So far the 'Maghrebi' tomato plants have been doing well in both the peat-free and peat-based growbags, but neither have been completely problem-free.
This year I’m trialling the new SylvaGrow Peat-Free Planter from Melcourt, one of which I was very kindly sent for the purpose.
Last weekend I set the planter up in the allotment greenhouse, alongside a control / comparison in the form of a bog-standard growbag...
With a solid twelve hours of traditionally Mancunian rain forecast from 14:00 hrs yesterday, I thought I’d nip out in the morning and give our still-newish main greenhouse its first ever Spring Clean.
It’s a wet and messy job and, as I usually aim to get it done in February before the germinating season kicks into high gear, also a cold one. But it’s an essential job, too; a mucky greenhouse is an inefficient greenhouse, suffering from reduced rates of photosynthesis and an increased risk of pest and disease problems. Plus, greenhouse cleaning marks one of the key turning-points of the gardening year, from the tail-end of still-winter to the earliest days of pre-spring, so it’s a task I welcome, and attack with gusto.
Here’s how I go about it:
Get Kitted Up
I always wear my oldest, scruffiest, scrattiest work-gear for this job, because I know I’ll end up soaked and stinking of Jeyes Fluid before I’m done. Heavy-duty rubber gloves are a good idea too if, like mine, your hands tends to be prone to chillblains.
Pick Your Poison(s)
The aim of the greenhouse spring clean is to kill things that you don’t want hanging around with all your tender young seedlings: algae, moss, fungal spores, weed seeds, over-wintering pests. Anything that’s likely to cause a problem needs to go. But at the same time, you don’t want to unnecessarily damage nearby plants that might be coming out of winter hibernation and putting up new shoots. For that reason, I use good old Jeyes Fluid inside the greenhouse and Citrox outside.
Jeyes is a traditional cocktail of germ-zapping chemicals that will apparently get rid of everything from algae to bird-flu. It’s an evil-looking dark brown colour and it stinks, so you know it means business. You really don’t want this stuff to come into contact with your dormant dahlias or chilli seedlings though, so make sure you’ve removed everything green to a safe distance before you start spraying it around.
Citrox is an organic alternative, a “soluble formulation of bioflavonoids, derived from citrus fruits, [that] has antimicrobial activity against bacteria, fungi and viruses” (according to one study into its possible use as a mouthwash). It won’t damage any plants it comes into contact with, so it’s generally safer to use on the outside of your structure.
Pros and Cons of both: Jeyes is probably more powerful (although I haven’t seen any documentary evidence either way), and is certainly cheaper. 500ml of Citrox cost me £6.49. At the recommended 25ml per litre dilution rate, that’s ten applications (in a 2 litre pressure sprayer) at round about 65p each. Jeyes retails for around £10.92 a litre, but with a dilution rate of only 14ml per 2 litre sprayer, that’s 71 applications per tin, at around 15p each.
On the other hand, Jeyes is most definitely not compatible with organic growing principles, whereas Citrox is. And if you have a bare soil growing bed in the greenhouse, then you’ll need to change out the soil after you’ve sprayed with Jeyes, otherwise I can imagine it doing a fair bit of damage to the soil biota. Then again, Citrox might do that as well. Best best is probably to change the soil out anyhow, just to be sure.
Dilute as Instructed and Spray
I used to use a hand-trigger spray gun to apply the Jeyes fluid. That was a monumental pain in the… well, the hand mainly. This year I invested in the aforementioned 2 litre pressure sprayer (all of £3 from Wilkos) and it made the job a whole lot easier and quicker.
Start with the outside of the greenhouse. First, disconnect any water butts that are hitched up to the greenhouse guttering. A bit of Citrox in the water is no bad thing, but you don’t want to add in the dead and dying algae / moss mix that you’re about to create.
Start at the top of the roof. Spray one panel at a time and work methodically around the structure, ensuring thorough coverage. You’ll want to spray into all the gaps and joints, because that’s where the algae tends to accumulate. Don’t be shy with the spraying. Much better to give the whole structure a thorough drenching than miss a bit and let the muck get an early foothold. I used around 8l of solution on our 8’x10′ greenhouse, so that’s 400ml of the concentrate, in case you’re keeping score.
