Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Colour of Passion

Phil and I have been away from the flat for a few days, and so the thought of tomatoes burning dry in the hot Hamburg sun has been preying on my thoughts.

But, the weather gods were kind over the weekend providing enough rain to cover the 4 days of non watering, and evidently enough sun to produce a surprise when I returned home this evening.

As you can see in the photo quite a few hit ripeness at the same time, on various plants. We now have quite a few gearing up to ripen so I think the next few weeks will bring a glut. They don't seem to have minded the rain or the wind too much although I've been trimming back the browning leaves on a regular basis. I thought this was probably tomato blight but Grandpa Jock's post makes me think it might be a bit of wind burn. Anyhow, with the plants focusing on fruit at the moment I'm not concerned about cutting back excessive leaf growth.

It has been a truly satisfying experience taking these from a packet of sutton seeds in a dorset garden centre to a tomato glut in Hamburg. Happy times indeed.

I also planted a few additional lettuce seeds on Friday, and they've already sprouted so we should have some fresh lettuce to accompany our tomato glut in later August.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Grandpa Jock's Guide to Growing Tomatoes

This is a guest post from Grandpa Jock (my Grandpa) who has been growing tomatoes at Deepwell in Somerset for as long as i can remember. Happy reading! Andrew.


Before you even start to grow tomatoes, you have to understand that they need constant attention through watering, feeding and ‘pinching out’ if you want a good crop. The variety of plant you choose is dependant on how much space you have to grow them: the larger varieties need height (about 4 feet) to fully develop, though you can ‘pinch off’ the tops to restrict upward development. If you are tied to a ‘window-box’ or restricted area, bush varieties are probably best.

Starting Out

If you have the time and patience, perhaps the best way to grow toms is from seed. At least, then, you have full control over how they develop. Buying ‘starter’ plants from a garden centre or B&Q type supplier can be very ‘hit and miss’ as many of their plants have been ‘forced’ and tend to run out of growing steam very quickly. Best way is to find a trusted supplier of young plants early in the season (early to late April) and then gradually bring them on.


Toms need as much light as they can get, so try to place the plants in a position that gets the maximum amount of sunlight. It’s also important to keep them protected from the wind if you are growing them outside…. ‘windburn’ will quickly shrivel leaves and affect the health of the plant.


Tomatoes need lots of water…… typically, a good ‘soak’ every couple of days to keep the growing medium moist. You will be amazed at how quickly moisture is both taken up by the plant to grow the fruits and also lost through evaporation through the leaves. Don’t be afraid to saturate the pot….. next time you come to water, the soil will be almost dry (particularly during a hot spell).


Whilst most growing mediums provide all the essential nutrients a tomato plant needs, a helping-hand in the shape of liquid fertiliser will go a long way to ensure that you get some well-developed fruits. I’ve tried many over the years, but tend to use ‘Tomorite’ which is a concentrated liquid fertiliser which I dilute in the watering can (don’t under-dilute!!) and apply every 2 weeks or so during the growth cycle.

Pinching Out

Depending on the variety of tomato plant you are growing, some of the bigger plants such as ‘Shirley’ (shown above) need constant manicuring to ensure that the plant’s ‘growing effort’ goes into producing large and succulent fruit, and not into additional shoots. You will see from the picture that I’m ‘pinching out’ a new growth shoot which, if unchecked, would develop into a new stem, which would divert growing effort away from the rest of the plant. ‘Pinching out’ is an art in itself, and where and when to do it only comes with experience!!.


Pick fruits as they ripen…. By doing this, you ‘relieve’ the plant of having to divert moisture and growing effort to already ripened toms and allow the developing fruits to ripen. Towards the end of the season you will be left with a number of ‘green’ fruits which probably won’t ripen on the plant but may be of a reasonable size: harvest those before you consign the plant to the compost heap, as some will ripen in a drawer (with a banana for company……trust me, it works!!), or use them for cooking or making chutney (Stuart’s Green Tomato Chutney recipe available at no cost!!).


Sadly, this year hasn’t been good for tomato growing at ‘Deepwell’. Lack of constant sunlight slowed the development of the plants, and whilst we’ve still got 2 or 3 plants which will probably yield some decent fruit, we’ve had better. Good luck, and if you have any problems with your plants, let me know and I’ll do what I can to advise.

Grandpa ‘Jock’

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Full Blush of Summer

We have arrived. In the space of a few hot days flashes of red have graced our balcony. It was only one at first, just visible on Sunday. But upon checking this morning I could spy no less than three fruits ripening with at least ten more showing serious intent. With forecasts of 26 today and 28 throughout the rest of the week I think by the end of this weekend we'll have quite the crop. All of the action is happening on the cherry tomatoes, but the normal tomatoes have surprised me with their rate of progress; I expect they'll take longer to ripen, but will still be ready in the next few weeks. For seeds planted late in the year, to bear fruit in mid to late August is impressive - the effort has been worth it. From humble beginnings.

Even more exciting news is that we should soon have some guest postings on this blog from some tomato growers with a little more experience than me. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A little taste of the country life

Since I last posted the summer has arrived in its full glory and the additional rays on the balcony have spurred on all the plant life. A 60 pence packet of mixed salad leaves has germinated and exploded out of the box and the lettuce is in full flight. The tomatoes have continued to grow and we now have about 50-100 small green ones happily ripening away. While I was in France there was a minor disaster with a clothes maiden but Phil's expert surgery (with medical tape!) soon put things right. Tomatoes are hardy fellas.

It really is amazing what can be achieved with such a small space. A balcony which seemed only a minor addition to the flat during the winter months now sports a bbq, an acer, a clematis, a herb pot, 18 tomato plants, a salad box, and about 10 lettuces. Oh, and you can still sit 4 people comfortably, and 6 if needs be. City living isn't so bad.

