I was catching up on missed editions of Gardener’s World last night, listening to Monty Don bemoaning the fact that his outdoor tomatoes, although blight free, were stubbornly refusing to ripen. I could not help feeling a tiny bit smug (which is awful I know) as our tomatoes have been bountiful this year. We are not blessed with Longmeadow’s acres, or a particularly sunny vegetable plot, but we do have a south-east facing wall that has proved to be perfect for growing tomatoes.
Last year I planted our tomatoes, all the same variety, very late and still enjoyed a decent crop. Three cordons provided us with more than enough fruit, but this year I was keen to experiment. In June I planted a total of seven, plus one rather hopeless cucumber. From seed came two different cherry tomatoes, F1 ‘Orange Paruche’ and ‘Black Cherry’: purchased as grafted plants came F1 ‘Elegance’ and F1 ‘Giulietta’, a classic plum tomato.
Until recently grafted plants have been the preserve of commercial growers, the cutting and splicing technique being beyond most amateurs. (The last time I grafted anything was at university and I recall it was not a success.) However, using a powerful rootstock to fuel a thoroughbred F1 hybrid creates a stronger, hardier plant more resistant to disease. It makes sense – you wouldn’t use a Fiat 500 engine to power a Ferarri would you?
Nevertheless, alternating grafted plants with seed-grown ones I struggled to spot a difference in vigour. All the plants were incredibly heathly, so much so that I barely bothered to feed all season. Removing side shoots was a never-ending task, although it’s one I enjoyed. Pinching out is quite therapeutic after a long day in the office and there’s nothing like the sharp scent of tomato leaves on your fingertips.
At the start of August I began to remove lower leaves to encourage the fruit to ripen. The foliage was so luxuriant that many of the trusses were completely hidden from the sun. Helpfully our new neighbour decided to chop 3ft off his bamboo hedge which increased the light reaching the wall. (Since then the bamboo has responded by sending up new shoots several feet taller, which is why I don’t like bamboo!). I cut out the leading shoots above six trusses so that the plants didn’t exhaust themselves and put in extra canes to support the weight of the fruit.
We have been picking tomatoes since the middle of August. Sod’s law, just as we are about to go on holiday the harvest it at its most plentiful. Him Indoors has been making sauces and chutneys as fast as I can pick the fruit. We haven’t needed to buy an anaemic tomato in the shops for 5 weeks, and with a fair autumn the plants should keep cropping well into October.
How the varieties have performed:
Tomato F1 ‘Elegance’ (grafted) – purports to be a standard-sized tomato (whatever that means), which has proved to be anything but true. Each plant has carried fruit from cherry-sized tiddlers to beefsteak giants. They have struggled to ripen fully outside but are easily finished off indoors. Not as tasty as a cherry tomato but great for slicing. Every tomato has been perfectly formed.
Tomato F1 ‘Giulietta’ (grafted) – this is a classic Italian plum tomato which has borne an extraordinary weight of fruit. On Gardener’s Question Time advice was given to thin the trusses to 2 or 3 fruit which I steadfastly ignored. ‘Giulietta’ is probably better suited to the greenhouse or a hotter climate where I suspect it would develop a deeper flavour. The tomatoes have been slow to ripen and paler than I’d like.
Tomato ‘Black Cherry’ (seed grown) – not really black, or any other readily describable colour for that matter, and quite large for a cherry tomato. However, ‘Black Cherry’ looks super in a salsa along with ‘Orange Paruche’ and crops very heavily, even without being grafted.
Tomato F1 ‘Orange Paruche’ (seed grown) – this one’s the real deal and I’d definitely grow it again. Sweet little fruits which were the first to ripen. Not many made it as far as the kitchen! The only tomato that I had problems with splitting – the skin of this variety is particularly thin.
I’d love to know which tomato varieties you’ve had success with outdoors this summer and if you have any tips for getting your fruit to ripen.