The tomato files

I came to the lockdown vegetable growing party a bit late. My gardening philosophy is ‘survival of the fittest’ and this does not lend itself to vegetables. Vegetables are needy, they need attention. They need pest repellent, staking, protection from dogs, and goodness knows what else. They also want to grow in neat rows which is not how the rest of my garden looks. My garden always looks like a work in progress and there’s always something that needs to be done. That’s how I like it.

But, in the days of Corona lockdown with time and good weather … sighh .. I dug out the vegetable seeds I had bought last year, for someone else who then decided not to become a vegetable farmer after all and gave me back the seeds. Also, tomato seeds from my kitchen – big fat round ones, little Roma or Rosa (I forget their name, the small oblong ones), and miniatures. And chilli seeds, also mixed.

I had seed packets of lettuce, leeks, baby spinach, Swiss chard, carrots, beans, and others I forget. I also had the Checkers Lil Garden series – this is the second time this supermarket chain has done this promo. It’s a good concept – giveaways of small kits to grow veg and herbs, all in an eco-friendly way. Ideal to teach children to grow things. I had little success the previous time because I neglected them but I figured this time around I had nothing like work or a social life to distract me so I gave it another bash.

I started off with tomatoes in containers. Not a brilliant idea if the pots are too small and the tomatoes cramped. The Lil Garden stuff did very well and then required planting out. So I sectioned off a corner of the garden, we protected it from the dogs, and transplanted things. Only the tomatoes were in neat rows because of needing the dog barrier to hold them up; everything else was hodge podge.

There were many losses, I won’t dwell on them but will focus on the positive. And the tomatoes – they fall into both categories.

Tomatoes are fussy little pheckers and much loved by a whole bunch of little creatures. Every morning we counted how many fruit were forming – I was heady with excitement – until I realised they were being eaten up. First the bottom leaves dry and die, then the tomatoes themselves are eaten from inside. It’s easy to miss the pinprick hole made by worms. Sometimes it’s when the fruit is almost ripe, sometimes the little green ones. No consistency.

I had to break my rule of no pesticide and shot off to the nursery. I was sold something bio that seems to be almost entirely made of garlic. I sprayed a small quantity one evening and then watched to see if my dogs would be attracted to it. If so, then I couldn’t continue. They didn’t go near it so I continued and sprayed a lot. I still spray it every few days. The smell of garlic is nauseating.

I seem to have saved some of the tomatoes. There are a few still being eaten, and I can see little bugs on them at times, but generally speaking I have harvested enough to please me and make this not too much of a time waster. I pick them early enough to ripen indoors and we’ve had a few salads. Considering my vegetable track record, the tomatoes are being counted as a success. But I might not bother again.

Another success, a complete one, is lettuce. I have several varieties .. butter, frilly, and something called ‘Italian’. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than finally having lettuce in my garden, to pick a few leaves whenever needed. Rocket – also a success and added to salads, but the plants are very tall and already flowering. I suspect they will seed themselves. Basil is doing well, planted as a companion to the tomatoes, as advised by my friend Fadia.

Leeks and chillis are very slow. Radishes have completely disappeared. Three borage plants look like death. Swiss chard are not plentiful enough to cook alone so they go into salads. The carrots and beans want sowing in a few months but I might never bother. I’m not really cut out for vegetable gardening but there are lettuce seeds left over that might get thrown haphazardly to see what survives.

Not everything in the pots survived. There’s definitely something to be said for a proper vegetable garden with everything in rows or the wooden planters that are all the rage now.

The various stages of excitement and anticipation. Note the weirdo pointy tomato – I’ve been watching him like a hawk and he’s going into a chicken salad later today.

My crowdfund campaign is at 50% and I’m very thrilled! Please read below and see if you can help me save my business for when tourism picks up again. All contributions, big and small, are appreciated and I thank you in advance!

About Francoise Armour

I run a small touring company (Tours du Cap) at the bottom of Africa, to show visitors the beauty and vibrant culture of the country I have lived in since my parents brought me here from France as a child. I enjoy taking photos and wish I had learnt to do it properly. I enjoy writing but don't do enough of it. I enjoy walking in the mountains that surround me and I marvel over the views and the flowers and the amazing rock formations. I have a small, cute, clever, black dog of indeterminable breed, named Vida, who reminds me regularly that walking and getting out is not only for when tourists want it.

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A note to all accidental visitors:

I am not a photographer and do not claim to have any particular skills whatsoever in that department. I have enormous respect for those who can see the potential in a scene and can create a great photo. Good photography is an art, in my opinion.

I am just a happy snapper, I have no special lenses or accessories, my camera is very simple and it's usually best to leave the setting on auto.

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