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.

Greenhouse Construction 1

Greenhouse Construction

Work has finally started on my Greenhouse Construction Project

And we’re off! After a hiatus while spending time doing things like wedding planning, taking a huge exam and other such distractions, work has finally commenced on the greenhouse (huzzah!)

The site of the greenhouse, the old wood store partially removed.
The site of the greenhouse, the old wood store partially removed.

There used to be a wood store sited next to the shed but it was next to useless. Despite it’s sheltered position there was no way of keeping the wood dry so it had to go. What you can see here is the vague layout of the eventual footprint of the structure and a roofless woodstore. The back wall of the woodstore will be the wall of the greenhouse.

As a site for a greenhouse it’s not ideal. It’s not in full sun for a lot of the day but it’s the only place in the garden where it won’t be intrusive. The best place for a greenhouse would be in the top garden but would mean losing our largest, sunniest bed adjacent to the patio where we eat in summer. Not ideal and quickly vetoed by the other half. The chosen site is under-used space nearer the house and if I can make the finished product look attractive I think it will do.  The next head-scratcher is what to do with the washing line.

How come I’ve finally started?

Tomatoes just showing true leaves.
Tomatoes just showing true leaves.

These are the reasons for all the haste. My tomato seedlings are just about ready to be planted on and with that comes a demand for space that I can’t give em at the moment. The chillies are behind in the photo and behind in terms of development. Interestingly these tomatoes from Real Seeds  have a dark red/purple hue to the undersides of the seed leaves and stems which I haven’t seen before and can just been seen in the picture. It’s very ornamental and I hope stays a feature of the mature plants.

Closer view of the windows sourced from Gumtree
Closer view of the windows sourced from Gumtree

Having cleared the area and spent a good deal of time scribbling on a pad, measuring things and generally trying my best to look like a real man, I have a finished plan and I’ve ordered the required building materials. Watch this space…

The Full Story

Construction Greenhouse: Part 1

Construction Greenhouse: Part 2

Construction Greenhouse: Part 3

Construction Greenhouse: Part 4

Real seeds

Real Seeds


Time to get real with seeds

The greenhouse isn’t even built yet but I’m already getting carried away with what I could use it for. Without having had anywhere to get a successful crop I haven’t grown chillies, tomatoes or peppers for a number of years now. However, with 2014 bringing good changes in the garden I am going to make the most of it. (I was going to throw in a pun about being given a “green(house) light” but we’re both better than that).

More posts about seeds:

Springing Up


Chinese Lanterns

RHS Seeds 2014

Totnes Seed Swap 2014

Chilli Challenge

Looking wider for seed suppliers

I have been living vicariously through the internet and books – imagining what I could grow if only I had the space (not an activity that achieves much other than envy but harmless fantasising nonetheless). So I had a pretty good idea of where to go to get my seeds. I’ve always loved the ethos of The Real Seed Catalogue; heritage varieties, home seed-saving, local provenance, and developing your own lineages that over short years can become adapted to local growing conditions or even selected for qualities important to the grower.

Real Seeds
The seed packets from Real Seeds.

It makes so much sense that natural variation means plants crop at slightly different times so your harvest is staggered rather than too much of a glut. I also don’t need perfectly blemish-free and uniform crops in order to enjoy them. Any variety that needs controlled commercial conditions from growers on the continent are not going to be as happy in my ramshackle and unheated greenhouse with my sporadic attentions. So why make life hard? Additionally, where along the line did we forget about taste? It’s time for a change.

So my modest collection of Real Seeds arrived 2 days after ordering in a nice neat envelope in beautiful packaging and so much written information to help me get success. I’d love to have ordered oodles more varieties in order to do trials of my own – but I need to be realistic. I don’t have the time or space to undertake such an endeavour so I’ll trust in the work of Ben and Kate and the team at Real Seeds who have done the hard work for me.

Time for a revolution?

I’ve also been intrigued by James Wong and his homegrown revolution. Why not try the lesser-known edibles that are enjoyed around the world? And if they’re as easy to grow as he claims we’d all be stupid not to try. His seed collection is available through Suttons Seeds.

But I’ve hit a snag – space. So I’ve hatched a cunning plan. I have two friends who I have pulled in 2 Secret Santa rings who are also into gardening. They both have more space than me so I’ve decided to give them some James Wong seeds. This is not entirely altruistic as they are both generous friends and it’s only a matter of time before I’m invited to try the crops. (It’s tough being an evil green-fingered and greedy mastermind)

Some more unusual plants to try
Some more unusual plants to try

Chinese Lanterns

Chinese Lanterns

I’m really pleased with my Chinese Lanterns. This year I installed some new planters outside the front of the cottage. We decided on rustic animal feeders as they gave the most authentic look at a ridiculously cheap price. The standard planters for sale on the internet were all coming in at over £400 each! I managed to get my 2 feeding troughs for £70 at a local agricultural supply shop. I was looking for plants that could cope with hot and dry conditions at the southern-facing front of the house and saw an opportunity to grow these autumn classics.


Plant profile

Latin Name: Physalis alkekengi

Common Names: Chinese Lanterns, winter cherry 

Origin: South Eastern Europe and Asia 

Family: Solanaceae 

Grows: 40-60cm tall 


Chinese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) in a large planter
Chinese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) in a large planter
Chinese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) seedheads. The berries become more obvious as the papery seedhead breaks down.
Chinese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) seedheads. The berries become more obvious as the papery seedhead breaks down.
Chinese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) seedhead close up. The fine lace webbing on show.
Chinese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) seedhead close up. The fine lace webbing on show.

I’ve heard they can be invasive in an open garden but I’ve got them contained so that shouldn’t be a problem. However, I couldn’t resist the fruits hanging in their gorgeous lacy sacks. My propagating fingers started twitching. With the help of the fantastic Real Seeds website I’ve collected, fermented, rinsed and dried the seeds ready for sowing in spring.

How to collect and prepare the seeds

Extract the pulp from the fruits
Extract the pulp from the fruits
Extract the pulp from the fruits
You can see the seeds in the pulp 
Mix with cool clean water
Mix with cool clean water
Sieve the pulp and seed mixture
Sieve the pulp and seed mixture
Place on a flat surface to dry - separate the seeds as much as possible
Place on a flat surface to dry – separate the seeds as much as possible
Leave the plate out to dry before packaging up in some dry seed envelopes
Leave the plate out to dry before packaging up in some dry seed envelopes

I’ll do an update next spring. Only 3 of the seeds floated when being rinsed which suggests there are a good few viable ones in there.