May Madness (Inside)

During the first week of May everything went crazy in the tunnel while we were away for my birthday. We spent the days after we got back trimming leaves, tying up tomatoes, putting in support stakes and generally tidying up so things could grow in optimum conditions.

full view of polytunnel in may
Putting the ‘Green’ in Green Cottage Vegetables!

Here’s a run down of everything that happened in the tunnel in May:

During the hacking back of courgette leaves, from what had swiftly become a jungle, we were pleased to find some fully grown fruit!

holding globe courgette in polytunnel
First Globe Courgette as found by a very happy Pippa.

We have since started harvesting all but the newest 3 fruits on all the courgette plants. This is so the lowest fruits won’t touch the ground and rot and also so the plant isn’t trying to put its energy into too many fruits. This means we are currently getting lots of mini courgettes while the plants are getting bigger. When we were originally cutting back all the leaves we had one yellow courgette plant with about 15 teeny tiny fruits starting to grow!

baby courgettes on chopping board
Our first bunch of baby courgettes
baby courgettes
A few too many tiny courgettes growing on one plant!

The chilli peppers and sweet peppers have reached ‘pinching’ size. When they are about 20cm tall you ‘pinch’ the main stem at the top of the plant. This causes the stem to split and will create a bushier plant. The bushier the plant, the more flowers and thus, more fruits. Some peppers even started getting flower buds by the end of May.

chilli plant flower bu
First flowers starting to bud on the chilli plants

We have put supports in next to the purple sprouting broccoli and also by the aubergines, which have recently started flowering. We aren’t sure how pollination will go for them as their flowers are small and there aren’t too many bugs around. Having read online you can pollinate them yourself we have started a daily ‘tickle’ with a small paintbrush. This activity rubs the pollen from the male bits to the female bits at the centre of the flower. The flower will stay open for several days and this is the time for pollination. It’s worked if the flower closes but does not fall off the plant. Fingers crossed!

paintbrush pollination
Paintbrush pollination of Aubergines

The tomatoes have all gotten so big! Both types of climbers are tied to their stakes in at least three or four places and need daily checks for side shoots. These are additional branches that ‘shoot’ at the junction where existing leaf branches are attached to the main stem. Ideally you just want one main stem which will then have fruit trusses which ‘shoot’ halfway between two leaf branches. So when those additional side shoots appear nip them out to save your plants energy for fruit. It’s amazing to me how quickly the darn things will grow if you miss one – Before you know it its an inch long!
All of our three varieties have started flowering and fruit has started setting on the ‘Beef’ tomatoes (this is when pollination is successful and fruit has started growing). A good way to ensure fruit sets once flowering starts is to lightly tap the flowers and mist them with water as this will help the pollen stick to the flower in the dry poly tunnel conditions.

Once the fruit is ‘set’ the plant will need a lot more water and nutrients. We have made sure our tomato plants have a good root system by watering through a buried bottle rather than from the surface of the soil. This introduces the water lower down and stops the stem from rotting where it’s in contact with wet soil. We have started giving an additional nutritious seaweed based feed once a week to help our tomatoes grow steadily.

Our biggest beef tomatoes are currently just shy of ping pong ball sized with plenty more on their way.

Our romanesco cauliflower plants have burst from the ground and have been thinned out into proper spacing. The remaining seedlings have been moved outside in a trial run to see if they’ll survive the shock of the great outdoors! If so, next year we hope to grow a few of our crops to a good size in the tunnel before we plant them out. This will save us greenhouse space and seedling trays if we can simply get them going in the good warm soil of the tunnel.

Our salad leaves certainly like it in the tunnel, and they have been a constant abundant supply of greens for us, our friends and family, some customers, and our chickens throughout May. We are very excited for other crops to come through so we can start selling a variety at farmers markets. For now though I have 3 happy hens laying 3 beautiful big eggs a day, a freezer full of wilted spinach, a fridge full of luscious leaves and a polytunnel full to bursting!

boxes of our leaves
A selection of our sensational salad

Another nice surprise we found during our super tidy up/weeding extravaganza was that our resident polytunnel frogs/toads hadn’t left when it got hotter in the tunnel as we expected them to! They seems to like it in the shady humidity underneath either the courgettes or the tomatoes. Here they are by the courgettes a couple of weeks ago and fresh from a bath in one of the tomato reservoirs this week. If anyone can identify them we’d love to know who’s doing our slug patrol.

Check back soon to read about the construction of our giant bird cage and everything else going on outside the tunnel at Green Cottage Vegetables.

I’ll leave you for now, with a few more photos from the tunnel:

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Cheers

Pippa and Theo

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