Welcome to my blog

I was born in Guernsey (but now live in Brittany) and our main industry was growing tomatoes although that industry has now virtually disappeared. Growing tomatoes to a Guernseyman is like wine to a Frenchman, it's in our blood! I do not profess to be an expert, but I have picked up a few tips and techniques which work for me.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Still Picking Tomatoes in January

It is the 10th January 2019 and we have had a bit of frost, although it does not get too cold here in central Brittany it is enough to damage or kill some crops in the polytunnel.

This winter, as I was over wintering a few outdoor plants in pots  I decided to line the lower part of the polytunnel to hopefully protect them from frost. I am sure most of them will survive but my indoor crops of tomatoes, peppers and chillies are a lot more sensative, so the early frost did get them and I have been meaning to go in and clear the dead plants out.

Well to my surprise, I had a final small harvest of  tomatoes and chillies. The plants are dead, but the fruit was clinging on. Some had dropped off and rotted, but amazingly some had survived the frost.

Lining the walls with bubble wrap just might help keep off a bit of frost when over wintering plants in the polytunnel.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

First you need a greenhouse

Here is a Video post to give you an idea to build your own

Or if you just fancy ordering one in the UK First Tunnels have a great range.

There are hundreds of different garden greenhouses and polytunnels on the market, and which ever one you choose it will never be big enough, so make sure you build or buy the biggest one that you can afford, in the space available from the start. 
Mine is roughly 5m x 5m.  2.3m high in the middle, and 1.7m high on the sides. These dimensions were slightly governed by the wood that I could purchase from a large DIY store.The wood that the roof sits on were poles puchased cut in half, so there are no sharp edges.I secured the roof support poles to the centre uprights with noggins, so there again would be a smooth run over the ridge for the plastic. For the sides you can use 50 x 50cm treated wooden lengths.

The reason I chose to build my own was that it is far stronger than most polytunnels, and to have one the same size would have cost nearly double. Mine cost me approximatly £500 in total.
The other reason to have a wooden greenhouse, is that it is far eaiser to run wires down it for crop supports.  

The special plastic I used should last three to five years and is availible on line, just make sure you order enough to cover the whole structure side to side in one length. The ends you can fill in after.

As you can see the structure is fairly stong. I added so extra support trusses inside, to the roofing struts. I will have to change the plastic in a few years, so there should be no problem getting on the roof to do this.

It has now been up for 7 years, and we have had a bad winter with three lots of heavy snow, and very strong winds, so I feel it is a pretty strong structure.

Keeping frost off seedlings

Well, I cannot take credit for this idea, that goes to Bilbowaggins on her 'View Fom Bag End' blog. 

Her propagator is situated inside a mini greenhouse, within her own large greenhouse. On the coldest of nights she lights night lights to keep the frost at bay. What a brilliant idea for those of us with no room to keep all our seedling and young plants on a warm window cill. The plants are also getting plenty of light, so should not get so leggy.
It is also more convenient to open up the mini greenhouse for air circulation and extra light during the day.

Thanks again to Bilbo for letting me share this great idea. Which I am sure quite a few other people probably do. However, seeing most of my growing experience has come via commercial systems, where we always had the equipment to raise plants in near perfect conditions, I am constantly learning ideas that everyday growers have adapted to suit their own pocket and conditions.
The wonderful thing about growing, is that daily you tend to learn something new.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Fantastic French website - Tomates De France

I have come across a fantastic very informative website called Tomates de France  for the producers of tomato's, cucumbers and other salad crops covering the whole of France.

The website has many videos showing very modern growing techniques in vast acres of greenhouses. There is also a section on the types of tomatoes they grow, recipes and modern pest control using insects. There is also a comprehensive list of growers and they have open days in May each year.

Acres of greenhouses are used in the production of tomatoes an cucumbers in France, using high wire techniques

Although high wire growing is a modern system of growing in greenhouses, here is a photo of me trialing the system in the 1970's in Guernsey. The trolley had a car starter motor and battery to move it along the rails. Things have not changed that much, apart from the flares! 

