Endings and New Beginnings

2019 has been my most challenging year yet since I started growing and allmost certainly also one of the hardest I have had to deal with personally for a number of reasons.

So I have taken the decision to stop doing Mail order veg and move on to something new I will still be doing my Tomatoes for now at least But I am working on other projects for the future and not sure therefore what my plans are beyond 2020 But for next year at least I will still be doing the Tomato business but on a much smaller scale.

To be honest how I have kept going over the years is hard to comprehend many of you won’t know But this is my 8th Nursery I’m renting since I started my first one in Fife in 2003, A combination of wanting to move and a huge amount of bad luck meaning I had to move from certain nurseries. I even through unscrupulous removers the first time during the move from Scotland to Cornwall and an owner of a nursery I rented going bankrupt lost everything twice in 2007 and 2012 about £30,000 worth each time and had to start again entirely from scratch with nothing. And that’s without all the everyday issues that can trip you up in any unexpected moment such as the weather, germination issues, pests and diseases, staffing issues, ill family members and everything in between you have to deal with as small business owner where one hat fits all and you have to be the grower, the packer, the sower, the customer service operator, credit control, delivery guy, Admin and even tea boy

Over that time the business has evolved a lot its been Fun (some times) Challenging (all the time) Darn right miserable (occasionally) Tiring (always) and lots more besides.

But my one saving grace has always been my passion for growing tomatoes and thats where from 2020 my path will go Vegetable Plants Direct will go I will only be growing veg to sell locally and on site, Tomato Plants Direct will go in its current form and be replaced by The Tomato Growers Club.

I was going to chuck it all in entrirely mail order wise and just grow for sale on site and locally, But it seams that I have quite a few fans of my Tomatoes out there and after some wonderful messages I decide that yes I will serve those of you that still want my Tomatoes, But it would have to be in some way that is completely different that I can control.

The issue has always been since I started the Tomato business I end up taking too many orders and then alienate and upset people by not managing to deal with them all in a timely manner and whilst I know people get upset and angry over this it still does not excuse the amount of threats and abuse I recieve particularly this year which has been horrendous and I now know how celebrities feel when they get trolled on social media which is a sad reflection on the world we live in today its like no one can a make a mistake in business anymore.

At the end of the day I am human and I am dealing with perishable goods I am not Amazon or Ebay I can only do what I can do if thats not acceptable then don’t buy off me its as simple as that.

So I looked into what could be done going forwards and the decsions have been made :

Firstly as I said earlier I have decided to make my Tomato website a Tomato Growers Club with a small membership fee of £5 per year and to make this possible I have added plugins to my WordPress website that allows me to firstly hide the shop from general public view and search engines so it can only viewed by members and only members can order, A plugin in to run the memberships side of the site and also another plugin that allows you to pick a delivery slot at checkout

Also, as a member you will still have access to the rewards points scheme it is temporarily suspended at the moment But don’t worry any orders placed I will top your points up when its live again

I will also get the forum up and running properly so you can ask questions and post your pictures of your efforts

And I hope to add much more things to the membership site as time goes by so that you can reap real tangible benefits from being a member such has too sheets, Possibly a course and a Magazine, much more info on varieties and what Tomato for what situation.

But above all I want this to be the time when you get what you want when you want it and for us to all grow some the best varieties from around the world together that taste great look great and bring us Joy

So why not sign up for membership today order your tomatoes and let’s start this journey together


Ends Mon 26th at Midnight

What can you grow for winter ?

Well quite a lot actually. Winter Brassicas is the obvious such as Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Savoy Cabbage, Cauliflowers, Kale, Calabrese, Romanesco, and you can get varieties now that will crop right through from autumn to spring with careful planning and the same with Leeks

Broad Beans and Peas can be planted Oct/Nov to give earlier crops in the Spring and the same goes for Onion sets and Garlic for earlier Summer harvest

Winter Radish and Winter Lettuce can also be grown

Turnips are a good quick growing crop great for stews and casseroles

We also do a late cropping hardy Florence Fennel from Italy

Spinach is another crop suited to winter production both the Japanese leaf types with some protection and the much hardier winter types from Italy and perennial Spinach

Then you have the Chicories and Radicchio good for winter salads as well as Rocket, Beet leaf and Chard which can also be grown to maturity and used like Spinach or the stems can be braised or stir-fried

Carrots can be planted in Autumn for earlier Spring crops

And last but by no means least the Oriental leaves which come as formula mixes or individual such as Pak Choi, Mustard, Mizuna, Tatsoi, Komatsuna all fairly hardy but may be best with some protection 

We are making progress with the orders But do have an awful lot to get caught up with at present so do please bare with us I am constantly changing and tweaking things to try to get orders out as quickly as possible, and I am going to try to get an extra person on packing for the next couple of weeks, so we have two packing and two picking if at all possible. For those that haven’t purchased off us before I am only a small company and therefore don’t have huge resources to rely on that the large companies have at their disposal.

