Controlling tomato plants and lifting early potatoes

First published by Rattan Direct on 27 July 2016.

Keeping tomato plants under control

Tomatoes are going wild now. I gave a friend six plants I’d raised from seed and last week he sent an emergency text:

Toms running rampant – need to cut side shoots?

This tomato side shoot has got too big for its boots. Early potatoes
This tomato side shoot has got too big for its boots. M K Stone

This is what I told him he should be doing.

  • As the main stem grows, tie it to the stake.
  • Pinch out those over-keen side shoots in the corner between the main stem and the main leaves. That’s because we want the plant to focus on flowering and setting fruit rather than growing lots of lush green leaves.
  • When four or five trusses of tomatoes have set (flowers have turned into fruit), pinch out the top growth.
  • Take off any leaves which have turned yellow too.
  • Feed with tomato feed. It’s high in potassium to encourage fruit and make it swell.
Pinch out this small tomato side shoot before it gets too big. Early potatoes
Pinch out this small tomato side shoot before it gets too big. M K Stone

Lift, don’t dig early potatoes

Early potatoes are ready for lifting some time from June to September, when the flowers open and the leaves are still green. This is about ten to 12 weeks from planting but exactly when depends on the variety and the growing conditions. They can be lifted and eaten as soon as they’re ready. Yum! Steamed with mint, perhaps? With butter? Accompanying poached salmon?

Potatoes in flower near Llanychaer, Pembrokeshire. Early potatoes
Potatoes in flower near Llanychaer, Pembrokeshire. © ceridwen and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

But I’m getting ahead of myself a little bit.

You have to take care when lifting potatoes, especially earlies. You don’t want to damage either their delicate skin or the whole thing by driving a fork straight through. The action should be gentle lifting rather than digging. Watch Monty Don lifting early potatoes.

You will need a fork. A garden fork will be fine – as long as you’re careful. The idea is to get right under the plant and lift carefully. Start a little way away from the plant and wiggle the fork a bit to get it underneath. Pull away the haulm (stalks and stems) and the beautiful, well-aerated soil will crumble away and you’ll start to see the potatoes to pick out of the ground. Pick them out immediately and feel around to see if there are any more close by. Work over the ground carefully to harvest them all, even the little tiny ones. Those little tiny ones, if not picked out of the soil now, will ‘volunteer’ next year to grow into potato plants just where you don’t want them.

And the succession crop? What comes next?

The soil where the potatoes were growing will probably be in great condition: loose and open, well aerated, warm and usually moist. It’s a traditional place to sow spring cabbage, to be transplanted as seedlings in the autumn. Or you could sow some quick maturing crops such as a few more French beans, carrots or chard.

If you sowed spinach back in the spring it’s probably ready to harvest about now. And the salad leaves too, if you managed to get them in.

It’s all sounding good.

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