Clumber Gardnerer: Greenhouses and tomatoes great and small

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Work has begun to restore the eastern half of the Long Range glasshouse in Clumber Park’s Walled Kitchen Garden.

For the past three years this section of the glasshouse has been closed to visitors, but thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund rotten timber glazing bars and ventilation sashes will be replaced, corroded ironwork renewed and the glasshouse re-glazed.

Once work is completed we will leave this section of the glasshouse unplanted until the autumn.

We hope to benefit from having a clean start, as all the nooks and crannies previously sheltering pests will have been destroyed.

In greenhouses smaller than the Long Range the same principles of hygiene and good husbandry apply.

Most home greenhouses can be emptied of plants in the autumn and the glass and frames given a thorough clean; in addition to helping control insect pests, it also allows more light through to the plants for the winter.

We get the same pests and diseases attacking our plants as anyone else who gardens under glass.

It is enlightening , and at times shocking, to read about how these pests were controlled when the glasshouse was first constructed in the late 19th century. Chemical preparations containing lead and arsenic were in common use. Nowadays we rely on biological controls, beneficial insects introduced into the glasshouse to predate on or parasitize the insect pest.

These controls are also available to home gardeners through garden centres or on line. The organic gardening catalogue www.organicgcatalogue.com stocks a good range of controls for aphids (greenfly), mealy bug and vine weevil.

We do most of our watering by hand first thing in the morning. This makes better use of water as in cooler temperatures there is less evaporation.

It also allows wetted foliage plenty of time to dry out reducing the likelihood of leaf and fruit rotting diseases like grey mould (botrytis).

Obviously in hot summer weather some container plants will need watering again later on in the day.

We water carefully, directing the jet to the compost or soils surface, rather than wetting the leaves.

We propose growing more heritage fruit varieties and a combination of the common or garden with the rare and unusual vegetables, such as the yard long bean and achocha, a member of the cucumber family which produces small gherkin-like fruits which can be used raw or in stir-fries.

The heritage and heirloom tomatoes we have previously grown have proved popular with visitors. If you like your tomatoes very large, the “beefsteak” kinds will suit.

At the other end of the scale are the currant-fruited varieties, such as ‘Currant Goldrush.’

The dark skinned ‘Black Russian’ and the curiously shaped ‘Jersey Devil’ always attract comment.

There are also varieties with yellow, orange, pink, purple and stripped skins, as well as plum- and pear-shaped fruits.

A good selection can be found at www.plantsofdistinction.co.uk.

Two tips for maximum flavour when growing tomatoes – feed regularly with a liquid fertiliser high in potassium and wait until the tomato fruit has fully ripened on the plant before picking it.