Scrub Those Nooks and Crannies
An old toothbrush (or two, or three) is your best friend for this stage of the process. They’re great for getting into the guttering and all the fiddly corners to really scrub away at any hard-to-shift gunk and gunge.
If you don’t have an old toothbrush to hand, you might get away with using the very end of a scrubbing brush, or a washing-up brush. See what you’ve got that fits.
Don’t rinse everything off just yet though. Leave the Citrox to do its work for a while.
Move Inside, Sweep the Floor
If, like me, you’ve got a concrete slab floor in your greenhouse then now is a really good time to get down on our hands and knees with a hand-brush and sweep up as much of the loose soil and bits of dead plant matter as you can. Your flooring may vary, of course.
What you don’t want to do is leave all that the crud lying around and assume it’ll just wash away later. That just leads to blocked drainage channels, or a puddle of Jeyes-flavoured mud splashing around when you’re trying to get everything rinsed off later on.
Spray, Spray and Spray Again
This is where the pressure sprayer comes in handy again. With a manual spray gun, you have to be quite close to the glass to ensure the solution makes contact. That means you get spray in your face, your hair, your lungs, and the stuff will drip all down your arm when you’re doing the inside roof panels, too. Far better to pump up the pressure, hit the trigger and spray from a safer distance.
If you’re using Jeyes rather than Citrox, make sure you open the doors as wide as they’ll go, and if you have manual ventilation, peg the vents open as well, once you’ve sprayed them. Trust me, you’ll need all the fresh air you can get.
Again, get the old toothbrush out and scrub away at any awkward bits that you can reach. Don’t forget to run it along the underside of any support struts as well, to dislodge the over-wintering slugs.
A tea / coffee / hot beverage of choice break is mandatory at this point. You’ll need one by now (if only to wash away the taste of Jeyes) and it’s worth leaving the Jeyes / Citrox to do its thing for a while anyhow.
(Personally, I recommend a round or two of toast and jam as well. But you might be on a diet or something. Entirely up to you.)
You should start on the inside this time (for reasons that will become apparent). This year I invested in a variable nozzle-head for the hose and again, it made a big difference. The ‘jet’ setting is almost as good as a pressure washer. Applied to the narrow gaps where the vertical panes meet the eaves in particular, it’s great for blasting out any lurking mats of algae that you can’t quite reach with your trusty toothbrush.
Admittedly it’s not the most environmentally responsible use of fresh tap-water, but if you have a full water-butt that you can attach the hose to, you might be able get enough water pressure to do the job with rain-water instead.
It’s worth noting: if you’re hosing down flooring flags as well, do those first, otherwise you’ll just splash a load of muck up onto the lower panels that you’ve just hosed down.
When you move to the outside you’ll find that a lot of the gunk you blasted from the joints has been splattered out through the gaps in the structure, which is why you don’t do the outside first. And of course, you could just leave the outside to nature if you have a lot of rain forecast. But then again, getting that pressure jet into the bits you couldn’t quite reach before is a great way to ensure the job is done properly.
Don’t Forget the Staging and Shelving
We use large, plastic shelving units and metal / wooden staging in our greenhouse and that all needs a good cleaning as well. Spray, scrub, rinse as required.
And You’re Done!
That’s it. Job finished. You’ll need to wait a while before piling everything back into your greenhouse, to make sure the Jeyes fumes have dissipated (if applicable) and to give the inside a chance to drip-dry. Overnight, with the doors open, should do the trick.
Get your work gear into the washing machine, get yourself under a hot shower and then get a warming bowl of soup inside you and you can deservedly pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on a messy job well done. Your plants will thank you, too.
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The developing theme for this week seems to be “emergence”. On a personal level, I’ve emerged from my Deep Dark Revision Cave, sitting four RHS Level 2 exam papers yeesterday, and am once again able to focus on things that don’t necessarily have a Latin binomial or a key role within a cohesive garden design scheme. For the time being, anyhow.
Meanwhile, on the growing front, the first seedlings of 2017 have emerged in the Vitopod propagator. First germination is always a lovely moment, one I look forward to immensely every year.
Here are the first few chillis to emerge:
They were all sown on January 20th. Note the ones that have germinated are all seeds sown in the middle part of the small trays. I’m assuming they’ve benefited from a lower rate of moisture loss and a higher constant temperature due to the volume of compost surrounding them.
