It’s grey, grim and cold; our football team is in shame and the country in chaos but the world is still spinning and our vegetables are still growing. July is our busiest month but with enough dry days between the regular depressions blown in on a jet stream that should be undulating 200 miles further north, we are just about keeping up with the planting and weeding. It’s not good weather for killing weeds but the overcast dampness is ideal for a young leek, cabbage or cauliflower plant. If only I could be planted head-down next to them; it must be wonderfully quiet down there in the moist warm earth.
We picked our first tomatoes yesterday; a little late but the crop is looking great. We’ve had the usual invasion of hungry aphids who have each plugged in their proboscis in order to found a genetically identical sap-sucking dynasty. There have been years when they have reduced our plants to withered bonsai, but not anymore; Ed and our polytunnel team are right on their case, introducing parasitic wasps which oviposit (lay) an egg in each aphid to digest them from within before bursting out, alien-style, as another adult ten days later. We love them and the other predatory wasps, lacewing, ladybird and hoverfly larvae which together reliably keep our aphids at bay without pesticides.
The energy consumption of growing tomatoes under heated glass is an insane 5-10 times greater than trucking them from Spain, which is why 10 years ago we decided not to sell produce from heated glass, even if it’s local. Without heat the UK season is relatively brief; late June to October. I have never understood why but, as with strawberries, the first fruit are not the best; they will improve in flavour through to September before losing sweetness with declining light levels until we rip them out in October. There are few things more reliably disappointing than a UK hothouse tomato or strawberry in November.
The gardeners among you have suggested your favourite tomato varieties and even kindly sent in seeds in the past. Some may taste great when grown in California or Provence and we will keep experimenting but we always come back to Sakura, a large cherry tomato which does well in our summers. Just as well given the weather forecast.