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Sunday, 18 April 2021

Sungold

Question: if packets of tomato seeds contain an average of ten seeds, what is the chance that one will contain just four? I will come back to this later. 

Thirty years ago, the most popular television gardener in the U.K. was Geoff Hamilton. Here he is on the cover of the Radio Times wearing the same Marks and Spencer air force blue shirt as I had (Radio Times also lists TV programmes but has kept the same title since 1923).

In 1996, he wrote a column praising the virtues of Thompson and Morgan’s orange ‘Sungold’ cherry tomatoes:

        Ever since I first grew Thompson and Morgan’s cherry tomato “Sungold” I’ve rejected all others. For me, it has just the right balance between sweet and acid that makes it melt in the mouth. Mind you, I can’t afford to be a stick-in-the-mud, so I shall try others…

The column has been folded at the bottom of our seed box ever since. Sadly, Geoff Hamilton died shortly after it was published. He may not even have got to try the Sungolds he grew that year. His gardens at Barnsdale, Rutland, remain a much visited attraction.

They are pretty expensive as seeds go. They only put a small number in each packet, and, being F1 hybrids, they don’t re-seed themselves true to type so you have to buy new ones each year. Nowadays, they work out at between 30 and 50 pence per seed, and would probably be more if the patent had not expired and they were still only available from Thompson and Morgan.

We followed the advice and bought some, and, being able to afford not only the seeds but also to be sticks-in-the-mud, we have since rejected all others too. They are as good as Geoff Hamilton said. 

To return to the question I started with, about the probability of getting only four seeds in packets that have an average of ten. After pondering for some time, I’m afraid I still don’t know the answer, and neither do you unless you work for Johnsons Seeds of Newmarket, Suffolk, and can say how accurately the seeds are counted and whether packets are just as likely to contain more than ten seeds as less than ten seeds (in other words the spread and skew of the seed-count-per-packet distribution). I don’t think the question can be answered without this information. So let’s just guess the answer is: “very unlikely”.

What I do know is that I was pretty annoyed when it happened to me. About a month ago I opened a packet of Johnsons F1 Sungold tomato seeds, average contents ten, and found only four seeds. I am not sure when and where I bought them. I got them early last year, forgetting I had some left over from the year before.

I complained to Johnsons and after a few weeks received a replacement packet, but in the meantime I had bought another new packet to get things started. Tip: have a good feel of the packet before buying. Even if the seeds are too small to count, you can certainly detect the difference between four and ten.

Here are this year’s seedlings on their way from the house to the greenhouse to be moved into bigger pots. I always grow six seeds on the assumption they won’t all come up, but, as you can see, this year they did. Now, what are the odds of that?

 

27 comments:

  1. Enjoy your tomatoes in the fullness of time!

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    1. Put green ones on the window sill in autumn and we'll be enjoying them until Christmas.

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  2. Well, at least they sent you a replacement packet. More tomatoes to enjoy in a couple of months time.

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    1. It took a while. It's still not too late to start them but I've more than enough for this year. I'll keep the replacement packet and the one I bought until next year and the year after. As the photograph shows, one is sow by 2023 and the other by 2025.

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  3. Geoff Hamilton and Geoffrey Smith are two of my favourite television gardeners. Inspirational and very humble. Both much missed.

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    1. True. I won't name the ones I find irritating.

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  4. I remember both of them and always followed their advice. Now I am more or less past gardening but have a good gardener I no longer grow veg - but still wish I could manage a greenhouse.
    Monty is my hero!!

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    1. When I look at other bloggers' greenhouses (e.g. Sue in Suffolk before she moved) I realise I don't get the best from mine at all. Shows me up as a bit of a dabbler.

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  5. They look like good strong plants. We grew this variety when we had out allotment and I agree they are lovely toms.
    I ask my self, how on earth can seed cost that much, we are all victims of a greedy society I think.
    Glad you got a replacement.
    Briony
    x

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    1. The problem with F1 hybrids is that the growers have to prevent natural fertilisation, which makes things expensive. I read that if you keep Sungold seeds, some produce red tomatoes and some orange, and although none of them are truly Sungold, they have a similar taste. However, try it two years running and the second year's tomatoes are not good at all.

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  6. Mistakes can and do happen anywhere; what matters is how they are dealt with. In your case, they were doing the right thing in sending you a replacement.
    I am no expert when it comes to tomatoes, but I know that O.K.‘s favourite type are San Marzano. No idea how hard to grow they are, but the canned produce is rather expensive here in Germany and only available at a select few shops.

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    1. I assume the seeds are counted by machine and it was just an anomaly, and yes, they handled it well - although might have been a bit faster. I'm not keen on tinned tomatoes except for cooking.

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    2. That is the only way we use the tinned/canned variety, of course - sauces and shakshoukas and pizzas.

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  7. We never had year when blight didn't destroy our tomato crop, even in the greenhouse. It never stopped F from trying but she had to find a lot of recipes for green tomatoes. Your plants look fabulous - enjoy your tomatoes.

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    1. We find if you put the green ones on a sunny window sill they eventually turn red (or orange in the case of Sungold). Some take as long as two months to ripen. We haven't had blight so far - maybe an advantage of living in northern England at 750 feet.

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  8. There is nothing like home grown tomatoes and these sound delicious! I think I would be upset too if there were only four seeds in a packet. I'm glad you contacted them and received a replacement pack. All of your plants look very healthy so you should have a bumper crop this year! Enjoy!

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    1. We tend to find with these that they don't ripen until August, whether or not we grow them in the greenhouse or outside against a sunny wall, but they are always worth the wait.

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  9. That was very sad that Geoff Hamilton died so young. Yout tomato plants look very healthy. I've only just planted my seeds so am not expecting wonders.

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    1. I remember the shock of it being on the TV news. He was 59. I don't think it's too late to sow tomatoe seeds now. Sometimes I think I start too early - the tomatoes don't seem to be ready any sooner.

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  10. I think I've seen that variety here. At least the company was helpful when legally they may not have to be if the average number is met. Now, I wonder who the lucky person is who had 16 seeds in their packet.

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    1. Yes, an average of 10 encompasses both zero or a hundred, but it might confuse people if they said on the packet it contained an average of 10 with a standard deviation of 1. Perhaps "at least 10" might be helpful.

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  11. Always loved yellow tomatoes, so much sweeter. Geoff Hamilton was a lovely man and his death a shock. Loved his programmes he was so 'down to earth'.

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    1. We used to watch him on Gardeners' World until the kids came along and imposed higher priorities. I like the Sungold fresh as they are. I'm not keen on most other tomatoes except in sandwiches.

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  12. We bought our Cocker Spaniel pup from one of the Unwin Seeds family. That was 1980 and he was a good grower.

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    1. I'm not sure whether I've ever seen Unwins seeds.

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  13. I'm rather envious. We usually consider ourselves about 4 weeks behind England. Even so my tomatoes had only just germinated and been pricked out when I left for the Mainland.

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    1. I'm at 750 feet in the Pennines so notice how far we are behind those like Rosemary in Devon and Sue in Suffolk. When you say 4 weeks I suspectt you mean them. We still have quite a lot of late daffodils here.

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