Wow! I just realised that his will be my fifth year of growing tomatoes. Of course I have grown tomatoes before as well. On a balcony. But this will be my fifth year of growing tomatoes the proper way. In a jardin potager. This anniversary asks for a flashback to the five years that lie behind us, and more specifically to this exact growing stage in March. Read along with me while I take you on a journey across 5 years of growing tomatoes in March.

I will share with you in this post what I’ve learned over the years. If I enjoy writing down these kind of posts, I might do it with other crops as well. Who knows!? As I’m trying to remember what happened – tomato wise – during those years, I’m getting a lot of insights on why some of my crops didn’t work out as well as I wanted them. And why some harvests were really good. Much of what happens during a year of gardening might be related on how well you start. And that probably doesn’t only apply to gardening. At the same time, you can only control your input, all the other things you have to bear and deal with. Gardening mimicking life, or something like that. Haha.

2013 Late start, OK results

So, let’s talk 2013. The picture above is actually a May-picture! OMG, what was I thinking! Everything was so late and I was so unprepared. This was bound to go wrong. 2013 was actually the year that we came to live in France (not counting December 2012 here). I was off on a pretty bad start that year. As I was brutally fired (on my birthday!) that year. As a result of both the move and my unstable work situation, I wasn’t my most productive self and used the garden pretty much to get my mind away from unimportant things. I think that the state of the seedlings, shows my mental state at that time. In any way I will use it as an excuse for the horror you see above. Hahaha

I had a lot of time on my hands at that time, but apparently wasn’t able to do things right and just made a mess out of my seedlings. Probably also due to the fact that I sowed one million tomato plants (see the arrow above)? Why? I only had prepared a very small part of the garden at that point, so there wasn’t much space anyway.

Part of that years harvest was saved though due to a smart acquirement of tomato plants from the Carrefour. They basically saved my tomato season. And sometimes, you need a hand. That was my lesson that year.

2014 Good start, MEDIOCRE results

Moving on to 2014. Our garden was better prepared that year and as you can see I was also better prepared. These seedlings are shot in March. So not May. The differences with the earlier shot of 2013 (in May) are clear. The tomatoes are much bigger and in pretty individual pots, labeled and all. Oh, so pretty, nothing could go wrong. Or could it?

Well. You probably guessed right. It could. The weather was horrible that year. H.o.r.r.i.b.l.e. We had a pretty good spring, with great temperatures, which tempted me into planting my tomatoes out early. I’m not sure when exactly, but I’m guessing April/early May? And then the horror happened. We had the wettest June, July in history. Ok, I’m overreacting, but it was really bad. We spent part of our holiday abroad during that period and people were watching our house and garden, and I felt so sad for them, because they couldn’t harvest anything due to the rain. And they felt bad, because the tomatoes were rotting away in front of their eyes and they didn’t know what to do.

Anyway, this was a lost year tomato wise, sure we had some harvest, but I grow tomatoes for a bumper crop and that’s not what we got that year. I learned two lessons that year. One, that being well prepared at the start doesn’t guarantee a good crop. Two, that the good March/April weather can fool you into thinking that the season has already started. I should be more careful and not plant things out so early.

2015 Good start, AMAZING results

2015 was my year. What a beautiful year it was, with amazing crops from every single vegetable. Like most things that work out perfectly, this story will be boring. That’s how it is in life, good stories only come with imperfection. Don’t you think?

So what happened? Well, I was prepared for one. Here you can see (some) of my tomato plants of that year. The big ones I bought at a nursery and the small ones were my home-grown ones. Both were perfect size for that time of the year.
And the weather was terrific. Dry and extremely hot. I do believe that that year reached some records heat wise. And I’m not exaggerating. And while we were searching for cold places to hide, the tomato plants thrived and delivered.

That was 2015. My lessons? Let me think, because it’s hard to learn something from things that just turn out perfect. Well, maybe, that it’s important to be ready at a beginning of a growing season, for when you end up having a perfect season. You can then fully enjoy the fruits of your (and the sun’s) labor. Perhaps that was my lesson?

2016 Late start, BAD results

Almost there. This is a picture of my tomato seedlings last year at the beginning of April! Yes, April. Again, not so much progress, a bit further than 2013, but not that much. This was the year that we first moved into our new house and we only found out that we could get an allotment in March, so I started fairly late with my plan(t)s.

This year, last year, also turned out to be a very bad year weather wise for the plants. Even though we had a beautiful July, August, September, October and November, for these tomatoes I really needed a dryer early summer (meaning May, and June). And that we didn’t have. At all. It was so wet on the allotment last year, incredible. Most of my neighbours took away all their plants before they had the chance to fruit, due to blight.
I was partly lucky, because I wasn’t fully ready for planting out my seedlings in May, I planted out my plants fairly late. I’m not sure when exactly, but later than I would have liked to. That saved me from some of the misery. But I too was hit hard by blight. I did manage to control it by July and ended up having a bit of a harvest. Of the four years, this was definitely my worst.

I had many lessons to learn last year. Firstly, because we were gardening on a new site. And every garden has different characteristics. This new site is definitely a place where I want to plant out my plants later than I normally do. But at the same time I do want to have pretty big plants when I plant them out, Ideally with one or two flowers already on them. So that I can kick-start the year.
Another lesson I learned is that you can make blight ‘go away’, if you manage to keep your plants alive until the next dry period arrives. That was basically what I did.
And the third thing I learned last year was that slugs eat tomato plants if they have to. There, I’ve said it. The horrible truth.

2017 Good start, HIGH expectations

And here we are. March 2017. A handful of years of growing experience and I think I’m ready for this year. I like where I’m at, seedling wise and the weather is not to bad either. It feels like this might be a 2015 year, tomato wise.

I see you thinking. Did she really learn from her one million seedlings lesson in 2013? Well, to be honest, maybe not. But the good thing is, that I have potted them on this year. And that’s basically the biggest problem with sowing too many seeds. Potting on, is a hell of a job, so if you don’t like to do that part, don’t sow too much! There is another difference to 2013 though, you see I have more local friends now, with who I can share these plants. So in theory, these are definitely not too many plants. In theory.  I’ll come back to you on this point in June. Ok?

Any lessons so far? I’ve already learned at least one thing this year! The season has hardly started, so I’m sure I will learn more along the way. But the thing that I learned this year is that plastic boxes work really well as tiny greenhouses for these seedlings. I’ve used boxes the last few weeks to keep them warm and I think the seedlings have never looked better before. So these are the standard plastic IKEA boxes that I have in stock in case of a move. Right now they keep my seedlings safe during the night (indoors) and during day (outdoors).

That’s it. My overview of five years of growing tomatoes in March. If you appreciate this kind of overview posts, please let me know in the comments below (or anywhere else) and I will try to do more.