Garden notes from Helen Chestnut: Tomato plants are thriving, despite a dreadful start


The plants are growing and flowering surprisingly well, considering the cool spring

Dear Helen: I am totally intrigued by my tomato plants. They grow and flower surprisingly well, despite their dodgy start in dull, cold weather. I grow them in a series of large pots, which are cleaned and filled with fresh potting soil each spring. The only difference this year is that I added thin layers of compost mulch and grass clippings when I planted the tomatoes in their summer plots. I usually don’t mulch until the weather warms up in July. Do you think early mulching gave the plants a needed boost?


The mulch layers have probably, with watering, leached nutrients to the plant roots. But I planted my tomatoes for repotting as usual this year and I had the same surprise as you in front of marvelous plants. The potted tomatoes on the terrace are as close to perfection as I have ever seen – strong, deep green, dotted with flowers and forming fruit, all despite a truly appalling start.

As the cold weather dragged on and the patio tomatoes awaiting transplanting continued to deteriorate, I figured I should relegate them to compost and do without their tasty fruit this year.

As usual, I sowed the compact tomatoes for the pots on the terrace at the end of February. They germinated quickly and grew well until March. Usually patio tomatoes would go to the unheated greenhouse in April, to be placed in their pots and placed on the patio later in April or early May.

The cold spring weather that year extended the time they had to be held in the meager protection of the greenhouse, where they continued to deteriorate. Finally, after weeks of waiting, I decided to plant the poor and hope for the best.

I always incorporate a little fish compost into any potting mix I make with Pro-Mix growing medium reinforced with a substantial all-purpose potting mix such as Organic Premium All-Purpose Potting Mix from Cinnebar Valley or the finest organic potting mix on the island. A little coir (coir) fiber added to the mix improves moisture retention and a slow-release, naturally-sourced fertilizer eliminates the need to keep fertilizing the pots – except topping up with fish compost around mid-July.

Like you, I cannot fully explain the unusual perfection of the plants this year, especially given their miserable start. Perhaps it was this long and arduous wait that led the plants to vigorous growth in their final transplanting and with the first hint of warmth in the air.

Dear Helen: Like most home gardeners, I take great pleasure in harvesting food from the garden for immediate use in a meal. My problem is with lettuce and other leafy greens. When I bring them in, wash and drain them, and toss them with a salad dressing, this salad is soft. Is this something you noticed and remedied?


I have noticed this problem, which is more pronounced in hot weather. I try to pick lettuces, endives and similar salad ingredients in the cool of the morning, although sometimes I don’t get the job done until later in the day.

Whenever greens are picked, for crisp salads, I wash the leaves, drain them well in a colander, wrap them loosely in a clean kitchen towel, and place the towel in a plastic bag. Then chilling in the refrigerator makes the greens well.

Just before a meal, to make a salad, I mix a dressing in a large bowl and tear or cut the greens in the bowl and toss them gently to coat them in the dressing.


Meet the dahlias. The Victoria Dahlia Society will meet Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at St. Michael’s Church, 4733 West Saanich Rd. The program will focus on caring for healthy dahlias: debudding, training, etc., with questions and answers included. Visitors are welcome.

Exhibition and sale of lilies. The Victoria Lily Society hosts a Summer Scentsations flower show, plant sale and tea on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Broadview United Church, 2625 Arbutus Rd. Admission is by donation. Exhibits judged will include lilies, roses, perennials, succulents, grasses, fruits, vegetables and more. An English-style afternoon tea with homemade scones and other treats will be available for $5. For sale will be a large variety of lilies in gallon pots.


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