Project for 2018 – The Great Tomato Challenge

Project for 2018: The Great Tomato Challenge. Tomato, Tomatoes, Grow Your Own, edible, allotment, allotment blog, allotment life, allotments, home grown, tomato growing, grow your own veg, grow your own vegetables, GYO, harvest, Craig LeHoullier, epic tomatoes,

My hunt for some reliable outdoor tomatoes begins – The Great Tomato Challenge 2018

So why The Great Tomato Challenge? I’ve had a few goes at getting some tomatoes from the plants in my little greenhouse but they’ve been much the embarrassment. The plants seem healthy but fruit-set can be poor, the fruit takes ages to ripen and mostly they’ll succumb to either blight or rot before a harvest can be had.

I’ve decided that 2018 is the year of the tomato. Now I have an allotment, with its availability of good light levels and space, I can indulge myself. I’ve tried growing challenges before (see the disaster that was my Chilli Challenge in 2014) so expectations need to be reasonable.

The goal is to find some varieties that can perform outside in the mild climate of Devon. I’m looking for a cherry tomato, a good salad tomato, and a good tomato for sauces. I’ll be judging them based on plant vigour/health, crop weight, and flavour.

The inspiration

I’ve been listening to the Still Growing Podcast this year and Jennifer (over at 6 Foot Mama) interviewed Craig Le Houllier who has grown hundreds of tomatoes as part of his obsession with heirloom varieties.

His book gave me huge amounts of information and a wish-list that neared on three figures for a while. After my initial excitement was tempered by the reality of the space available, and the desire to grow something other than tomatoes on the allotment, I managed to be more discerning and narrow the list down. Once I found a seed supplier in the UK that stocked a large amount of the list I was sorted.

I looked at Real Seeds as usual but the varieties weren’t part of their (excellent) collection.  Plant World Seeds are based just 10 minutes away from me and listed a large number of the varieties on my list.

The Varieties

  • Brandywine Red
  • Brandywine Yellow
  • Giant Syrian
  • Mortgage Lifter
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Kellog’s Breakfast
  • Black Krim
  • Orange Banana
  • Coyote
  • Mexico Midget
  • San Marzano
  • Black Cherry

I’ll probably sow these in February to give them the longest growing season possible. I best get some pots cleaned ready for the challenge.

Gardening books for Christmas gifts 2017

allotment, amazon, andrea jones, Book, books, books for gardeners, bookshelf, bookshop, Christmas, Christmas gifts, Christmas list, Christmas presents, Cooking, Craig leHoullier, Garden Design, garden photography, gardeners, gardening, gardening books, genealogy, gift ideas, gifts for gardeners, harvest, heirloom, heritage, Jinny Blom, Nigel Slater, Produce, reading, RHS, tomato, tomato growing, tomatoes, Waterstones

Here are 5 gardening books on my Christmas List this year

I always put gardening books on my Christmas list. They’re the perfect gift for me, and for all gardeners. At this time of year, when the sun hasn’t come up when I go to work and has long since set before I leave for home, the opportunities for gardening become squeezed. With a book, you can visit other gardens, learn new techniques, and improve your own skills whilst the winter garden rests untended outside.

As the proud owner of a gardening bookshelf that dwarfs our local bookshop’s offerings, you’d think I wouldn’t have space for any more titles. You’d be wrong. We’re building a new bookcase next year and there are so many books I’ve come across this year that I’ve made a gardening books Christmas List.

Previous Christmas gardening books wishlists

Gardening books for Christmas gifts 2016

8 Books for my gardening bookshelf Christmas 2015

Epic Tomatoes

by Craig LeHoullier

allotment, amazon, andrea jones, Book, books, books for gardeners, bookshelf, bookshop, Christmas, Christmas gifts, Christmas list, Christmas presents, Cooking, Craig leHoullier, Garden Design, garden photography, gardeners, gardening, gardening books, genealogy, gift ideas, gifts for gardeners, harvest, heirloom, heritage, Jinny Blom, Nigel Slater, Produce, reading, RHS, tomato, tomato growing, tomatoes, Waterstones

I’ve learnt about my namesake Craig LeHoullier from Jennifer Ebeling‘s (6ft mama) podcast – Still Growing. I’ve been listening and interacting with Jennifer for over a year now and I really like her interviews with interesting people. Craig has a wealth of experience growing tomatoes and is particularly involved in finding and breeding heirloom varieties that are in danger of being lost. Most importantly he’s clear on the merits of a tomato for different uses in the kitchen as well as ease of growing. I’m hoping to find a robust outdoor bush tomato to use the space on my allotment.