If at all possible can you refrain from e-mailing to inquire about a delivery date unless its to tell me your going away or if you do e-mail please accept it may take me a few days to reply as I am commuting from Weston-Super-Mare to the new nursery the other side of Bristol that is adding another 2 hours to my day that I am not at home in the office to reply to e-mails which makes things very difficult indeed I am reading all e-mails but have limited time to reply as I also have to book in the parcels with Royal Mail or the courier on Monday-Thursday evenings so this really only leaves the weekends to sit and reply to all the e-mails And Please if you don’t get a reply straight away don’t go and open a PayPal dispute as that really does throw a spanner in the works and makes a lot more work for me dealing with PayPal as they get very jumpy and start holding funds and blocking money transfers to the bank etc.

We will get the orders out as fast we are able to if your growing outside its still been a bit cold to be planting out anyway, Most of the plants now are getting a good size and being in 6 cm coir pots they grow away rapidly once planted

We have now started dispatching orders this past week and a lot of plants are now ready I do still have a few small tomatoes unfortunately on some of the more popular varieties, but they are growing and I will probably notice a big difference again tomorrow as I have been away for a family wedding this weekend so not seen the plants since Friday.
A small few varieties ive either had germination failures or some of them have died off after pricking out but I have re-sown many of them
Sunsugar is a total crop failure I had huge problems getting seed for it this year and ended up finding them on Amazon unfortunately it didn’t say they were from China which are notoriously bad at germinating. I will replace these with either sungold, sun baby or bottondoro I will no longer be offering Sunsugar in the future as it nearly impossible to get seed for it now.
Ananas noir is another one but has been re-sown

Any that have issues I will either Sub if you have marked that as OK or I will send what is ready and send the other odd one or two when ready or refund if you have selected no subs
I have two packers (sisters) this year who are both very good and both are doing longer hrs than previous years, so we will get your orders out as fast as we can now they’re ready,

But please do be patient I know it’s the end of April now But the timing this year was always going to be a bit trial and error as I didn’t know how the Tomatoes would react being grown under polythene instead of glass The ones sown in plugs grew rapidly But the once sown using my petri dish method ive used successfully over the last few years did not do so well as they have previous years because It has gotten extremely hot in there at times, so they have struggled a bit until this week to get going once pricked out.

So for next year I know to start earlier and will sow the Peppers and Aubergines late Dec/Early Jan and the tomatoes Late Jan/Early Feb

As many of you will know I am no longer doing most veg by Mail order, I have recently moved to new premesis the other side of Bristol and as part of the move I am moving away from the mail order veg to enable me to serve my Tomato customers properly as Tomatoes is where my real passion lies and last year trying to do both veg and tomatoes was a complete disaster.

So as part of the move I have almost drawn a line under the past and started again and my focus thus will be as follows

1. Tomato and the other Items on the Tomato website from March-June Main focus everything else to be done around the Tomato business and only as time allows thats not needed on Tomatoes

2. Any veg I have time to grow to be grown and sold on site March to June then a full Autumn program

3. Any flowering plants and other plants to be grown and bought in and sold on site andf again a full Autumn program

4. After the main tomato season is over a shift to growing on Tomatoes etc both for seed production and selling of the produce

Hello Customers Old and New I have some important news to share with you It is with regret that I have to announce I will no longer be doing mail order vegetable plants from the 2019 season.

Once I have finished this years Autumn season in late October early November that will be it for the veg by mail order.

I have done the veg by mail order for 12 years and its time for a new challenge, I am moving to new premises over winter so it is the perfect time to change my business model I started the Tomato business 4 years ago and that’s where my real passion lies and that has become a major success very quickly to the point where it has become physically impossible to do both without an awful lot more staff as I found out this year to my cost.

Last year of course I contracted the veg out but that didn’t work out and this year I took it back on myself and it was the biggest mistake I have ever made. I have tried to sell the veg business for the last 5 years but despite all the major seed companies as well as several independent people showing an interest nobody purchased it so its come to the point now where I just have to stop.

I am moving to bigger premises over winter where I have a large heated double span polytunnel giving me over 4000 square feet of growing space and my aim is to do my mail order tomatoes etc and then grow plants to sell via the farm shop on site and I may well do some veg plants to sell there if I have the time but my focus will be the mail order Tomatoes and then sell the Tomato plants there as well as perennials, annuals, herbs, possibly veg and anything else I can sell on site.

