January 18, 2012

Tomato emptiness

If you choose to grow tomatoes in Wellington, with our chilly spring, our gale force winds and our clay soil, you are in for a hard, heart breaking road. This is the third year I've tried to grow tomatoes, the other two times have been utter failure.

This year, armed with a great deal more gardening knowledge, I have managed to coddle a few plants that I've raised from seed. I started with 14 plants - 7 cherry toms and 7 grosse lisse, back in August. I kept them inside and loving watered them, then transplanted them into larger pots and fed them with homemade liquid seaweed.

Over two weeks I hardened them off; taking them out onto the patio before work so they could adjust to the outside world, and tucking them in the house at night when I got home. My dedication was amazing, if I do say so myself.

A week after Labour Weekend I planted them out in a plot we cleared in the flower garden, a nice sheltered spot with all day sun at the front of the house. The plot had been nurtured with seaweed and compost. I ground up pumice to aid soil drainage. I sowed calendula, borage and phacelia around to attract bees. So far, so good. So good I gave away five sturdy young plants.

Harper helps plant out the tomatoes amongst the lavender in our flower garden

On planting out day, I lost one when it fell off the back of the car where they had been sunbathing. I was down to eight plants. I staked those tomatoes from the get-go, so that any pesky northerlies in November wouldn't snap them. Not long after planting out, they began to turn purple. I learned, from scouring the internet, that they weren't able to draw phosphorus from the soil because it was too chilly for them. I lost two plants completely, the others I coddled and nursed and talked to and fed with blood and bone, comfrey tea and more homemade liquid seaweed. They survived the cold spring. And guerilla attacks by the chooks who loved to scratch around in the soil near them.
Before going on holiday at Christmas, I mulched the plants, I crushed up egg shells and sprinkled them round the roots, and fed with seaweed. The plants looked lush and strong and were fruiting.
First fruit, just before Christmas

Pre-holiday tomato patch, with basil, phacelia, borage and calendula

By the time we got back from holiday in early January fat fruit were forming, the phacelia was getting so big I had to pull it out, but then I discovered black sections on the tomato stems, brown splotches on the leaves and some of the fruit on the one grosse lisse I had left was brown and ugly. Turns out it has early blight. I lost one more plant before I even identified what the problem was.

Early blight - dark stems, brown patches on leaves, dark smudges on fruit

Today, I resorted to spraying with copper oxychloride, but I think it's pretty dire. I'm tempted to pull the whole lot out and admit defeat. And maybe if I hadn't been so optimistic about how I cheated the weather and guerilla chooks, then this wouldn't feel so bad.
Please ripen before the blight gets you!

Perhaps I'm just not destined to grow tomatoes.


styler said...

in my limited tomato growing career, i got to the fruit stage to have birds eat them, so the following year i picked them early and ripened them on the windowsill, which is d=so extremely unsatisfying that i gave up. My heart and hopes are with you. If anyone can bring those home it's you

helen said...

I feel your pain, Kimberley! I enjoyed how honest this post is.