Sunday, 29 December 2013

Choices, choices! What Tomatoes am I going to grow this year?

The US Dept of Agriculture lists over 25.000 different varieties of tomato! How on earth to narrow down my choice from so many?!

One thing's for sure, I am going to be adventurous and experiment with all sorts of unusual types of tomatoes this year, as after years of lusting after one, I have finally got a greenhouse, inherited from a neighbour after 10 years of abandonment who was going to chuck it away, it was transferred  pane by pane lovingly into our back garden.

I am aiming for half a dozen or so different tomato varieties to grow: a couple of cherry varieties for salads, always so popular with my three children; a beefsteak for sandwiches and some medium sized flavourful varieties for tomato sauces. I always grow a couple of ‘Ferline’ plants for their blight resistance, just in case the crop gets it this year (sadly it usually does). I will also try to grow a variety of different colours and shapes, as they can look fabulous mixed together in a salad.


Tomato Ferline

Tomato Feline

A description from the T&M website: In recent trials Tomato 'Ferline' has shown impressive blight tolerance in a garden situation, and resistance to fusarium and verticillium wilt. A useful variety for outdoor cultivation in even the wet summers! Grow these vigorous, indeterminate plants as cordons either under glass or outdoors, to produce heavy crops of deep red fruits of up to 150gm (5oz) in weight, with a very good flavour. Height: 200cm (79"). Spread: 50cm (20").


Tomato Sungold

Tomato Sungold

I LOVE this tomato, incredibly sweet flavoured. I am very lucky that a friend’s Dad always raises a couple of these plants for me each year, I wouldn’t be without it. It has been voted Best in Class for flavour and has an RHS Award of Garden Merit. It is also celebrating 20 years of the sweetest tomato, as voted by gardeners. An outstanding cordon cherry tomato for glasshouse or outdoor culture, with an exceptionally high sugar content, that easily rivals ‘Gardeners Delight’, its attractive, golden-orange fruit is irresistibly sweet and juicy. The high yields of delicious fruit (each approximately 13g) are ideal for salads or as a tasty snack, my boys eat them straight from the plant. It also has good resistance to tobacco mosaic virus and fusarium wilt. Height: 200cm (79"). Spread: 50cm (20").

 Tomato Yellow Pear

Tomato Yellow Pear

Before my greenhouse, I could reliably grow this variety in a pot on my south facing patio against the house walls. It resists tomato blight well. The fruit size is about 5cm, and is an Heirloom variety. It has long, indeterminate vines producing a seemingly endless supply of mild flavoured, pear-shaped tomatoes all summer, they remind me of the old fashioned sweet shop pear drops – the yellow ones! The tiny tomatoes are borne in clusters and are one of the prettiest tomatoes in the garden. The vines can grow 2 m plus, so they need a tall support or place to ramble.


Black Russian

Tomato Black Russian

Tomato Purple Calabash

I saw an episode of BBC2’s "What to Eat Now" where an avid tomato grower (100+ varieties grown every year) was asked to name her favourite tomato. She replied the Black Cuban. I hastily went online to track down the seeds before the masses descended, to discover that the variety has many different names (Black Russian or Krimm or Calabash to name abut a few). I already have an unopened pack of Purple Calabash so will be growing them alongside the variety Black Russian which I found on the Thompson and Morgan website to see if there is any difference, and of course to come to my own conclusions about the flavour. T&M describe Black Russian as: “A cordon variety, these medium sized black tomatoes grow on compact plants bearing plenty of dark mahogany-brown fruits, with a delicious blend of sugar and acid. Tomato 'Black Russian' is an old variety with a rich, complex flavour that has to be tasted to be believed. This variety is well suited to indoor or outdoor cultivation. Height: 200cm (79”). Spread: 50cm (20”).

Tomato Viva Italia

Tomato Viva Italia

Whilst doing some back ground reading/research before buying my seeds, I came across a great USA website called Vegetable Gardener Magazine The Vegetable Gardener - growing paste tomatoes which had an interesting article on growing paste tomatoes (or tomatoes to make tomato sauce from). The upshot was that the best tomato for sauce being Tomato Viva Italia. Now I am very aware this is for growing in the US, and that success varies on many factors, not least length of growing season, a major factor for me here in Blighty. I found the seeds on Amazon, so am beginning to wonder if the reason no UK seed companies sell it is because it doesn’t do well here. I am going to give it a go though! This tomato can also be eaten straight from the vine in salads as well as canned or made into sauces.

Well my intention was to grow this one, but I couldn't get the seeds after all, so I have decided instead to try TOMATO CUOR DI BUE COUER DE BOUEF OF LIGURIA from The Seeds of Italy Franchi website, These ones are recommended by Raymond Blanc and in the Gardeners World magazine.

Tomato Cuor di bue couer de boeuf of Liguria


Tomato Brandywine

Tomato Brandywine

I have some of this seed left over from a previous year which didn’t grow at all well – I don’t think I got any tomatoes at all, but as this is my first year using the greenhouse I am going to give it the benefit  of the doubt and give it another go! From the T&M website again a description: Tomato 'Brandywine’ is particularly recognisable for its unusual leaves that resemble potato foliage. Dating back to 1885, Tomato 'Brandywine' is regarded as one of the world’s finest flavoured 'beefsteak' tomatoes. This exceptional variety produces heavy yields of firm, clear skinned, light rosy pink fruits, often with slightly green shoulders. With a full, sweet flavour these fruits are delicious eaten fresh from the plant in salads, and sandwiches. This cordon variety is suitable for growing in the greenhouse or outdoors. Height: 200cm (79”). Spread: 50cm (20”). Surely that description alone warrants a second attempt?!