So I won’t be taking any orders off this site after this Autumn But you can still order Tomatoes, Aubergines, Peppers, Cucumbers, Courgettes, Squash, Herbs and maybe pumpkins

on the tomato site https://tomato-plants-direct.co.uk/ Or come and visit us at Westerleigh Park Nurseries Bristol BS37 8QZ from next spring

I want to thank the many many customers that have bought off me over the last 12 years and particularly those that continued to support me through the tougher times.

I am trying to get as many plants out to people that have ordered as I possibly can But I am sure you can appreciate this weather is causing considerable difficulties

Such As : Lettuce doesn’t germinate above 30c so with the greenhouse in the 40’s daily with the vents fully open thats an issue
Many salad items and spinach in this heat runs to seed very quickly so only gives me a very short dispatching window
Butterfly numbers have been huge this summer and its impossible to prevent them getting in the greenhouses with the roof vents open 24/7 so caterpillars have become a real problem and stripped my brassicas

So to try and get round these issues I have sown more lettuce, salad and spinach and put on outside benches in the hope the slightly lower outside temperature compared to in the greenhouses will at least allow them to germinate

Brassicas have also been re-sown and are growing on under enviromesh to prevent the butterflies getting at them

I am doing the best I can for you but this really is the worst growing season I have ever known first with the extreme cold and now the other extreme and extreme heat and i thought the weird Tomato germination last year was bad enough this even tops the summer of 2003 for me when on a nursery I used to manage in Bucks I was responsible for trying to root 50,000 poinsettia cuttings during that period when the record of 38.5c was reached in Kent and the greenhouses were regularly in the mid 40’s c

This weather is predicted and forecast to last on the whole right through August and September so I think most veg is still worth planting if thats the case the only thing that will stop summer veg growing is cold nights and if this is going to last then that is not going to be an issue and I think as time goes on our timings for planting will have to change as I think our seasons are going to gradually shift to give us colder early springs and warmer autumns and our planting ideas will need to adapt to that Ive seen it shift over the 11 yrs we have supplied veg and we have pushed the boundaries when I started 11 yrs ago it was quite rare to see veg plants in garden centres in the Autumn now its the norm and I think that is because of the success we had with Autumn veg in the early years

I am so sorry folks this season just isn’t going as I planned it, first of all everything was delayed due to the awful cold and weather in general throughout Spring then the growers that did my vegetable plants last year pulled out of doing it for this year, so I had to bring it back in house and this has all just had a massive impact on how the season has gone and after last years’ debacle with the germination on the Tomatoes it was absolutely the last start to the season I wanted. Because everything has needed to be ready and going out at once ive suffered with major space issues getting everything ready because of the tomatoes being so late ive had real space problems and of course with the very hot days weve had that makes things like Rocket, Mustard, Lettuce etc either not germinate because its too hot or bolting when it does so I have to keep re-sowing it.

I do normally prefer to do orders in the order they come in but the way this year has worked its not been possible as I have had to give the girls smaller later orders to do whilst I pick the larger earlier orders in order to maintain the amount of orders going out so were getting as many orders out per week as is possible what we have left to go is still a mix of early and later orders therefore im afraid.

There is only me and two part-timers But this year has been hugely stressful and there will be massive changes for next year and I have some very big and tough decisions to make once this season is over The business isn’t working in its current form I need more growing space and full time staff if I am to continue and the whole business model needs to change I have the experience I’ve run huge nurseries for other people.

I am still intending to get the orders out if it is at all possible and will work with what ever is best for you I do understand some of you will not be prepared to wait and all I can do is apologise again as I seem to do every year But sometimes no matter how much you plan there are things that happen you can’t just change at the drop of a hat just work with what you’ve got and what you have been dealt.

Its been quite demoralising letting people down yet again but all I can do for this season is battle on.

A few people have e-mailed me saying it’s too late / getting to late to plant now it’s absolutely NOT the seasons are changing on the whole we are getting later colder springs and more often than not warmer Autumns

A lot of places in the UK were still getting frost last week ok we’ve had periods of warmer weather but on the whole the nights have been far to cold for planting many things out.

People get anxious when the garden centres are full of plants weeks ago what you have to realise is they grow to a plan probably put down a year before their growers are huge nurseries with temperature controlled greenhouses and the contracts are such that if the garden centres cancel orders for plants because it’s too cold there will be huge penalties involved so they have to take the stock they don’t care that the growing conditions in your garden are not suitable they will put a sign up saying protect from frost so their backs are covered and hope you don’t heed their warning and come back for more when the frost has killed them all

The garden centres are full of stretched and poor looking plants because they’ve been sat their for so long

I sow according to what the spring is like ok that means you have to wait a bit because we then have a huge amount of orders to get out at once but what you will get is superb quality plants in the right condition and growth to thrive in your garden

So please consider this before sending me angry messages because I don’t like letting people down and it really hurts when I’ve passionately grown things with love and care for people to then turn round and say I don’t want them it’s too late

Happy growing Keith

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