Sea­sonal check list as au­tumn ar­rives

The Press and Journal (Inverness) - - YOUR HOME - Jim McColl

As soon as a par­tic­u­lar sea­sonal com­ment is made in my hor­ti­cul­tural world there is a stream of ad­di­tional ques­tions to be an­swered.

On this oc­ca­sion, round the ta­ble with a few chums, the point at is­sue was what’s to be done with all the green, un­ripe toma­toes still hang­ing on the plants!

I set about this very task last week, re­mov­ing the green fruits be­fore dump­ing the plants. They were taken off and placed on seed trays which I left sit­ting on the green­house shelf. Each tray was cov­ered with a plas­tic dome but al­low­ing a small amount of ven­ti­la­tion.

“Aye, but when they are picked too early and ripened like ‘at’ they dinna taste the same – jist like the pro­duce fae the Mediter­ranean. It’s picked ower early, stuck in spe­cial tem­per­a­ture con­trolled vans for trans­port thoosans o’ miles!”

That was fol­lowed by rem­i­nis­cences of fam­ily life years ago. “I’m sure my Grannie used to put the green toma­toes in a drawer where they would ripen slowly” or “I think my Mother put green toma­toes in a plas­tic bag with a ripe ba­nana to make them ripen”. There is a bit of truth in the old meth­ods and that’s where the sci­ence comes in. The ‘agent’ in­volved in the process is eth­yl­ene gas.

Fruits gen­er­ate eth­yl­ene gas as they ripen. It is a nat­u­ral plant hormone which speeds up the ripen­ing process. When you put the green to­mato fruits in an en­closed space i.e. a li­nen drawer or some such, the con­cen­tra­tion of eth­yl­ene will in­crease and so cause the ma­ture fruits to turn red. It is what we re­fer to as ripen­ing!

Sim­i­larly, putting a ripe ba­nana in a closed poly bag along with un­ripe toma­toes will ‘do the busi­ness’ be­cause the ba­nana will also give off eth­yl­ene gas from the skin.

In a wider con­text, the gas, con­verted to liq­uid is used on com­mer­cial crops, like bush toma­toes be­ing grown for pro­cess­ing.

Sprayed on at a key stage, all the ma­ture fruits on the plants will ripen at the same time, al­low­ing the crop to be com­bine har­vested. I have used the tech­nique on a com­mer­cial glasshouse to­mato crop at the end of the sea­son to achieve one last pick be­fore pulling the plants out! It was stan­dard prac­tice at one time.

An­other end of sea­son task re­lates to re­mov­ing the sum­mer bed­ding plants whether it be from gar­den border, bas­kets, tubs or other con­tain­ers and the ques­tion which many ask is what to do with the ex­hausted com­post from con­tain­ers.

An­nual plants are gen­er­ally shaken free and con­signed to the com­post heap. Plants in con­tain­ers may be treated just the same and the com­post from con­tain­ers re­tained for fur­ther use. Some of you may have seen the Beech­grove Gar­den visit I made to Car­luke to see a gar­den with be­go­nias, be­go­nias and more be­go­nias – in the ground, in hang­ing bas­kets and in huge con­tain­ers.

“Do you use fresh com­post in these huge pots every year?” says I, to which the re­ply was: “No, I leave most of it in the con­tain­ers, re­fresh­ing it every year with new com­post as re­quired. Many of you will be re-plant­ing con­tain­ers now, with polyan­thus, vi­o­las, pan­sies, myoso­tis, wall­flower and bulbs. Be as­sured that you only need to add enough new com­post to make up the lev­els.”

“Aha, but do I need to empty the con­tain­ers com­pletely to mix the fresh in with the old com­post?” See what I mean, an­swer one ques­tion and it im­me­di­ately leads to an­other! The an­swer is in the af­fir­ma­tive, it al­lows you to check out the drainage in the bot­tom AND mix in a hand­ful of slow-re­lease fer­tiliser such as bone meal be­fore fill­ing the con­tainer again.

Fi­nally, yet an­other reg­u­lar ques­tion – is it OK to save seed from the veg­eta­bles and flow­ers that we grow? Of course it is, many peo­ple do this on a reg­u­lar ba­sis and get a great deal of sat­is­fac­tion from grow­ing their own for real! Then comes an­other re­lated ques­tion – I tried this two years ago, sowed the seed last year and was very dis­ap­pointed with the out­come. The plants were just not the same.

The most likely an­swer to the sec­ond ques­tion goes like this – suc­cess from seed sav­ing will be achieved be­cause the plants in ques­tion were from a sim­ple, sta­ble true breed­ing line. The un­suc­cess­ful out­come of the sec­ond ques­tion re­sulted from sav­ing seed from plants which carry the F1 suf­fix. This is a hy­brid cross be­tween two dif­fer­ent ‘true breed­ing lines’ and to pro­duce new seeds each year. These orig­i­nal crosses have to be made afresh every time (hence the cost of F1 hy­brid seed is dearer). Plants grown from seed taken from F1 hy­brid plants are F2s (the sec­ond fil­ial gen­er­a­tion) when the char­ac­ter­is­tics be­come to­tally mud­dled!

Un­ripe toma­toes still hang­ing on the plant

Be­go­nias, be­go­nias and more be­go­nias

Un­ripe toma­toes can of­ten be ripened by group­ing with fruit that is al­ready ripe

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