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Tomato guide – September

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Unripe Green Zebra truss in the greenhouse

Skimp on stakes at your peril

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Weight of the tomato plant on a short stake makes it keel over

Cutting corners gets you nowhere, especially with tomatoes. I couldn’t reach the 8ft canes when I first potted them up in June, convinced I would add bigger ones as the plants grew.

Of course, I didn’t, leading to the collapse of several plants under their own weight last week.

If this has happened to you, it’s not the end of the world.

Simply insert a long cane into the soil and firmly tie it to the old cane before gently lifting the bent stem and securing it with string/twine every few inches.

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Sunchocola, Orange Paruche and Pink Charmer cherry tomatoes

A couple of years ago, one plant almost snapped when quite young, but I bound the wound right round with Sellotape, which then worked a treat, staking it securely.

When plants are young, it’s easy to forget how heavy trusses can become, especially on larger fruiting varieties.

The biggest tomatoes I’m growing this year are Green Zebra*, which have formed large trusses in the greenhouse and need extra support.

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Large truss of Pink Charmer tomatoes

Also this month, it’s a race against time to get all the fruit to ripen, so stop the plants above the last truss and remove excess leaves, especially if they’re covering up fruit.

This is especially important if your plants are outdoors – better to sacrifice the top truss, however hard that may be, and have vine-ripened fruit, rather than loads of green ones you’ll be forced to make into chutney will never eat.


Green Zebra ripening guide

*Green Zebra seems to have become very fashionable this year, appearing in salads and garnishes all over the place – but how the hell do you know when it’s ripe?

Well, once a fruit has developed dark and light green stripes, the lighter ones will turn yellow and some start to blush pink from the bottom up when it’s fully ripe.

It is a citrusy, zingy tomato with a distinctive taste, but many people eat them not quite ripe, probably accounting for the love/hate relationship people have with it. Fruit will be much sweeter, yet still tart when the blush happens.

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Different stages of (un)ripeness of Green Zebra as someone’s been picking them too early!

You’ll see a range of ripeness, colours and textures on a single truss because not all the fruits set together, so experiment and see which stage you prefer.

I did bake several in the oven, just with yellow shoulders, so not fully ripe and I loved them – they were like a really tangy baked apple and not a tomato.

However,  the rest of the family thought them too tart, preferring to eat them raw.

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

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