The Garden Photography Workshop

by Andrea Jones 
allotment, amazon, andrea jones, Book, books, books for gardeners, bookshelf, bookshop, Christmas, Christmas gifts, Christmas list, Christmas presents, Cooking, Craig leHoullier, Garden Design, garden photography, gardeners, gardening, gardening books, genealogy, gift ideas, gifts for gardeners, harvest, heirloom, heritage, Jinny Blom, Nigel Slater, Produce, reading, RHS, tomato, tomato growing, tomatoes, Waterstones

I heard about this book listening to Andrea on Peter Donegan’s Sod Show Podcast this year. I really like photography and I occasionally take to my garden with SLR in hand. It would be great to improve my amateur skills.

The Thoughtful Gardener

by Jinny Blom

This book on garden design has had some strong reviews so I’m keen to see what it’s like. I’m a big fan of Jinny Blom’s planting and it would be good to see how she plans, and implements, her designs.

RHS Genealogy for Gardeners

by Simon Maughan and Ross Bayton

I have the two other books in this RHS series of plant geekery. Latin for Gardeners was released in 2012, with Botany for Gardeners following in 2013. These small, beautifully illustrated, handbooks are the perfect thing for plant nerds to get a better understanding of the science and history of gardening. I’m hoping that Genealogy for Gardeners will be just as good.

allotment, amazon, andrea jones, Book, books, books for gardeners, bookshelf, bookshop, Christmas, Christmas gifts, Christmas list, Christmas presents, Cooking, Craig leHoullier, Garden Design, garden photography, gardeners, gardening, gardening books, genealogy, gift ideas, gifts for gardeners, harvest, heirloom, heritage, Jinny Blom, Nigel Slater, Produce, reading, RHS, tomato, tomato growing, tomatoes, Waterstones

Tender – Volumes I & II

by Nigel Slater

Now I know that, technically, this isn’t a gardening book. I’d say it’s gardening adjacent. I’ve had my allotment since April and I’m hoping for big things next year. The whole point of the allotment was to provide some fresh, seasonal food for us to cook and eat. I’ve mastered my sauteed Cavelo Nero with garlic and it’s become a staple in the weekly meal plan. I’d like to do more with what I grow and I’ve read some amazing reviews of these two books.
allotment, amazon, andrea jones, Book, books, books for gardeners, bookshelf, bookshop, Christmas, Christmas gifts, Christmas list, Christmas presents, Cooking, Craig leHoullier, Garden Design, garden photography, gardeners, gardening, gardening books, genealogy, gift ideas, gifts for gardeners, harvest, heirloom, heritage, Jinny Blom, Nigel Slater, Produce, reading, RHS, tomato, tomato growing, tomatoes, Waterstonesallotment, amazon, andrea jones, Book, books, books for gardeners, bookshelf, bookshop, Christmas, Christmas gifts, Christmas list, Christmas presents, Cooking, Craig leHoullier, Garden Design, garden photography, gardeners, gardening, gardening books, genealogy, gift ideas, gifts for gardeners, harvest, heirloom, heritage, Jinny Blom, Nigel Slater, Produce, reading, RHS, tomato, tomato growing, tomatoes, Waterstones

Blackberries

Blackberries, mypottingbench, mypottingbenchblog, hedge, hedgerow, harvest, hedgerowharvest, autumn, autumnal, September, berry, fruit, native, native harvest, blackberry jam, blackberry pie, blackberry recipes, apple, Devon, countryside, gardening, gardeningblog, gardening blog, allotment, allotment blog, garden, seasonal, seasonal harvest, free food,

The first nip in the air signals a change of season and the start of the blackberry harvest

The turning of the year as we travel through the seasons was a huge factor in pulling us back to the UK. The recent change in the weather, with its wonderful chilly bright mornings and nippy evenings, has warmed my heart. Whilst the other seasons have their appeal I can’t love them half as much as I love Autumn.