These specks of green are Goji Berry seedlings. I’ve sown far more than we’re likely to need for our own purposes so with any luck we’ll have spare plantlets to share around later in the season. They were sown on Jan 31st and emerged yesterday, so that means they germinated in just seven days.
I’m going to leave the seed trays in the Vitopod for the time being, although I’m conscious that the humidity in there is probably too high to do so for too much longer, as it could result in poor growth and maybe even damping off disease. Once the majority of the seedlings have emerged I’ll transfer them to cooler, un-heated (therefore room temperature) trays with lids and let them grow on in peace until they’re robust enough to be pricked out into a more nutrient-rich compost.
How are your seedlings coming along? Let me know in the comments, and please feel free to post links to your own blog as well.
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It’s still very early in the sowing and growing season, of course, but there are one or two crops that can benefit from starting off in January. The hotter members of the Capsicum family – chilli peppers – are one example, and so, as I did last year I’ve sown four varieties and tucked them away in our Vitopod heated propagator to (hopefully) germinate.
This year’s sown varieties are:
- Capsicum annuum ‘Cayenne’ (‘Hot Portugal’?) – Once again, the bog-standard magazine freebie with supermarket-style red fruits. 5,000 – 30,000 Scoville.
- Capsicum baccatum ‘Aji Limon’ – A bush variety with bright yellow fruits that’s apparently good for hanging baskets. 40,000 – 60,000 Scoville.
- Capsicum annuum ‘Prairie Fire’ – A bush variety that did well for us last year. It’s a prolific cropper and looks very attractive when it’s in full fruit. c. 70,000 Scoville.
- Capsicum annuum ‘Padron’ – The classic tapas pepper, known for its mildness when young and green, apart from the odd one or two that develop their heat sooner than the rest. 500 – 2,500 Scoville.
I only want to grow one or two plants of each variety, so sowing six of each ought to include plenty of redundancy, but of course you can never guarantee germination rates. And I’m planning to keep a closer eye on the pepper production line this year. Last year the seedlings got a little leggy and some of them weren’t strong enough to grow on into strong plants, so I aim to move each variety into an unheated but covered propagation unit as soon as the seedlings show. Hopefully that will help them grow a little more sturdily. (And if all else fails, I’ll send away for some interesting plug plants later in the year.)
If you’re interested in the full sowing method I used, details can be found in last year’s chilli sowing post. I used the same method this year, albeit without the vermiculite top layer.
(By the by, do please excuse the recent lack of new content; a situation that may continue for the next fortnight or so. I’m sitting my second set of RHS Level 2 exams two weeks today and I’m deep in my revision cave, so not much else is going on. I’ll be back in full swing just as soon as I’ve recovered the brain power to devote to anything other than memorising Latin binomials…)
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Well, the closing date was September 30th, and I took a photo of my best effort on that day:
As you can see, it barely reached 32cm or so. Compared to some of the tromboncino pics that have been posted on Facebook this year, it’s a tiddler. This was already my backup fruit, promoted to front-runner after the early competition candidate went down with a dose of soft-rot, but it clearly wasn’t up to the job.
I think the cold summer checked its growth; as you can see it’s already matured into something approaching a butternut squash colour, so must have finished growing a while back. Perhaps I should have kept the plant in the greenhouse instead of sitting it outside? Frankly though, there just wasn’t room for it. Or maybe I over-fed it? Or under-fed it? It didn’t really develop the super-long neck that usually characterises the tromboncino fruit, bulking up around the middle instead, so maybe there was a touch too much K in the plant food I gave it.
Ah well, it looks like there are a couple of meals’ worth of good eating to be enjoyed there. It certainly won’t go to waste.
I won’t be growing tromboncino for the Sutton’s Cup if they hold it again next year though. When I think of all the fruitlets I picked off so this one could get all the plant’s energy… a shocking waste of food, that was. Not really my style of growing at all.
