Caring for & ripening tomatoes: top tips

Tiffany Daneff / 13 August 2015

With her tomatoes now ripening on the vine, Tiffany Daneff shares her tips for caring for them. Plus, a visit to Dan Pearson's garden at Compton Verney provides inspiration.

I’ve been in Wales, which is only a couple of hours west of here, so most gardens there are at the same stage as we are. Beans are racing up hazel poles and bamboos, sweet peas are blooming and tomatoes are either still green (like ours) or beginning to ripen.

Our tomatoes are growing outside, against a south facing wall, in plastic pots with the bottoms cut out so that the hungry roots can grow down into growbags. I did this last year and it worked beautifully. (It was a bit of a pain cutting out the plastic bottoms with scissors/knives but once the job is done they can be reused.) I’m now feeding once a week and pinching out the side shoots so that all the energy can go into the fruits. I missed a few of these pesky side shoots earlier in the summer and by the time I noticed them they had produced sturdy stems with new trusses so I have left these.

While I was away the plants have produced their allotted six trusses so my job for this afternoon is to cut the main stems two leaves above the top truss. The weight of the fruits has also reached the point where the canes need supporting so I shall have to tie them into a horizontal wire nailed to the wall.

A friend took me inside her polytunnel where her small tomatoes are already ripening. I swear by the small cherry tomato Sungold because it is one of the few tomatoes that ripens outside in our climate. This is particularly important here given that the last frosts can be as late as early June while the autumn frosts can arrive in October. She is growing both Sungold and small plum tomatoes (I’m afraid I couldn’t ascertain which variety). I tried both.

My objection to plum tomatoes (whether home grown or bought) is that they have tough skins and lack flavour and this was the perfect opportunity to compare the plum with the Sungold. And, much to my delight, I found that my plumist views were upheld. The plum tomato had much less flavour, (well, hardly any at all), while the skin was tough. The little Sungold, meanwhile, delivered just that perfect balance of sweet and sour that makes the best salad tomato.

I couldn’t believe it when she told me that she’d woken early one morning in mid July to find pockets of frost in the valley. But she’s overcome the problem by getting the polytunnel. I’ve always been a bit anti these – on aesthetic grounds – but she was so enamoured with hers – indeed she likes to take a chair out there to read when it’s too cold outside in the garden - that I’m beginning to wonder whether I might be better off getting one instead of hankering after a greenhouse that I’ll never be able to afford. A subject I shall return to once I’ve done a bit of research, so watch this space.

PS If you’re anywhere near Compton Verney in Warwickshire this summer do drop in to see the new William Morris Wildflower Meadow on the west lawn. This was designed by Dan Pearson (after being crowd funded on Art Fund’s Art Happens and is being maintained by the head gardener Gary Webb.

The meadow is interspersed with paths and drifts of colour inspired by Morris’ famous 1862 Trellis wallpaper (his first for a wallpaper). Pearson took the original design with its wooden trellis through which twist thorned rose stems and tweaked it so that it would fit the space allocated on the West Lawn. The trellis and stems are the paths between which have been sown a Pictorial Meadow Mix in pastel. Yellow rattle was introduced to keep down the thuggish grass and thus encourage wild flowers. It’s a wonderful project and ties in with the exhibition currently running in the house The Arts and Crafts House: Then and Now which runs until 13th September. Well worth a visit.

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