat trick is to pot up a side-shoot late in the season (August or September) and keep it indoors over the winter. In the spring of next year, it will burst in to life, and produce tomatoes far earlier than your other plants.
Recipe of the Week – Beetroot Falafel
Our Head Chef JB’s recipe for beetroot falafels are a favourite at GROW HQ and really simple to put together (which can’t often be said for some beetroot ‘burger’ recipes).
Dry-frying the spices is the key to the amazing flavour. We use a gluten free flour to make them, well, gluten free – and since they don’t use any egg or cheese to bind, they are also vegan. You could also bake them if you don’t like the idea of frying. Serve with a yoghurt dip. Serves 4-6.
- 400g finely grated beetroot
- 100g organic, gluten free flour and a little more for coating the falafels
- Sea salt
- 80 ml rapeseed oil
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds
- Chopped fennel leaves
Toast the sesame and cumin seeds in a small dry frying pan on a medium heat for 2 minutes, add the oil and let cool. Massage the grated beetroot with the salt for 2 minutes until you feel the beetroot soften under your fingers.
Incorporate the spiced oil, then the flour and the chopped fennel leaves. Shape the falafel, roll them in the remaining gluten free flour and deep fry in hot oil at 150 degrees C for a few minutes until crispy. To make the yoghurt dip, peel a clove of garlic and chop a small bunch of fresh parsley – add to 100g of full fat natural yoghurt.
Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ.
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