What Tomatoes to Grow in 2018?

I’m a member of an internet tomato seed swap. The simple idea is that a number of you collect your own seed, bag them up and send them to somebody who (very kindly) gathers them al up and sends them back out to all the members. Thus, for a bit of effort, you get a range of new varieties to try the following year.

The seeds arrived the other day and I’ve been looking through them. As has always happened so far, I am amazed by the number of different varieties that people grow. I sent off three varieties that I’ve been growing for a while and received back 26 packs of seed, 22 of which are new varieties to me. As ever it leaves me with a problem. I have space for about 30 different indeterminate plants and six to ten determinate varieties. Unlike last year when I received about an equal mix of determinate and indeterminate varieties, most of the tomatoes in the collection this year are indeterminate. So I have to decide, out of the (now 140+) varieties in my seedbank, which am I going to grow so that I end up with a mix of colours and types.

Decisions…. Decisions

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Recipe: Butternut Squash & Potato Corn Chowder

This is a simple to make rich soup, reheats in the microwave well and freezes.

Ingredients in italics we've grown ourselves (maybe from the freezer).

Ingredients

  • Butter & Oil
  • 3 Onions finely chopped
  •  750g Potatoes cut onto small chunks
  • 750g Butternut Squash
  • 600g Sweetcorn blitzed to make creamed corn
  • 600ml Chicken Stock

Options:

  • Worcestershire sauce to taste
  • Creme Fraiche
Butternut Corn Chowder

Method

In a saucepan, melt the butter and add the oil. Fry the onion over a low heat until soft (we found it best to put the lid on the pan so that it steamed a bit). Add the butternut squash, potato and stock, then bring it to the boil and cook until the vegetables are just tender (10-15 minutes).

Add the sweetcorn, season to taste and heat through for another 5-10 minutes. Then (if you want) mash slightly with a potato masher to break up the texture a bit, leave lumps, you don't want it smooth.

Serve in bowls and add a little worcestershire sauce and/or creme fraiche if you like.

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Can a Waterbutt of water affect the temperature in a Polytunnel?

I’ve seen a number of discussions as to whether putting a waterbutt filled with water in the polytunnel would help to avoid frosts and (possibly) encourage earlier growth by raising the average temperature in the polytunnel.

Whilst there was a general opinion that it would help, I had a feeling that any improvement would be negligible.

The only way to satisfy my thoughts was to accurately measure the temperature of the water in a waterbutt and the atmosphere within the polytunnel. So, I set out to do this. My supposition being that the heat given out by the waterbutt would be small to infinitesimal and so have no impact upon the temperature in the polytunnel, but that if the water temperature rose and fell it was doing something (even if not much).

Building the Temperature Sensor Hardware

Around the web, there are many sets of instructions on how to build a temperature sensor using the DS18B20 and I don’t intend to duplicate them here. Suffice it to say that the waterproof DS18B20 has three leads (Black, Red & Yellow) which should be connected to Ground, 3.3v and GPIO4 respectively with a pull up resistor of about 4.6k ohms between the Red and Yellow leads to make the data reliable. You can, in theory, connect as many DS18B20 together as you want with just a single pull-up resistor. (My max has been four but I have no reason to expect that there is a sensible upper limit but for the purposes of this experiment, I connected two).

Its best to solder all the DS18B20s together with no power to the Raspberry Pi and to solder a flying lead with a female connector to the setup so that you can easily connect and disconnect the sensors to the Raspberry Pi. Again, my suggestion is to connect everything to the Raspberry Pi with the power turned off and only power-up the Raspberry Pi when everything is connected.

Preparing the Raspberry Pi

The DS18B20 uses one-wire connectivity so you’ll need to add the line:

dtoverlay=w1-gpio
to /boot/config.txt.

The simplest way that I found was to edit the file using the text editor nano but you’ll need to do this with superuser enabled (sudo nano /boot/config.txt) otherwise you won’t have the privileges to change the file. Then reboot the Raspberry Pi and you’re ready to go.

Checking that its working

Before starting to run your code, its worthwhile making sure that its working by initiating the sensors from the screen.

