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The fascination of gardening. Constant learning curves.

Tomatoes in the greenhouse last summer

Tomatoes in the greenhouse last summer

For the second time this year my tomato seedlings in the greenhouse and Solar tunnel have been hit by sharp frosts. I thought the first fifty had succumbed to damping off. This happened last year when I watered them with rain water from the butts. These had had the same treatment. Since then I’ve discovered that this is a bad idea as they can easily keel over with the nasties lurking in a butt. Tomato, pepper and cucumber seedlings are very delicate for the first few weeks after germination – they need tap water or filtered water from a butt if there’s all there is to hand.

Luckily, I had lots of seed that I’d saved last autumn. So about 10 days ago sowed more. Last night there clearly was a frost in the garden, despite the frost free weather forecast for our area.

As when I went down I found the seedlings, as transparent as the legs of the spiders that live on our kitchen, were lying lifeless in their pots. It was my fault. I knew that delicate seedlings should be covered on frosty nights. They looked so strong that I doubted the wisdom.

Now, finally, I’ve learnt my lesson. Tomato, cucumber and pepper seedlings just  have to be covered at night in a greenhouse or tunnel until all the possibility of frosts are over.

The one variety of tomato that I’m desperate to grow this year is Sioux. Overall winner of the Gardening Which? blind taste tests. This, unlike the organic veg versus non organic test, was quite a big operation. Involving over a thousand blind tasters.

Sioux originates from America. This heirloom variety was bred in 1944 and is a prolific early tomato suited to extremes of temperature when mature. That was the gut wrenching gasp this morning – the last eight seedlings had flopped. But I exorcised this disappointment with a happy hour on the Plants of Distinction website justifying the postage cost of the Sioux seeds. Celtuce here we come! Celtuce? Apparently it tastes like peas and be eaten raw or cooked.

I’m still kicking myself over the wasted seedlings. Possibly 80 kilos of tomatoes down the pan, if all had gone well.

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  1. louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife

    I’ve had some tomato seedling issues this year too – lots of damping off problems, caused by, I’m guessing, my bad management of the propagator. A constant learning curve as you say.

    I’ve only got about 8 viable plants at the moment but sowed some more seeds yesterday – I guess that is one advantage of starting early: plenty of time to try again before it’s too late in the year.

  2. I’ve never heard of Sioux before, I guess I go for the common varieties a bit too often… such as moneymaker.

    It’s a pity about the tomato plants, they are quite frost tender. I guess you could try a heat mat if the fleece doesn’t keep them warm enough.

  3. Anthony

    I started my tomatoes and peppers in february and am now potting them on, I have many different varities, sorry to hear about the seedling dying, good thing it is still early!! I also saved some seeds but lost them! Going to do it again this year though!I bought some celtuce seeds as well it looks really strange!

  4. Okay, that’s two of you that used the word ‘butts’. What is that?

    In the US, ‘butts’ refers to the stubby end of cigarettes, or in less polite circles, collective derrieres.

    So you can understand my confusion.

  5. Magic Cochin

    I’m with Paula – I haven’t started my tomatoes or peppers yet. I’ve found that the weeks of trying to get them to grow in poor light and cold nights don’t pay off and the later started plants catch them up and are far sturdier. If I have too many plants too early I run out of greenhouse space… but the again you have that solar-tunnel…


  6. I started tomato seeds off in the kitchen yesterday – so it will be at least a week or two before they go out to the greenhouse. I look at the BBC weather forecast for the next 24 hours, and find it pretty accurate, but I’m going to have fleece at the ready, just in case. I water from the butts, but the water is off the greenhouse roof, so fairly clean, but I think at the end of this year we’ll empty them and give them a good scrub out. I have read that putting some lumps of charcoal at the bottom of the butts helps to keep the water fresh.

  7. Such a shame Fiona but at least there still is time for new plantings – just very frustrating I know.

  8. Or you could do what I did last year and mollycoddle six tomato plants for a full six months before they even started bearing, which I think was ridiculous. Plants started in mid-February didn’t start bearing ripe fruit until August.

    Like you said, it’s a learning curve. I haven’t started this year’s tomatoes, although I’m thinking I probably ought to hop to it pretty soon…

  9. We have had some really serious frosts this past week or so: down to -5/-4 on several nights this week.Yesterday it was almost-4 again and judging from the clarity of the sky tonight it will be below freezing again.Haven’t started moving plants about outside or doing tender seedlings- just too cold for them, the soil is still way too icy.Every morning the hellebores start the day lying down flat on the ground,frozen stiff.Might do some seeds on the window sill, but at night it is very cold there too!

  10. How disappointing, I’m so sorry. I think that sharp frost followed by early morning sun is the most hazardous thing for seedlings. I’ve had runner beans scorched by frost in the greenhouse in late April that way.

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