The Great Tomato Catastrophe of 2018

Six weeks ago I planted out my first tray of seeds. The daffodils were blooming, the wattle birds were hanging upside down on the crocosmia outside the window. It was cold and the nights were still frosty. Now the daffodils have finished and the herb robert and the foxgloves are blooming pink in the garden.

This spring I am determined to grow all my vegies and flowers from seed. No more plastic punnets from the garden centre. No, I have plenty of plastic punnets in the shed. I have plenty of seed, and I have used so much of it this spring, even the really old stuff. I replanted the beetroot three times. After the first two times I realised that the packet of seed I had just wasn't going to sprout, but luckily I saved my own beetroot seed from last year, and that sprouted within a couple of days. Fresh seed is the best! Having said that, some of the very old seed is sprouting pretty well, too. It all depends on the plant and how well the seed is stored as to how long seed stays viable. I keep mine airtight in the coolest room in the house. Paul gave me a bucket of seed from his place the other day. It is all ancient, and stored in a hot shed, but you just never know. I will plant it and see.

One month ago I had two trays of seedlings living on the kitchen table. I planted out the hardiest ones in the garden - first the peas. It was either the pigeons or the blackbirds which pecked the tops of every.single.seedling overnight. I then made a twig fortress to protect them, but to be honest they have never quite recovered from that first setback. A whole packet of snow peas!

Then came the Great Tomato Catastrophe of 2018. I planted out forty-two tiny tomato plants into pots of compost. I have plenty of compost. But this is fairly woody compost, maybe not cooked quite as long as it needs to be for planting into. Which is ok in general as I am using it as a mulch.. but the poor little tomatoes turned up their toes, turned yellow, and died. I think the woody mulch drew too much nitrogen out of their little leaves..

Lesson learned - don't use the compost as a planting medium by itself.. but.. forty-two tomato plants! aaargh! I have replanted, but straight out into the garden this time. Fingers are crossed. If frost threatens, I will run out and put jars over the little babies. Gardening, such a gamble. Maybe that is part of the excitement.

So far this spring I have planted out lettuce, rocket, broccoli, kale, zucchini and cucumbers into the garden. I have capsicums, more lettuce, beetroot, basil, chilli and a whole tray of flowers still on my table. I take them out for an airing in the sunshine or rain every day, to accustom them to Weather.

I love having the seedlings on the dining room table. Baby plants are utterly adorable. I talk to them at every meal and every time I open my laptop. I think they like me. Although the tomatoes still haunt me with their reproachful little yellow leaves..


Treaders said…
So sorry to hear about your tomato plants. What a shame. I don't do much of a veggie garden (yet) but everything was pretty rubbish this summer here. I don't know, maybe total neglect isn't doing it for them any more! But we had an extremely wet spring and dry and hot summer so that might have had something to do with it. Good luck with the rest. Anna
Beznarf27 said…
Hi Jo,

Firstly, what is the "herb Robert?" I was once married to a man called Robert. He was nothing short of spicy I can tell you! I, too, have been attempting to grow all of my seedlings from seed this year using flats. I planted out broad beans directly into my wicking beds earlier in the winter and nothing sprouted. The year before "LOTS of broad beans through winter" this year, "nada". I planted out tomatoes and chillies etc. and hardly any of the chillies have decided to grow. I have an interesting selection of tomatoes as I like to experiment with everything that I do in life (I must have been Einsteins next door neighbour in a past life ;) ) and thus I found tomatoes thrown out at the Exeter show last year and salvaged them and saved the seed. Pretty much all of them have grown. I figured if someone thought that they were good enough to show (whether or not they won is besides the by) then that's good enough for me to plant them.

I also bought a small tray of weird and wonderful mini tomatoes that looked like tiny green, black and red stripy tigers and most of them have grown as well! More "sweet snacking tomatoes" from the supermarket and again, good strike rate, but my home grown San Mazano etc. don't appear to have grown. I need to get some capsicum on the go but I fear I am a bit late for them this year and my eggplants never emerged. I have the trays out on a bench on the deck (on Earl's regular patrol pathway) and water and turn them every day as they attempt to stretch their tiny necks out to the sun. I have managed to grow some New Guinea beans this year, a most interesting HUGE zucchini like bean that I never thought would grow so that's one success.

