Early Stages of Growing Tomatoes

Growing Tomatoes from seed – starting in March

First I checked what seeds were in the box of seed packets. This year (2020) there was an old packet of Money Maker (medium sized red tomatoes) and two new packets of Gardener’s Delight and Ildi (both small tomatoes, red and yellow respectively).

To reduce the risks of pests and diseases I always sow seeds in a sterile medium. In theory we could use our own home-made compost but to treat it so it is clear of weed seeds, pests and diseases would be a major exercise. However it comes in very useful at a later stage when plants are well established and ready to go into bigger pots.

Although it is something that every gardener should do, I have never been enthusiastic about washing pots, seed trays etc. However this year I had time to do that so I gave everything a good slosh with cold water and a chance to dry. When it’s not raining drying is best done by scattering the containers across the lawn. It’s always interesting to see how they have moved overnight – there’s clearly lots going on in our garden in the dark that we don’t know about.

Our allotment society sells sacks of multipurpose compost that does the job very well as a sowing medium and also for all stages of potting on.

I selected the ‘now clean’ containers for sowing.

Before I even opened the seed packets I wrote labels for each of the three types of tomato.

I filled three clean containers with compost. They were a seed tray and two containers with modules that fit into an unheated germinating trough that has a cover.

I sowed the seeds thinly in rows in the tray and two seeds to a module for the other two.

Then I watered them using a rose on the watering can.

The modules were covered with their plastic cover and the seed tray with cling film. I keep a separate roll of cling film for gardening. In the early years I was tempted to nip to the kitchen drawer for cling film but best not to mix cooking and gardening equipment.

One of our bedrooms is north facing with a radiator under the window, a perfect place for starting seeds off. This year I have put two garden tables under the window (a wallpapering table would have been just as good) and covered them with newspaper. The seeds in their containers sat there for about a week before there were signs of seedlings coming through the soil. I kept an eye on them, watering as necessary. After another week they had grown big enough (first set of leaves and early signs of the second set of leaves) to take off the covers and to move them to the conservatory.

Another few days passed then I decided to prick out the seedlings into 3 inch pots, two to a pot. All tomato seedling look the same to me so labelling the pots carefully is important if you want to know what type of tomato is in each pot.

I realised that I had far too many for us to use so asked a few friends and neighbours if they would like plants. Four people responded that they would. At this stage the seedlings are quite delicate – I hope they have survived with their new owners.

The picture below is of four pots packed and ready to be taken home to their new home in a bike pannier.

The seedlings need to get used to outdoors so I put them outside every day to harden off and bring them back in overnight. It is far too cold at night for tomatoes to survive outside unprotected. We have a cold frame but it is in shade so a bit too cool at the moment for tomato seedlings.

The pots are easy to carry in and out, evening and morning if they are in larger containers. Normally I use seed trays but this year I found these redundant old bowls under our potting table. They are nice and solid so I’ve found them easy to handle.

It’s early days yet and the plants are slowly putting on growth. Once they are about 6 inches tall and the weather is warmer I’ll decide what to do next. This means deciding how many go to the allotment (and a higher risk of blight) and how many stay here in the garden in large pots. It’s lovely to nip into the garden to pick tomatoes to eat immediately. It’s also good to have a decent amount of space to grow them, ie on the allotment.

The potting on and planting out stages will be followed by staking, watering, pinching out if necessary, and eventually harvesting in late July and August.


Stacking Logs

Logs – from ordering and delivery to wood store

The first thing to do is to phone the farm who have been supplying us with dry logs for 6 years. This time they were able to deliver two days after I called. It all depends on their orders from Cambridge city and they organise the delivery round to drop off a lorry load to different customers in the same area. Our 1sq metre of logs is a third of their load. Our last load was relatively recent and we just about had enough for another three weeks taking us to Easter (12 April) then it should be warm enough not to need more wood – but we thought it wise to top up as future deliveries could be uncertain. Also it’s nice to have a fire and the wood burner does a whole evening on three logs (unlike the open fire which is even more comforting but needs at least three times that amount of wood).

Normally we pay (£95) in cash but this time we decided to write a cheque – less hassle than getting the cash and probably safer as social distancing/washing hands etc is the norm with the coronavirus outbreak so using a cash machine, handling cash might be less ‘clean’ than one cheque. We agreed to leave the money in the porch to reduce contact.

The farm left a phone message the day before delivery to say it was going to be between 9 and 10 on Saturday 28 March.

On the day, first of all I moved the car out of the drive. The doorbell rang just after 9; the lorry, as usual, had reversed into the drive. It was a different driver, another member of their family. Patrick wrote the cheque as they tipped out the logs.

Then our job was to get the heap of logs stacked in the wood store. We have a well-tested routine.

These 2 photos were taken when we were about two thirds of the way through the pile on the drive.

Patrick sets aside scraps of wood etc (behind the wheelbarrow) and at the end puts them in a separate old compost bag for kindling.

The next stage is to trundle the logs into the garden. There were 13 barrow loads this time. Quite a lot of lifting, trundling etc! And on this occasion we followed the log stacking with a visit to the allotment to keep up with the digging so a good day for exercise.

The logs land on the path and lawn near the wood store

Stacking them takes time as the idea is to fill each shelf two logs deep and to the top (photos iv. and v. below). I have to fit the logs together, wedge them firmly to make sure they don’t fall down through the gap at the left hand end of the shelves (photos ii. and iii. below), fill small gaps with slimmer logs and if possible have a space for the kindling tray.