Each sensor will create a file /sys/bus/w1/devices/28-xxxx where xxxx is the unique number of the individual sensor. So by initiating the 1-wire system you will be able to examine the directory and make sure the necessary files exist and that they contain data.

To initiate the 1-wire system type:

sudo mod probe w1-gpio
sudo mod probe w1-therm

then check that there is one 28-xxxx file in /sys/bus/w1/devices for each of the DS18B20s you have connected.

Possible Problems

If there are no files, check your connections. My most common mistake has been to connect the data line to the wrong GPIO pin, but obviously you have to make sure that the power and ground connections are also sturdy.

If there aren’t as many files as you’ve got DS18B20s, check the soldering of the connections as the wires to the sensor are quite delicate.

Programming the sensor

I’ve written a total of three different programmes in Python to read and store the temperatures. The first two ran permanently recording the temperature every minute to a file. I found a some bugs with Python (the Float command doesn’t work when the value is exactly zero for example), and having it running permanently meant that the Raspberry Pi could’t be used for anything else.

So my final (and so far most successful version) is run from a cronjob (so I had to learn how to do that) and this means that the file is closed when the programme isn’t running and you can choose how often to run the programme (I decided that once every 10 minutes would give me an accurate enough set of readings).

The code can be found here and it seems to work, creating a .csv file which a spreadsheet programme can read and plot.

To set up the cronjob edit the cronjob file (crontab -e) and set up one (or more) commands to run the job as often as you like (I’ve got it running every 10 minutes).

Results (so far)

The graph of the results so far can be seen here. Its only been running reliably for a few days and we’re at the start of winter. The results are somewhat ambiguous. The temperature of the air in the polytunnel changes rapidly, especially when the sun shines on the tunnel (which is what one would expect). The temperature of the water tracks the temperature in the polytunnel with a delay. This means that the water absorbs heat when the polytunnel is enough warmer than the water and gives it out when the polytunnel is enough cooler than the water.

However, the temperature difference is never very large and the water seems to stop decreasing in temperature if the difference is less than 0.3C (in other words if the polytunnel is 0.3C colder than the water the temperature of the water does not decrease and if the temperature in the polytunnel is less than 0.3C warmer than the water, the water does not increase in temperature.

This means that, with this volume of water, the impact would be minimal. The amount of heat given out by the water as the temperature goes down probably doesn’t influence the temperature in the polytunnel and, if the temperature goes down and stays down, the water will quickly lose any effect.

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Recipe: Sausage Casserole

This is a simple to make meal for two which is simple to double (or more) up, reheats in the microwave well and freezes. It also makes a good base for a soup.

Ingredients

  • 1 tblsp Oil
  • 250g Sausages
  • 1 Carrot
  • 2 Potatoes
  • 1 stick celery
  • 1 leek
  • 1 large Onion
  • Thyme
  • 300ml Vegetable Stock
  • 400g Tomatoes
  • 1 can Cannellini Beans
This is a sausage casserole we made in the slow cooker.

Method

Cut the sausages, carrots, leeks, celery, onions and tomatoes into bite sized chunks. Cook in the oil until browned all over. Add the carrots, leeks, onions, thyme and celery to the pan and cook for 4-5 minutes.

Transfer everything to the slow cooker and add the stock & tomatoes. Cook on high for a couple of hours then turn down to low.

15 minutes before you want to eat it add the cannellini beans and turn the slow cooker back up to high.

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Pruning Autumn Fruited Raspberries

Yesterday I went to the allotment to prune my Autumn Fruiting Raspberries. Raspberries are possibly one of the few reasons why I want to keep my allotment. This year we picked a total of 17kgs of fruit, about half of which are presently sat in the freezer, the rest having been eaten as they ripened.

Accidentally, I’ve got two different varieties Polka (which grows quite tall) and another which is a lot shorter and less productive. Polka is excellent, producing sweet tasting, firm, large fruit over a relatively long season. I’ve always cut them down to the ground and got a single crop. However, this year (if you look carefully at the picture) you’ll see that half of them I’ve left about two feet tall (that 60cm to those who don’t do imperial measures). The idea is (so I’ve read) that, being “primocane”, the plants should provide an early crop if not cut right down. We’ll see.

