London – For people going on holiday, finding a sitter for the pets was once the top priority.
But thanks to the surge in the number of people growing their own fruit and vegetables, there is now a demand for “tomato-sitters”, according to a survey.
Anxious gardeners are so worried their carefully cultivated tomato plants will wither or die while they are away, they are seeking out the horticultural version of a house-sitter.
Almost half of growers (45 percent) are so passionate about their fruit and vegetables they call in a sitter to look after the plants when away, according to the YouGov survey commissioned by Wyevale Garden Centres, the UK’s largest chain. Tomatoes are the most popular choice, followed by salad leaves, potatoes, beans and peas.
Anna Hicks, a garden designer in Clifford, Herefordshire, employs her neighbours’ teenage son to look after her plants when she is away. “I have a conservatory full of pelargoniums but they’re easier because they don’t mind getting quite dry,” she told the Sunday Times. “But in the greenhouse I grow tomatoes, chillies and sweet peppers so they need more attention – mainly watering.
“Before I go away I re-pot everything, then they don’t really need feeding as they have good compost. [My plant-sitter] is brilliant. He comes and checks them every day.”
In hot weather, tomato plants in containers often need watering more than once a day.
So, in addition to plant-sitters, gardeners have also resorted to expensive self-watering devices, which draw water into the pot as the plant needs it, or automatic irrigation systems.
But for those who cannot afford a tomato sitter or self-watering device while on holiday, a DIY tip is to leave potted plants on a saturated towel in the bath.
Although tomatoes are easy to grow, it can be difficult top produce a flavoursome crop. Tips for good tomatoes include using seaweed to feed flowering plants, because it contains potassium.
Other gardeners believe that spraying a dilute solution of aspirin on their plants can produce a bumper crop.
Aspirin is a close chemical copy of the plant stress hormone salicylic acid, which turns on the genes that regulate their defence systems, so more sugars are redirected to the fruit.
Mandy Watson, a horticulture expert based in Sunderland, swears by spraying a dilute solution of half a soluble tablet per litre of water on to tomato plants.
She says this “causes their sugar content to increase by 150 percent and boosts Vitamin C by 50 percent with a single spray”.