All done

A view from the side

Kindling tray perched on some logs and

the old compost bag of chippings that P swept up

from the drive ready to use


Easter Decorations – mainly eggs

These lovely eggs all started as regular hen’s eggs. They had a friend who was a goose egg. All these eggs were first blown and rinsed, then, for most of them, a thread or wire attached to hang them up.  The goose egg was decorated as Humpty Dumpty wearing a school cap! Sadly he has broken beyond repair.

The eggs below have been decorated over the years by members of the family. In the early days the painting was fairly basic as you’d expect when done by a 3 or 4 year old. As time went by the decorations became more complicated or individual. Year by year the numbers increased, the new eggs outpacing the breakages. This year there were two that broke and no new ones, but there are still plenty to hang on a banch.

This is the 2020 bare branch. It is lilac that is just coming out – it has been an early spring and a fairly late Easter so forsythia is over so this was the best option amongst the shrubs in the garden.

The branch is decorated by hanging the eggs on the branches. The ones on threads sway gently if there is a breeze.

This papier maché egg has painted daffodils on the top half and trains from Thomas the Tank Engine on the lower half. As you can see Toby the tram engine (7) is there and also Gordon (4) on the top photo with Henry (3) below, and Edward (2) on the bottom photo. Thomas is between Gordon and Edward, just in view on both pictures, but not his number (1)! This egg was made in about 1984, with help from a three year old, and astonishingly it has lasted all this time.

And below is what happens to the small eggs waiting on the table……. The skilled part is putting the two halves together without eggs spilling everywhere, tying the ribbon round and standing the egg vertically – a bit of a balancing act.


Easter decorations – start with blowing eggs

You will need a bowl and an egg.

Then find a substantial pin – a safety pin works well. Stab it into the pointed end of the egg and wiggle round to make a small hole. If possible, push it into the egg far enough to perforate the yolk. Then do the same at the round end and make a bigger hole. The right hand picture shows that this can cause a leak from the smaller hole – no problem – just wipe away the raw egg.

The next stage is to blow the egg. Blow through the small hole so the yolk and egg white come out of the larger hole. Sometimes it takes quite a lot of force to blow out the contents – but be careful as the shell can break.

Keep the egg contents for cooking, then the empty egg is ready to be rinsed, inside and out.

Then the fun stage – decorating. Use anything from paint, ink, felt tips etc to colour the egg, create a pattern or design. Be careful – it’s easy to break the shell!

To suspend the egg from a branch you will need to fix a wire or thread to it. There are several methods.

Probably the easiest is to take a simple wire plant tie and twist a ‘knot’ at one end. Then push the wire into the egg through the large hole and out through the small hole at the top (stopped by the ‘knot’).


Decorating Simnel Cakes


  1. Make cake(s) following a simnel cake recipe, and including a layer of almond paste (marzipan) through the middle.
  2. Make sure you have enough marzipan – it’s surprising how much you need for the top of the cake plus the balls.
  3. Brush the cake with apricot jam (or home-made jelly in my case) so the marzipan will stick to it.
  4. Use half the marzipan for the top (and possibly sides) of the cake and the other half for the eleven balls (12 disciples minus Judas = 11)
  5. Roll out the marzipan to cover the top (and possibly sides) of the cake
  6. Divide the rest of the marzipan into 11 and roll into balls to go round the edge of the top of the cake
  7. If you like, gently grill the marzipanned cake so the marzipan browns but beware – it burns very quickly so needs watching all the time
  8. Add ‘frill’, eggs, Easter chicks etc.

I made four cakes, for us in Cambridge, to send to Will and Jenny, for Elin and for John P. who always likes a good fruit cake. The two that look like puddings or pies (!!) are for us and W+J.

Preparing the balls for the two larger cakes. Dividing pieces of marzipan into 11 equal sized pieces is slightly less easy than it seems. I have never resorted to using scales even though that would make it more precise. Icing sugar is great for stopping the marzipan from sticking, including as I roll the balls in my palm. It’s surprising how it gets absorbed so there are no puffs or smears of white sugar left on the marzipan.

This is one of the bigger cakes under the grill. I watched each cake carefully and turned them round so the tops of the balls toasted evenly. That’s why there is foil under the cake, to slide it round on the grill pan.

This is what happens under the grill – not actually burnt but well toasted. The foil in the middle of the cake on the right is to stop that one toasting in the middle.

The next thing was to add ‘frills’ made of a plain ribbon (gold or dark blue) with a narrower check yellow ribbon stitched on top to give a spring feel rather than Christmas. It was a bit of a fiddle and the rough and ready cake sides have not allowed the ribbons to lie nice and flat. But never mind!

And here they are pretty much finished. Will and Jenny’s (top left) will have a separate packet of mini eggs in the parcel and ours will get its mini eggs and a small fluffy chick at Easter. I stuck the mini eggs on with small blobs of icing. Intriguingly the sugar shells of the mini eggs on the cake on the right (for John) split soon after I put them on the cake whereas the ones on the bottom middle cake (Elin’s) have not. I’m unenthusiastic about the shocking green ribbon on our cake and we’ll take it off as soon as we start to eat it – the ribbon is easy to handle as it has wire edges (as with florists’ ribbon) which may have swung the decision to use it.

These cakes keep well although the marzipan can get a bit crispy if kept out of a tin for too long.