My Food Odyssey

Growing Veg 2017/#2 – A Slow Start

Dear Weather,

What the hell is going on? Seriously – have you lost your mind? Snow in May? Frost in June? Monsoon rains in Lithuania?

You are playing HAVOC with my vegetable growing endeavours and I am not pleased.

Allow me to explain …

Things started off well. I planted my pepper seeds earlier and my cucumber seeds later to correct for mistakes made last year. (Last year my peppers were not big enough and my cucumbers were too big when it came time to plant them out in the polytunnel.) I spent quite a bit of time selecting tomato seeds and ordered some heirloom varieties online.

Most of my seeds germinated and the seedlings grew well, although for some reason both the cucumbers and peppers grew much slower than last year, so that when it came time to plant them out they were still tiny. I ended up buying pepper plants (both sweet and chilli) in the market and throwing all of mine in the compost heap.

I held some small hope for my cucumbers, but rather than take a gamble I bought a few plants and planted them alongside my own. It is only in the last week that my own plants have started to show any reasonable progress, whereas the bought plants have been fruiting for several weeks. I am interested to see if my own plants will continue to fruit after the bought ones have finished.

The tall plant at the back (with the cucumbers!) is from the market. The smaller ones at the front are mine.

You take potluck when you buy plants from the market. These odd chillies appear to grow upwards rather than downwards!

My tomato seedlings all did great and were in super condition when it came time to plant them out. I checked the weather forecast for the last frost date and hardened off the plants gradually over about two weeks. When I was getting ready to plant a neighbour advised that a cold spell was coming. I checked the weather forecast again and it predicted lows of about 1 degree (34 F). I reckoned that inside the tunnel would be a degree or two warmer, and having hardened off my tomatoes well I decided they would be strong enough to survive, so I went ahead and planted them out.

Then it snowed. SNOWED. In May. I’m sorry, but WHAT?

My poor tomatoes took a hammering. The leaves all went brown and wilted, but I could see that the stems were still strong. A few people that looked at them all said them would recover. And slowly they have recovered. But the episode has put me way behind schedule. I actually took a photo of my first tomato flower on May 22nd. Those flowers promptly died and only in the last few days have new flowers started to appear. Last year I was eating tomatoes before the end of June. I will not be doing that this year. I reckon I have at least a month to go before I have ripe tomatoes.

My tall and now healthy-looking tomato plants. Note the lack of leaves on the lower stems, where I removed those that had blackened and died.

Out in the garden, things are not much better. Again, I got off to a flying start. I was excited when my courgettes (zucchini) sprouted in just 5 days. They were growing beautifully when, in early June, we were hit by frost. FROST. In June. Are you kidding me? I went out to find my seedlings all shrivelled and black. I didn’t hold much chance of them recovering but I am both an optimist and a pragmatist. Instead of yanking them up and starting over, I planted new seeds alongside the old plants. To my surprise some of the shrivelled plants do seem to be recovering, but it remains to be seen whether or not the new plants will grow faster. I will wait another few weeks before deciding which to keep. But again, I am behind schedule. I had plenty of courgettes by the end of June last year. As with the tomatoes, I reckon it will be at least another month before I have any this year.

Left: seedling on June 3rd, the night after an unexpected frost. Right: the original seedling (on the right) plus a new seedling planted on June 4th.

Things that seem to be growing fine are my green beans and pumpkins. I also seem to have a good showing of broccoli and cauliflower, although it’s a bit early to tell exactly what proportion germinated. My corn germinated well and most plants are growing strongly, although a small number appear to have wilted. Perhaps, if we get a bit of sunshine, they might recover.

Most of my melons have not germinated. My bulb fennel, which I started indoors before transplanting, does not appear to have progressed at all since being planted out. The fennel seeds that I planted directly outside have not yet appeared, nor have my beetroot or carrots. Hopefully they just need a bit of sun, which is in short supply at the moment.

I actually like a bit of rain in summer. It saves me having to water my plants and encourages the mushrooms in the forests to grow. At the moment, however, we appear to be experiencing tropical monsoons. The earth is so sodden I can’t even pull weeds.

So all in all, a poor start to the veg growing season. I remain optimistic – for now.

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This plant looks promising – lots of fruit on this one already.