Blackberries, mypottingbench, mypottingbenchblog, hedge, hedgerow, harvest, hedgerowharvest, autumn, autumnal, September, berry, fruit, native, native harvest, blackberry jam, blackberry pie, blackberry recipes, apple, Devon, countryside, gardening, gardeningblog, gardening blog, allotment, allotment blog, garden, seasonal, seasonal harvest, free food,
Blackberries

Autumn is our season. The most potent memories of the last ten years with my wife belong to this time of year. It is the season of our wedding, of our first kiss, and of our first meeting. It also marks the onset of a series of celebrations and birthdays stretching all the way to Christmas.

Blackberries, mypottingbench, mypottingbenchblog, hedge, hedgerow, harvest, hedgerowharvest, autumn, autumnal, September, berry, fruit, native, native harvest, blackberry jam, blackberry pie, blackberry recipes, apple, Devon, countryside, gardening, gardeningblog, gardening blog, allotment, allotment blog, garden, seasonal, seasonal harvest, free food,
Mollie our Golden Retriever enjoys a foray into the green lanes

I am not a summer child; the sight of me in shorts should be enough to banish any misunderstanding on that matter. Instead, I am happiest in warm jumpers, walking boots, and damp woodland. Days spent walking the dog under a tree canopy are my favourite. Also at this time of year comes the bounty of hedgerow harvests. Already this year I have Crabapple Vodka and Sloe Gin steeping in the larder, all collected from the hedgerows and trees around our village. The other important harvest of the season is blackberries.

This year I read Alys Fowler’s book on foraging and I’m making an effort to note the harvest when it presents itself. Already this year I have Crabapple Vodka and Sloe Gin steeping in the larder, all collected from the hedgerows and trees around our village. The other important harvest of the season is blackberries.

Blackberries, mypottingbench, mypottingbenchblog, hedge, hedgerow, harvest, hedgerowharvest, autumn, autumnal, September, berry, fruit, native, native harvest, blackberry jam, blackberry pie, blackberry recipes, apple, Devon, countryside, gardening, gardeningblog, gardening blog, allotment, allotment blog, garden, seasonal, seasonal harvest, free food,
A view over the Devon hills

Blackberries

I think the ritual of blackberry collecting, bound up as it is in the season, might be even better than the fresh berries themselves. I’m working my way through a jar of blackberry and apple jam made 3 years ago which I find infinitely more alluring than the fresh berries. September signals the start of hunting season for blackberries.

Blackberries, mypottingbench, mypottingbenchblog, hedge, hedgerow, harvest, hedgerowharvest, autumn, autumnal, September, berry, fruit, native, native harvest, blackberry jam, blackberry pie, blackberry recipes, apple, Devon, countryside, gardening, gardeningblog, gardening blog, allotment, allotment blog, garden, seasonal, seasonal harvest, free food,
Not all the berries ripen at the same time

So, with my jumper on for the first time since moving home, we ascend a local hill to find the best berries. Jewel-like berries gleam from the yellowing hedgerow senescence. The bunches of berries carry both mature and immature fruits. The rule of foraging that states you only take a third of the crop you find (the other two-thirds being left for wild animals and someone else) reinforced by the plant itself.

The light prickling on skin reminds you that no harvest comes for free. This only intensifies the sensory experience. You feel like the proverbial child in the sweetshop picking only the choicest fruits between thumb and forefinger. The idea to bring surgical gloves comes to me as I notice the purple staining on my fingertips, as it does every year but is never remembered.

It’s not long before my cheeks are chilled and the light becomes thinner. It’s time to go home.

Blackberries, mypottingbench, mypottingbenchblog, hedge, hedgerow, harvest, hedgerowharvest, autumn, autumnal, September, berry, fruit, native, native harvest, blackberry jam, blackberry pie, blackberry recipes, apple, Devon, countryside, gardening, gardeningblog, gardening blog, allotment, allotment blog, garden, seasonal, seasonal harvest, free food,
Blackberry harvest