Tomato Time

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.

Removing foliage on cordon tomatoes helps the fruit to ripen faster
Removing foliage on cordon tomatoes helps the fruit to ripen faster
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.

Clockwise from top left: F1 'Giulietta', F1 'Orange Paruche', F1 'Elegance' and 'Black Cherry'
Clockwise from top left: F1 ‘Giulietta’, F1 ‘Orange Paruche’, F1 ‘Elegance’ and ‘Black Cherry’
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.

Grafted Tomato F1 'Elegance', (Photograph: Suttons)
Grafted Tomato F1 ‘Elegance’, (Photograph: Suttons)
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.

Grafted Tomato F1 'Giulietta', (Photograph: Suttons)
Grafted Tomato F1 ‘Giulietta’, (Photograph: Suttons)
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 ‘Black Cherry’ (Photograph Thompson and Morgan)
 
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.

Pre-holiday pickings
Pre-holiday pickings

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16 thoughts on “Tomato Time

  1. I suppose there has to be some advantages to living in London! Too far north to grow tomatoes outside, but they’re ok in the polytunnel. Success varies with variety and the quality of the summer – last year was brilliant, this year not very good. Black Russian is the outsanding performer – fantasic flavour, but I’m still searching for a good small/cherry tomato. We grew Luciola with great success but I’ve not been able to find any seed recently. Our tomatoes are ripening slowly but as the days shorten I’m getting reday to make industrial quantities of green tomato chutney!

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    1. Well it’s much better than wasting them and somewhat inevitable with our summers sadly. I’ve had Black Russian recommended before do must take heed of your advice next year. When I went to Russia back in 1991 all I can recall eating is tomato, cucumber, some sort of schnitzel and imported fish paste. It was not a gastronomic experience!

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  2. The Princess of tomatoes from Oz will respond tomorrow In detail !! Am so impressed TFG. They look sensational on that back wall. For us here, it is all about the flavour. (Same as potatoes) I have been trialing all sorts and mixing hybrids and heritage. No comparison. Heritage reign every time. So many taste test tests, and heritage win every challenge.

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  3. So glad you mentioned the smell of tomatoes after touching . . . there’s something uniquely fresh and pleasing about that scent. The Black Cherry tomatoes have been fantastic here this year, as has my local favorite — the Arkansas Traveler.

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      1. The tomatoes look great! Like England, my part of Australia has short, cool summers, and there is only one spot that is suitable in terms of sunlight and wind/cold protection – so I just grow them in large pots in that same spot every other year…problem solved πŸ˜‰

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      2. Pots are a really good idea and might be the way to go for us too. I can’t keep planting them in the same patch. As the weather has turned cooler the blight has struck so I need to yank them all out and make get Him Indoors on the chutney production line!

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  4. I live in North Lincolnshire and have great success with the variety Stupice. I only grow it outside and unlike other tomatoes that I have tried the plants are always healthy and the crops early (mid July)and plentiful.

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  5. You may have to change the name of your blog and take ‘frustrated’ out. πŸ™‚ Your tomato plants and crop look spectacular. We had such blight this year the plants looked dead all summer long. We harvested a lot and they tasted delicious but they were not a pretty sight. And, I’m sorry to say my tomato season has been over for a couple of weeks now. Enjoy yours.

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    1. Your summer is so short Judy! I am sorry to hear about your blight. I understand it’s quite prevalent in the UK too, but thus far it hasn’t discovered our garden. I am wondering what we will find when we get home. I am hoping it will be a good few ripe ones! Glad your crop was edible though. That’s the main thing.

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  6. The photos of the larger tomatoes looked fine. Your cherry tomatoes are definitely on the green side! Orange Paruche, when ripe, are practically NEON orange. Perhaps you have a color blind gene (many men do). Next time why don’t you wait about 2 more weeks before picking the cherry toms. You wouldn’t believe how sweet Orange Paruche is when eaten in the ripe phase instead of green.

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