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Well, the chillis that I sowed back in January and have been nurturing in the greenhouse have been steadily growing away; setting flower, fruiting and now ripening up nicely. Here they are the other day:
I’m quite pleased with the size of the plants and the number of fruits, considering that it’s my first year giving chillis a serious go, and that I didn’t get round to putting any of them in the chilligrow planter than I bought specially for the purpose. Next year, definitely (I have plans for reorganising the greenhouse along more sensible lines…)
Most of the fruits that have ripened so far are the standard ‘cayenne’ variety, probably the one you see in most supermarkets. They’ve either been shared around (it’s a minor irony that I love growing chilli plants for some reason, but I’m not all that keen on cooking with them, as I tend to prefer spice to heat) or have been set aside for a batch of chilli jam. There are a few small fruits on one of the habanero / scotch bonnet plants that have ripened to bright red already. I might sneak those into the chilli jam as well, just to give it a bit of a kick.
Here are a couple of close-ups on the more interesting varieties – ‘pot black’ and ‘prairie fire’ that haven’t quite ripened yet:
I’m hoping the burst of warm weather we’re having this week will help them along towards ripening at long last.
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Well, that’s nature for you. Just as you think you’re developing a potential Sutton’s Cup prize-winning specimen, you take your eye off it for a minute and along comes a cold snap, or a dry spell, or something else entirely (maybe not quite enough food at quite the right time?) and this sort of thing happens:
Yep, that’s a gonner and no mistake. Not even enough left on it to salvage something worth eating.
Luckily, I have a spare:
Any dreams I might be harbouring of #SuttonsCup glory are all resting on tromboncini #2 now. No pressure…
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Our 8’x10′ greenhouse has been a hive of activity – seed sowing, pricking out, potting up, potting on – since early March. But as most of the plants have now been moved outside to their longer-term homes, things are a bit more sedate now, with a few of the more tender and/or heat-loving plants settling in to some serious growing.
Here’s a whole shelf-full of chilli plants, happily doing their thing:
The taller plants are all ‘Cayenne’ – the standard red chilli sold in most supermarkets – and they’re all producing fruits quite happily. The smaller plants in front of those and on the lower shelf are an assortment of ‘pot black’, ‘prairie fire’ and ‘habanero / Scotch bonnet’ (t.b.c.). They’re healthy and have all flowered, but have been slower to produce fruit, I suspect because they’re hotter varieties and therefore need more sustained heat that we’ve had of late? A more seasoned chilli grower than me might be able confirm that one.
Sneaking in from the left of the pic, you might spot the flowers of Fuchsia ‘berry’ – a variety from Thompson & Morgan that’s meant to produce large, edible, tasty fruits.
The flowers are certainly large and impressive enough:
We’ve also managed to grow a decent basil plant or two, which is a first for us:
The green at the top and the red at the bottom have been grown from seed. The ‘bush’ basil in the middle is one we bought from a nursery the other week (I might take a few cuttings and see if I can multiply it along.)
It turns out that we’re growing indoor beans this year as well. Not deliberately – I started off a few climbing French bean ‘Purple Queen’ and instead of climbing they ended up draping themselves down the staging. It seems to be working for them though: there are flowers and even a couple of proto-beans:
Yeah, I think they can be left to do their thing.
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Reqular readers with a long memory may recall that this year I’m attempting to grow a tromboncino squash or two with a view to entering the inaugural Suttons Cup competition. Just a bit of fun, like, and as it turns out, a rather useful comparative growing experiment as well.
There are two plants on the go, both grown from plugs sent by Suttons. One I’m growing at home, in a compost-filled air-pot container, which I’m feeding on a regular basis with a high Potassium solution. The other is planted in open ground down on Plot #59. Here’s how they were both doing recently:
A week or so ago, I took a couple of pics:
And then just yesterday, I snapped another:
Definitely a little longer and with more girth. Coming along nicely.
Tromboncino @Plot #59
Alas, I can’t say the same for the tromboncino that I planted in the ground down at the allotment:
Although the plant is in good soil and was given a compost boost when it went in, the weather has been poor – wind, rain, repeat – and the foliage has clearly suffered. Perhaps if conditions improve it might turn a corner, but so far, not so good…
Looks like all my hopes will be resting on the home-grown fruit(s). Judging by some of the pics posted to the Suttons Cup Facebook page mine are a little way behind at the moment. But the final judging date is September 30th, so it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Again though, just a bit of fun, I’m not taking this at all seriously. (No, Sir. Not at all.)