Like most of us, I’m way behind my usual schedule of sowing, thanks to the terrible weather.
The cold, wet and corresponding low light levels overtook my natural desire to rush ahead with sowing.
I used to sow my cherry tomatoes in early February with a grow light but this year March 5 was the date – that extra light makes all the difference. You still have time to sow now.
People think tomatoes need heat – they do to germinate (approximately 21C) but keep them at that temperature and you’ll end up with leggy, drawn seedlings that are more likely to fall victim to damping-off disease.
Once you see them poking through, I turn down my heat mat to about 15-16C and make sure they get the best light possible.
I cover my seed trays with Perlite, which is white and every little helps in the good light stakes.
As our summers are so uncertain, I always grow tomatoes in the greenhouse and conservatory, using indeterminate or cordon varieties, which need staking and side-shooting. They don’t take up much horizonal space but do hit the ceiling!
This year’s choice is:
A dark bronze cherry producing long trusses with fruits of up to 15g each.
Sweetness/acidity balance is supposed to be good, with Sweet Aperitif as one of its parents. Good germination rate.
Santonio F1 Hybrid
An improved Santa type, glossy red cherry plum with 8g fruits. TMV and Fusarium resistant.
Acidic bite and lingering sweetness. Good germination rate. Unusual rosy flesh and skin
A favourite of mine. Dark rosy flesh and skin with a green crown, with 15g fruits.
Superb flavour – high sweetness/acid levels with smoky overtones. Good germination rate.
Another longstanding favourite. Golden skin, bite-size tomatoes with reliably sweet flavour.
Heavy cropper over a long period. Medium germination rate.
Suncherry Premium F1
Another regular. very shiny, red, sweet bite-size cherry, early ripening.
Flavour exceptional. Medium germination rate.
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JOBS FOR THE WEEKEND
Plant onions, shallots, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke tubers and asparagus crowns if the soil is workable.
Sow half-hardy summer bedding plants, such as French marigolds, in a heated propagator or under glass.
Plant first-early potatoes in sacks, as long as you can protect the haulm from frost.
Cut the spent heads off early narcissus and daffodils, but let the leaves die back naturally.
Sow wildlife-friendly flower seeds where they are to flower, such as honesty or verbena to encourage insects.
Divide hellebores and polyanthus-type Primula after flowering.
Top dress spring-flowering alpines with grit or gravel to show off the plants and to help prevent stem rots.
Improve the drainage of heavy soils by working in lots of organic matter.
Get herbaceous perennial supports in early, so that the plants grow up through them – I use sturdy twiggy branches. Adding rigid supports later looks unattractive. Crisscrossing strings from hidden or posts works well, allowing stems to grow up in the gaps between strings.
Continue to protect new growth on lilies, delphiniums and hostas, etc, from slugs and snails.
Prunus species (ornamental cherries, plums and almonds) are vulnerable to silver leaf if pruned before midsummer, and should not need routine pruning if planted with enough space for their eventual size.
Remove netting placed over the pond to protect it from leaf fall. Divide marginal and bog garden plants if overcrowded. Contain vigorous perennials by planting in aquatic plant baskets and top with a layer of gravel. Cut back old marginal vegetation.
Protect fruit blossom from frost, but make sure insects can reach the flowers or else hand pollinate them.
Switch to a summer feed for all citrus trees and increase watering.
Pollinate strawberry flowers under glass by brushing over them with your hands. Plant out cold-stored strawberry runners.