Friday, 29 June 2018

2018 season

                                    2018 season under way so here are  a few photos.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Creating a cheap raised bed in the Poly-Tunnel

A few weeks ago I decided to create a cheap raised bed in the poly-tunnel, the benefits being that you need to water less often than for peat bags or pots, ideal if you are going away for a few days in the middle of summer. The other benefit is that you can give the growing medium new life every year with new compost, which you can not do so easily in the soil, plus you can totally change it every 3 or 4 years if it get infected with with diseases, or to totally regenerate the growing medium.

I used the same breathable membrane as for lining the floor. Then knocked in wooden posts on either side for support. I ran a wire across the top of the post to lay the membrane over, having it wide enough to fold over and lay on the base.

 I then secured the membrane to the wire using a staple  gun and bits of thin plastic folder over, I did this before filling the beds. So the water would not drain fully or to quickly I added a plastic strip down the bed, making sure it went a few inches up the sides, but added some small slits for drainage. 
A base of small stones were added, then some well rotted compost and leaf compost and horse manure, as we have lots!. I then added cheap bag fulls of supermarket compost, but to this mixed in some slow release fertiliser. The total cost was about 20€ max.


I planted a few chili plants to start with, which are doing very well. I will feed once a week at least with a high nitrogen fertiliser, as this washes out of the soil easier than other chemicals. Later I will use a standard  tomato feed. I have used growing bags for the rest of the poly-tunnel, but will eventually have raised beds for all my plants.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

First feed for tomatoes

Just re-posting this as a reminder.

I had planted my first tomatoes in the greenhouse a few weeks ago and noticed  that the lower leaves were going off colour, so a few days ago I gave them their first feed and already I have seen a difference.

You can see the yellowing of the lower leaf and the patching on the other leaves on the first picture. The second picture shows a far healthier plant under a week later, far bushier and greener. Obviously, the plant did need time to settle in after being planted, but the feed did make a difference as well.
It has been very warm during the past week in the greenhouse, so I lightly spray the toms with water a few times a day to keep them cooler while they are making a better root system. As you can see there is no sign of scorch, which a lot of people worry about. However, I would rather risk a little scorch to keep my plants under less strain.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

September 2016

We have had a fantastic hot weather spell here in Brittany, but it got to 40 degrees and over in the polytunnel on many an afternoon. My plants have suffered a little but are still cropping well and no sign of blight or other pest and diseases. it just goes to show how much heat tomato plants can take.

I have had a good de-leafing session today as the weather is changing, so I want to give my plants as much air circulation as posible to help prevent blight.  It is very important to keep your polytunnel well ventilated at this time of the year with early morning dew about.

My irrigation system has been great, I just put the watering on a time-clock a few times a day and only water with a can when I am feeding the plants.  

If the weather cools down and I keep feeding my plants I can keep training them over the wires for another month, then I will nip out the heads of the plants to encourage the last fruits to swell and ripen. 

The peppers and chilies are loving the heat and have been cropping amazingly

Mrs Tomato King will be very busy making her fantastic sweet Chili sauce

It has also been a great year for melons, they really like the heat

Holly had to get in on the act of course and help harvest the peppers!


Saturday, 27 August 2016

2016 Growing Season

After a 12 months break from the polytunnel I feel well enough to rejuvenate it. I  have decided to make it a little easier to manage, so. I have laid a membrane on the floor, to surpress weeds and added a trickle irrigation system, which cost me just 10€ in a shop clearance sale.
This takes me back to my commercial days in the tomato growing industy when we changed from growing in the soil to peat bags and covered the soil with white plastic.. I am growing most of my plants still in the soil, as it has rested a year and I have dug in plenty of compost. I could not find growbags for sale in France, so as the large bags of comost were just over 2€ I am trying some cucmbers in the uptured compost bags.

Here are a few photos, taken recently of my crop.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Mr Tomato King has been featured in the Top 40 Edible Gardening Blogs,

I had an email today telling me that  Mr Tomato King has been featured in the Top 40 Edible Gardening Blogs, 

This is a list of blogs which could well be of interest to many of you, but God only knows how they found Mr Tomato King, you will find me on page two of the blog lists. .