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Too Cool a Summer

Thursday, 3rd October 2002, West Yorkshire

tomatoesWe've had a warm dry September and a good start to October but despite this our tomatoes in the greenhouse aren't ripening quickly and there aren't vast quantities of unripe fruits. Other gardeners have told me they've had the same problem and they've now taken their tomatoes out. They put it down to the cool weather we had this summer; the plants were never able to set fruit as they should.

tomatoes I make my own compost, mixed from garden compost and riddled soil with fish, blood and bone meal added. For seedlings I go to the trouble of sterilizing the compost so that weeds don't crowd out the seedlings. Apparently using steam, as I do, to sterilize the soil leads to an increase in nitrogen levels. Heating the soil in compartments separate from the steam gets around this problem.

Too much nitrogen can lead to abundant leaf growth at the expense of flowers and fruit, which need potash, a supply of potassium carbonate, as found in bonfire ash. The greenhouse looks like a jungle this year. Perhaps next year I should try adding ash to my potting mixture for the tomatoes. And I'll also try to keep up with pricking out the side shoots and the tops of the plants, something that I lost track of this summer with all the other jobs I had on hand.

The Newt's Tale

newts in soil steriliserBarbara has dug out the busy lizzies from barrel planter on the patio and she's putting in winter flowering pansies. We decide to freshen up the soil by adding some potting compost that we treated in the soil sterilizer but never used. The sterilizer has been sitting on the edge of the herb bed for months. As we take off the lid and prepare to tip the contents into the barrel I notice that there are two smooth newts crouching in the corner. They must have smooth newtentered by the small hole in the top and once they dropped in I don't see how they could have got out again, unless they can cling upside down onto the inside of the lid, which I doubt. They look none the worse for their imprisonment and I release them in the pond.

newts' tailsThe lighter coloured one has a round tail and I suspect that this is a female while the darker one has flanges along the top and bottom of its tail suggesting that its a male. Of course he's not sporting his bright springtime colours at this time of page

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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