The reason that I’ve cut them down before is that the allotment is very open and gales blow across. I’ve read that, being shallow rooted, raspberries are likely to rock and get weakened. I don’t know and again we’ll see.

My major problem is couch grass. The allotment suffers from this pernicious weed and I’ve never found a sensible way of getting rid of it. So my perennial beds (raspberries and other fruit) gradually get more and more “infected” to the point where I have to dig everything up and start again. I did this last year with my Summer Raspberries but at the end of the year, despite digging through the bed and pulling out as much of the couch grass as I could, it’s still badly infected and, the only solution I’ve found is to grow sweetcorn. This seems tough enough to overwhelm the couch grass and is well enough spaced that I can hoe between the plants on a regular basis killing the couch grass. The problem is that one bed of Sweetcorn is more than enough for us (54 cobs this year and we’ve got loads in the freezer) so growing multiple beds of sweetcorn to get rid of couch grass isn’t a solution.

If you look at the picture, you’ll see that the Autumn Raspberry bed looks quite bad (even after pulling quite a lot out) and I have no doubt that it will only get worse.

Autumn Raspberry bed after pruning

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Tomato Zhefen Short

Medium sized red heritage tomato on determinate plants.

Description

Zhefen Short is said to be a "tasty 3-inch slightly oval pink tomato that grows on 3ft - 4ft plants. Good juice, sweet/acid balance and great taste. Excellent for a short season or patio tomato".

We tried it in 2012 but unfortunately the seedlings were eaten by slugs and so we had no success at all. So we're trying it again in 2013. As always we will try to grow more than we need for our own use and some may be available if you want to try something different.

The result was nothing particularly wonderful. A fairly standard, red tomato growing on a determinate plant. Nothing more to say.

Zhefen Short
Zhefen Short
Zhefen Short

Quick Facts

  • Fruit Type: Standard
  • Fruit Shape: Round
  • Fruit Size: Medium
  • Fruit Colour: Red
  • Flesh Colour: Red
  • Plant Type: Determinate
  • Seed Type: Heritage
  • Leaf Type: Regular
  • Time to Ripe: Mid/Late (73+ Days)
  • Taste: Nothing Special
  • Fruit per Truss: N/A
  • Truss Spacing: N/A
  • Alternatives: Heinz-9129
  • Our Source: Tomatofest

Buy Your Seeds Here

Buy Your Plants Here

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Tomato Yellow Stuffer

Yellow bell shaped open pollinated tomato on indeterminate plants.

Description

Yellow Stuffer has yellow, bell-pepper shaped tomatoes with a large cavity and few seeds.. The indeterminate, regular-leafed, plants produce a good crop of bell-pepper shaped yellow fruit, ideal for stuffing as they are strong walled and nearly empty of seeds midway through the tomato season. Just cut the top off and stuff with any mixture that you would use for stuffed bell-peppers. Served with red or green peppers, this makes an interesting meal.

I don’t know its history hence I’ve labelled it open-pollinated

Tomato - Yellow Stuffer
Yellow Stuffer
Tomato Yellow Stuffer

Quick Facts

  • Fruit Type: Paste/Cooking
  • Fruit Shape: Bell Pepper
  • Fruit Size: Medium
  • Fruit Colour: Yellow
  • Flesh Colour: Yellow
  • Plant Type: Indeterminate
  • Seed Type: Open Pollinated
  • Leaf Type: Regular
  • Time to Ripe: Mid
  • Taste: Bland/Sweet (good for stuffing)
  • Fruit per Truss: 4-10
  • Truss Spacing: 15-24 inches
  • Alternatives: Striped Stuffer
  • Our Source: Nicky's Seeds

Buy Your Seeds Here

Prices given are for a packet of seeds (and may be wrong) different suppliers have different numbers of seeds in a packet.