Tonight I sat on the balcony listening to Ryan Adams, drinking red wine, eating fresh home grown salad with lashings of dressing, and savouring the local delicacies of trout pate and charcuterie. Ok, not exactly local, but sourced from our local wine shop.

Speaking of city vs country living I came across a blog recently which is the essence of country living romance. I've read through every blog post already and completely captivated by their life in Devon. http://locksparkfarm.wordpress.com/ - if you want to be carried away to a world of farming when the city is becoming oppressive take some time out to dig through their archives. The desire to start a smallholding one day is beginning to become a very real dream.

Hopefully the next time you're invited to dip into Hamburg balcony life there will be a blush of tomato red to grace the blog.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Constant Gardener

Gardening is a never ending task, even with a little balcony. But a joyous never ending task none the less.

The tomatoes have started to accelerate with the slightly warmer weather, and to protect them against the wind I've tied them to the stakes, and tied the stakes to Phil's fancy new windbreak. Every morning new shoots have grown between the main growth stems on the plants so they need to be pinched out. They also soak up quite a bit of water so need a check most mornings. Very therapeutic.

As they seemed a little lonely, even in their herd of 18(!), Phil decided to accompany them with a very friendly Acer in a lovely new pot, and also take his herbs to the next level with a decent pot and some fresh soil. Hopefully the parsley will come back to life.

When I was in the UK last weekend I did the obligatory trip to the garden centre (Geoff will understand), and was browsing through the seed packets thinking about what I could grow should I have an allotment. I came across some quick grow salad leaves, and spied that some lettuce could still be planted, and harvested in August/September. So, the seeds came back to Germany and this morning I bought some nice long pots and some more of the wonderful tomato compost they sell here. The girl in the shop spoke excellent English, even enough to explain to me that using wire to tie up my tomatoes would damage their stems. So, twine it was.

The salad and lettuce have now been planted out and have 'completed the square' giving us nice plants all the way around the balcony. I've been surprised at how much we can get on without it getting too cramped, which gives me a lot of inspiration for next year. Seed trays will abound come February, to ensure everything has a better headstart than it did this. Der Frühjahr ist sehr schön in Hamburg! Der Winter ist kalt und ein bischen mies! (German lesson on weather and the seasons today.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Flowering too early?

I wanted to put some shots online to get people's opinions on whether some of them have set flower too early? I'm a bit worried they wont grow any taller. Only the more bushy variety appearing to be doing this. I've pinched out every side shoot that's appeared so far...


The non bushy non flowering yet plant is at the top.

So what's been going on over the weekend with the little chaps? Well, we've had a lot of rain in Hamburg, which has been tough for them, and the wind has been blowing strong. But, we had some sunshine late this afternoon and early this evening, and as you can see they look very healthy in the sunshine. Let's hope that Hamburg delivers some more sun over the coming months. Thanks to the advice of a certain Mrs. Chambers we might also be planting some other 'Gemüse' of the cucumbers and peppers variety over the next few weeks. Will keep you posted.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Time to step it up a gear

So, what hasn't featured on this blogspot yet is the secret youth squad Phil and I have been holding back ready to unleash on some more pots. We now have 12, repeat 12, pots and 6 tomato plants in a grow bag. Needless to say things are getting a little out of hand... I hope everyone likes tomato soup!

Why did this happen? Well, I was loathe to throw so many good plants away, and as they'd done so well in their little greenhouse I thought they deserved a chance in life.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A wet and windy week

Well, here we are, a week further on. They've been through the mill with the potting process, have established their roots and are now starting to accelerate. I've noticed a thickening of the stems, plenty of strong leaves and I now expect them to be shooting upwards. I've noticed the odd side shoot trying to make its way between the side branches and so have pinched it out immediately.

It has been a difficult week in Hamburg for those of the tomato species. Windy and cold weather, particular felt on a balcony high above St Pauli. Tough living. But, I think with this kind of upbringing we will breed tough tomato plants which will generate succulent fruit in the sunshine of July and August.

You've so far seen 6 in pots. Tomorrow is a big day as I'm going to buy another 6 pots and plant out the remaining plants from the seedtray that been growing ever more vigorously. Photos to follow.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Some context

I thought this might be a very relevant link, as during the progress of this blog, I'm bound to have one. Everyone needs to be on board with the concept. 

Photo diagnosis

This is what they look like now...

And this is what they used to look like...

Dreaming of tomatoes

So one day I had an epiphany. This is funny because I'm always having epiphanies and they aren't the kind of things you have every day. But I have them a lot. Life is like a series of steps, and I hop from one to another with little shouts of delight. This is one of them, so I'm telling the world. Others include running, moving to Germany, and giving up drinking for 2 months. 

So, one day I thought it would be a great idea to get back into gardening. I'd grown tomatoes as a kid, I must say with great success, but I've been lacking commitment to gardening in the past few years. With a suitable balcony in Hamburg, and a few prayers to the Gods of Hamburg's rampant weather system, I thought, well, not thought, actually I had an epiphany, and so headed out to the store to buy some grow bags and a little seed tray. 

We're 6 weeks past that point, the tomatoes have hatched, errr, germinated and they have been potted on. I think about them when I first wake up, at work, every other moment of the day, and of course, in my tomato dreams. And now they're going through a difficult patch. Like a teenager they're not quite sure if they're going to put on a growth spurt or not, are in very variable moods, and generally a little sorry for themselves. My flatmate did some sterling work earlier in their life by playing them gardening question time all day. They loved this. 

Part of the reason for this blog is to share the photos with some gardening experts, and get their opinion. Please feel free to comment!

So, time to upload photos of every one so everyone can enjoy the delights of balcony life in Schanzastrasse.