Wish me luck and many prayers for no blight infection this year! I’ll post an update on how they are growing and then how they taste next summer, and if any readers have some favourite varieties they grow then do leave a comment to suggest them as alternatives (or more likely additions - at this rate I'll need a bigger greenhouse!)



It’s the week between Christmas and New Year, and for me that means only one thing; it must be time to decide what I am going to grow on my veggie patch next year; and then get busy ordering.


The problem is, I am ALWAYS swayed by the seductive descriptions in the seed catalogues, and end up ordering either something I have tonnes of packets of already, or something I have grown before that was a huge disappointment. For instance, who could possibly say no to “Courgette Sunstripe: a unique courgette with good yields of delicious golden yellow striped fruits that looks great when sliced!” or “Swiss Chard ‘Lucculus’: an abundance of deliciously succulent asparagus-like white stems”, I know I shan’t resist and yet I am the only one in my family who likes courgettes and even I don’t like the metallic taste of Chard!


This year I am determined to be more selective and restrained as I make my seed selections. To this end, I began documenting EVERYTHING I grow each year, with taste/yield comments at harvest time in the hope that as the years go by I will grow more and more of the crops that suit my site, and yet I will still be confident enough to try something new safe in the knowledge that I haven’t grown it disastrously before. I have also decided to only grow what I know the majority of this family of 5 will eat. Here is an example page:


Harvest Information

 The above mentioned Swiss Chard is a case in point. I religiously grow it every year, as it grows well on my soil and is SO pretty, particularly the Bright Lights variety, with its multi-coloured stems, but we all loathe it! And yet…..and yet……what if the Lucculus variety ISN’T metallic tasting? What if its asparagus flavour is the most delicious thing we have ever tasted?!


No! I must be strong! Resist!


So what will I allow myself to be tempted by this year? I am very excited that I finally have a much longed for greenhouse that I inherited from a neighbour who was about to throw it out. It was lovingly moved in the summer pane by careful pane (with their blessing I hasten to add!) and so any seeds I buy will be given priority with regards greenhouse growing. More on this topic with my next blog.

Saturday, 6 July 2013


Really must get more organised and sow fortnightly and judiciously my radishes. I can't seem to resist the temptation to sow into every possible space and end up wasting so much seed that ends up growing to the size of hens eggs!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013


Who can resist a mound of fluffy buttery mash? I love it! Particularly atop a Shepherds Pie, but not unheard of eaten all by itself with thickly buttered toast - a carb frenzy!

Potatoes are said to be easy to grow, but not so in my experience, I try every year, though, come what may. My issue is the clay soil I garden on and the accompanying slugs, and the wireworm, potato cyst nematode, oh, and potato blight. Not impossible to grow but certainly needing some thought and trial and error.

Having said that, here is a picture of some potatoes I left for dead last year! The potatoes were dug up from a 4 metre x 1metre raised bed, that had overwintered and I was propping the bed for this year's sowings. I always grow 2 raised beds worth of spuds, and the other bed had been an unmitigated disaster. The blight struck early last summer probabaly because of the extreme rain and before I could take preventative action all the leaves were raised to the ground, and any potatoes found reduced to a slimy smelly blob. So I gave up on the other bed. Foolishly.

Pentland Dell and Charlotte potatoes 2012
These potatoes are a mix of last year's (2012) Pentland Dell and Charlotte. Both had no slug damage or potato cyst damage and were clearly not affected by last year's blight.
So how (and why?!) do I grow potatoes given the problems I face?
Why is simple, they are so utterly delicious and even more so straight from the plot. One word of warning when cooking home grown spuds though. Salad varieties, often yellow fleshed, such as Charlotte or Pink Fir Apple are perfect for cooking directly on harvesting, needing nothing more than tossing in butter and salt. Whereas the white fleshed floury varieties like King Edward will cook MUCH quicker than you are used to with supermarket varieies and will disitegrate to nothing if you take your eye off of them whilst cooking, ceratin varieties are also particularly prone to this like Pentland Dell.
As for how. It has been 5 years of trialling different varieties, carefully choosing varieties from seed catalogues that are bred to be resistant to my pests and diseases and soil. A helpful resource is The British Potato Variety Database
In one bed I grow varieties I now know will do well and in the other bed I try something different each year. I then keep records of what I grow and how well it has done (it is so easy to forget from one year to another).
So far on my clay soil, I have grown with success:
King Edward - a good allrounder and always gives me a lovely crop, although I lose about a quarter to slug, wireworm and potato cyst damage
Pink Fir Apple - my favourite! Knobbly salad variety, quite delicious with a buttery firm texture
Pentland Dell - Wonderful big allrounder crop that overwintered in the ground. Good mix of large and smller potatoes with no damage at all!
Charlotte - salad potato with little damage slightly smaller crop
Less successful:
Cara - too much wireworm damage and small crop
Irish Sceptre - Not as tasty as King Edwards and a smaller crop, with some slug damage
Duke of York - A red skinned variety large potatoes great baked, but only a tiny crop
Belle de Fontanay - useless! Loads of wireworm damage.
Lady Christl (chosen simply because it's name was so similar to mine!) - tiny crop, and lots of wireworm and slug damage
I garden organically and a helpful resource is Garden Organic. They do a Potato Factsheet more on how to grow in my next blog.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Blog name change

I have decided to change the blog name to The Hairy Gooseberry from The Barefoot Gardener as I now realise that there is a rather popular blog in America with the same name - and want to avoid confusion. I am pretty sure there isn't another blog with this name - so named because my lovely Dad often quotes: "It's only the hairs on a gooseberry that stop it from being a grape" as a humorous antidote to heavier sayings that are now so prevalent on social media. It also suits the blog change, which is moving from purely gardening to gardening AND recipes made from produce from the veggie and fruit patch, with a sprinkling of life's musings, some thought provoking but mostly plain silly!