Buy Your Plants Here

Prices vary depending upon the number and size of plants (and may be wrong).

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Tomato Yellow Pigmy

Yellow cherry heritage tomato on compact determinate plants.

Description

Yellow Pigmy is a small yellow cherry tomato that grows on a small determinate plant. Similar in some respects to Tumbling Tom Yellow. Its tasty and worth growing for the fact that it only takes up a limited space.

Tomato - Yellow Pigmy
Tomato - Yellow Pigmy PelicanPlants
tomato Yellow Pigmy

Quick Facts

  • Fruit Type: Cherry
  • Fruit Shape: Round
  • Fruit Size: Small
  • Fruit Colour: Yellow
  • Flesh Colour: Yellow
  • Plant Type: Determinate
  • Seed Type: Heritage
  • Leaf Type: Regular
  • Time to Ripe: Early (55+ days))
  • Taste: Sweet/Sharp
  • Fruit per Truss: N/A
  • Truss Spacing: N/A
  • Alternatives: Tumbling Tom Yellow
  • Our Source: Nicky’s Seeds

Buy Your Seeds Here

Prices given are for a packet of seeds (and may be wrong) different suppliers have different numbers of seeds in a packet.

Buy Your Plants Here

Prices vary depending upon the number and size of plants (and may be wrong).

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Tomato Yellow Brandywine

Yellow beefsteak heritage tomato on indeterminate plants.

Description

Yellow Brandywine is a beefsteak tomato with possibly the best flavour of all the yellow tomatoes.

In 2012 we also grew Azoychka as a yellow beefsteak. Azoychka was slightly more productive but Yellow Brandywine was slightly later so we had a long season of yellow beefsteak tomatoes. However, in 20145 we will also be growing White Queen and will have to make a decision which one goes forward into later years.

A late ripening, indeterminate, potato-leafed, large (up to 1lb) golden beefsteak with excellent flavour. It is resistant to most of the tomato diseases and can therefore stand for a long time. You may have to wait for it, but its worth the wait.

As far as I can make out, there’s no relationship to the other Brandywine cultivars.

Yellow Brandywine
Tomato Yellow Brandywine
Tomato Yellow Brandywine

Quick Facts

  • Fruit Type: Beefsteak
  • Fruit Shape: Round/Flat
  • Fruit Size: Medium - Large
  • Fruit Colour: Yellow
  • Flesh Colour: Yellow
  • Plant Type: Indeterminate
  • Seed Type: Heritage
  • Leaf Type: Potato
  • Time to Ripe: Late (90+)
  • Taste: Excellent
  • Fruit per Truss: 5-10
  • Truss Spacing: 15-24 inches
  • Alternatives: Azoychka
  • Our Source: Nicky's Seeds

Buy Your Seeds Here

Prices given are for a packet of seeds (and may be wrong) different suppliers have different numbers of seeds in a packet.

Buy Your Plants Here

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Tomato White Zebra

White striped medium sized open pollinated tomato on indeterminate plants.

Description

This is said to be a white striped tomato. However, when we grew it (in 2014) our plant (just one) produced standard red tomatoes so we assumed that the seeds had crossed with some other variety in the supplier (Heritage Harvested Seed) and our problem is to know whether this was a single problem in the packet or whether all the seeds were affected (we also noticed that the seeds are no longer available). No complaints - these things happen.

We’ll have to try again with some of the remaining seeds.

White Zebra
White Zebra
White Zebra

Quick Facts

  • Fruit Type: Standard
  • Fruit Shape: Round
  • Fruit Size: 2-4 oz
  • Fruit Colour: White/Green Stripe
  • Flesh Colour: White
  • Plant Type: Indeterminate
  • Seed Type: Open Pollinated
  • Leaf Type: Regular
  • Time to Ripe: Mid (75-85 days)
  • Taste:
  • Fruit per Truss:
  • Truss Spacing:
  • Alternatives:
  • Our Source:

Buy Your Seeds Here

Prices given are for a packet of seeds (and may be wrong) different suppliers have different numbers of seeds in a packet.

Buy Your Plants Here

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