Sunday 13 July 2014

Tomatillos - back from the dead

These photos show my tomatillo plants in rude health. Bushy, leafy, weighed down with little green lanterns which house the fruit, it's hard to believe that back at the end of April I was convinced the plants were dead.

I'd sown them at the very beginning of March, earlier than usual because last year they had needed a really long season to get going. By the second week of April the plants were rocketing away and had outgrown their 3-inch pots, the weather was warm and I planted them out in a newly-made raised bed. Of course, whatever the daytime temperatures, the nights were still cold and it was soon clear that I'd planted them out far too early. The three tomatillo plants (yes, there are only three plants in the bed) stopped growing and just looked spindly and unhappy.

I took pity on them and popped a homemade bottle cloche over each plant: take a 2-litre plastic water bottle, cut off the bottom, then cut off the neck where it begins to narrow so you are left with a long straight cylinder of clear plastic. That cheered them up a bit and they started growing again so that by the end of April there was foliage spilling over the top of the bottle cloches.

And then we had an overnight frost. I came up to the allotment to find my happy tomatillo plants had been reduced to green stems draped with withered, browning leaves. For a week, I left them, hoping they might recover, but nothing happened. Eventually I decided I would just have to start all over again with them and lifted the bottle cloche protecting the middle plant in order to pull the plant up, only to find that within the confines of the plastic bottle protector, there were indeed new leaves just beginning to sprout. It was only the tips of the plants, exposed to the below-freezing temperatures, which had died. I cut these dead leaves and stems away completely, replaced the cloche and went back to waiting.

After that the regrowth was fast and the plants are also even bushier than usual. They've taken over the bed, elbowing out the cucamelons behind them and hogging all the available light. So it appears that a rigorous prune early in the growing season might be beneficial to them although it seems like a rather risky procedure to carry out in springtime.

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