We are still saving up to buy more topsoil to top up the fridge wicking beds as the soil dropped alarmingly in them (thanks to me using predominately aged horse manure and straw for the mix) and still waiting for a large bale of straw to mulch Sanctuary as straw is like hens teeth at the moment as most of it went to the drought drive. I reckon this year is going to be a long, hot and very dry one so here's to lots of tomatoes (and sweat) for us all!

Meg said…
You've got me thinking that I really should find that old lunch box under the house, that holds packets and packets of seeds, that would be well past their plant by dates, and scatter them around the garden ... and then see what happens. At least if they are in the soil they've a chance of getting growing. Not so in the old lunchbox! Shame about your tomato plants, hope their little yellow leaves don't haunt you for too long! Meg
Anonymous said…
Sorry about the tomato catastrophe, Jo. I'm sure the next lot will race away. Ours are all planted out today and sprayed with liquid frost cloth, which does a great job of protecting them, but somehow doesn't prevent any of the nervous tension which accompanies the inevitable drops in temperature at this time of year!

We went through our seed drawer this year, and I decided to try sowing some of the out-of-date ones as microgreens. All of the things like radishes, broccoli, beetroot and kale seem to do really well growing in a tray on the windowsill. I read an article recently in which a commercial grower had stopped growing microgreens. Her conscience led her to realise how wasteful it is to eat just two leaves of each plant, in a world where so many are hungry. Certainly something to consider.

As an aside, my husband had a retirement job in the garden centre at Bunnings, and every year tried to persuade shoppers not to plant tomatoes as soon as they appeared in the store. Sure enough, almost all of them reappeared to buy new plants a few weeks later, having lost the first lot to frost! Gardeners are eternal optimists!

Linda in NZ
Jo said…
Anna, it's all good, in gardening you learn to roll with the punches and always have a plan B. Here in Tas we either have tomato summers - hot and dry, or cabbage summers - cool and wet. If you plant both you will have one excellent crop, and get to make sauerkraut or passata for the winter:)

Fran, look up herb Robert - it is very pretty, the wild geranium of Europe, big frilly leaves, little pink edible flowers. Very useful medicinal herb, apparently, but I made tea with it once, tastes very..astringent. I am sure that is the goodness in it. Self-seeds madly, i have about 17,000 seedlings so let me know if you want some xx Your tomato empire sounds amazing! I have just three varieties. What is a New Guinea bean? I grew up there and have never heard of it.
Have you tried seaweed as a mulch? i am about to go beachcombing for some. There is a beach near Bellingham that has tonnes of it an big drifts. It's quite legal to collect it in Tas - we can take something like 100kg per person, per day, which seems outrageous.. anyway, it is a wonderful, free mulch, worth trying for us pecunious wombles:)

Meg, see Linda's comment below about the microgreens - sounds like a clever solution to the old, unwanted seed problem..

Linda, I love the microgreen idea! And it's not wasteful the way you are doing it - and any home gardener who saves their own seed has way too much to plant or even share often - I must have about 1000 beetroot seeds in a paper bag. This seems like a very practical solution - plus, microgreens are packed full of the nutrients that were stored in the seed, as they are still tiny. Win, win!

Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

I hear you! Last October was so hot and dry that the tomato seedlings that I raised indoors all but keeled over once planted out in the garden. Then their replacements met a similar fate. And then the self sown volunteer tomatoes took over. This year I'm starting all of those summer plants outside from seed. I sort of felt that the transplant shock was not worth the bother - because it is a considerable shock. Interestingly, I had to dwell upon this subject for quite a while because I couldn't really provide an answer as to why I was even starting the tomato (and other plants) seedlings inside the house. I'd be very curious to read your thoughts upon this matter?

GretchenJoanna said…
Your gardening post is making me even more homesick! I planted fava beans which hadn't come up before I left, and I'm so eager to see how they are doing... Does anyone in Tasmania grow fava beans in cool weather?
Jo said…
Chris, you are so right, I wouldn't start plants inside at all except that I have a small garden and have to be ready to plant something when I take another thing out. Also, bugs, ants, snails, slugs and birds like to eat my baby seedlings and seeds, or the cat digs them up or the dog sits on them, so it is safer if they are bigger when they go in..

Gretchen Joanna, yes, we call them broad beans and put them in in Autumn.
Linda said…
Really enjoyed catching up on your blog post. Good luck with all your veggie planting. Carry on talking to your plants... they really do hear you as our Prince Charles discovered decades ago. Of course he was ridiculed then but now his ideas are becoming more accepted! He also warned about the problem that plastic waste would be to our planet. Ignored back then but now it's front page news!

Popular Posts