Yes, we've hit that lull in proceedings where those of us who don't own or use a greenhouse have to twiddle our thumbs, tickle the soil over with a hoe once a week and find something to occupy our usually busy schedule.
It's seed catalogue time.
I've tried to steer clear of the lazy solution when writing here but in this case, I must hold up my hands and give in to the obvious. The seed houses and breeders have put all their efforts into finding new varieties and new plants for us so it would be exceedingly churlish to ignore them when the weather outside is frightful and the fire is so delightful. So, if you've no place to go, let us, sow let us, sow let us sow...
My particular leanings tend to be towards easy, tough and productive plants. I have neither the time nor the inclination to pamper those precious darlings of the alpine rockery or the demanding flavourless fashionistas that require heat, protection and then after five years, blanching to become barely edible.
If possible, I try to avoid any edibles that need a lot of help. They seem to me to be akin to those freaks of the dog breeders world that need to be carried around, need special diets and regular operations just to survive and then have a limited lifespan at that.
It has become the norm to grow tomatoes as a cordon, that is, as a single stem with side shoots removed. This encourages greater yields but leaves the plant totally dependant on the gardener for support. The fuss of tying in and staking plants is very limited compared to other plants but gives a good example.
Years ago when I first tried growing tomatoes I grew bush varieties. Or rather, a bush variety. Even then it was hard to find anything other than a cordon type.
The benefit of the bush variety means the plants are free to send out shoots and grow as a low bush rather than a tall single stem. The yield was actually quite comparable. The one precaution is a covering of straw or shredded paper under the plants as the fruits sit close to, sometimes on, the soil itself. Those gardeners trying to grow tomatoes in windier situations will see the clear advantage to this. The amount of ground required to grow bush types is however greater than with cordons but this does allow for a greater root area and even provides some degree of ground cover. I would recommend growing bush varieties to anyone keen to experiment with new and alternative options. Perhaps as a ground cover between the cordons or other taller thinner plants.
Sadly, the choices are still quite limited.
Looking through the main seed house website listings, only a few appear.
Fothergills can't be bothered to list them at all, preferring not to inform the buyer as to the growing habit. A search on their website or bush tomato only brings a mix of plants with bush in the name .such as Marrows and berries, or the full list of all tomato varieties available regardless of habit.
Of course, it is perfectly plausible that all tomato plants can be left to grow as bushes but breeding has produce plants that can no longer cope without the constant attention that cordon plants get. Disease resistance and watering are more of an issue when they are left to fend for themselves.
Thompson and Morgan, ever the encyclopaedic of suppliers, have a vast wealth of choices available, all specifically described as Bush. A search engine that is easy to use and responds quite happily to limited information is such a bonus and this is where Thompson and Morgan show their colours.
Suttons Seeds search bar suggests bush tomatoes as an option for the word 'bush' and so again scores well. Sadly, the choice is quite minimal. Almost a token gesture, considering their position in the market.
Dobies hit a wall when it comes to searching for Bush, well, anything. Typing 'Bush Tomatoes' into their search bar results in a dead end. No items found.
Trying just 'Bush' brings up not one but two varieties of Marrow. Nothing else.You can only find tomatoes if you delete the plural and type in 'Tomato'. Once again, taking a leaf out of Fothergill's book, these are not listed by growth habit so a steady one by one search is required to find the bush types. Once discovered, the description does however inform the potential buyer about the growing style. Sadly, as the text is copied word for word from other suppliers' sites, it really doesn't encourage any loyalty and a better and larger choice will draw customers away to Suttons.
"But what about the smaller, specialist sites and suppliers?" I don't hear you cry.
I'll tell you anyway.
Seeds of Italy again can't handle a search for two words and only show Bush varieties as part of the tomato list in general but a very nice range of ten varieties chosen on taste and kitchen preference with mouthwatering descriptions. A real foodies seed house.
Real Seeds. That's a refreshing site. More of an information/club/research site than just a sales site. Favours interaction so you get honest reviews from existing customers before making your selection. A side bar lists Bush Tomatoes separately and, although the choice is limited to only four, they are very full and informative descriptions. This is clearly a site for and by food lovers and growers rather than a commercial giant.
What about your favourite oddity?
Do you spend the dark cold days searching the web or ideas or do you just find other things get in the way?
Right, now for the next bit, the planning a planting scheme!
Time for the notepad!