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Last tomatoes mark the end of summer

Some seasonal indicators are universal and obvious to all: the length of days, trees blossoming or shedding their leaves, and many more.

Others are more localised – such as wild garlic in the woods, or samphire on the marsh – and still others might only be felt by a few of us. This week in the polytunnels, we’ve finished picking the very last cherry tomatoes, which means I can no longer pretend to myself that it’s still summer.

After gathering a few hundred kilos of green tomatoes for our neighbours at Barnaby’s Brewhouse (they will use them to brew a saison beer for us), the plants have been grubbed out and added to the compost heap.

Picking tomatoes
Green tomatoes can be used in saison beer or chutney.

It’s been an odd year in the tunnels. Some unusually persistent and late frosts killed off a load of mini cucumber plants early on; both they and the tomatoes got off to a slow start and never fully recovered. Despite that, we have had positive feedback on flavour and quality.

Even before the last tomato was gone, we’ve been thinking about what worked well, and what we might improve. If we can find the space, we’ll test a few new varieties, to make sure we’re not relying too heavily on our old favourites; you never know when a trusted variety will go down to a new viral strain, and you should always have an equally tasty back-up plan.

The organic varieties we grow are chosen for flavour, as well as their natural resilience to disease. We don’t only prioritise maximum yields, and can make room for a cucumber or tomato that tastes brilliant, even if it has a slightly lower yield. 

Whilst I am a little sad to see the end of the tomato season, it’s all a matter of perspective. Alex, Zigmantas, and the salad team have been chomping at the bit behind us as we cleared the summer plants, replacing them with chard, mustard and the like for winter salads. Having gone into still-warm soil and grown rapidly, the first of these were harvested this week. So although the final tomato pick was pretty insignificant, the select few veg box customers who received both tomatoes and salad leaves this week will have had a truly season-bridging box.

    Comments

    Ed Scott

    Ed is the longstanding harvest and polytunnel manager at Riverford. He says: "I'm interested in the sustainability and biodiversity benefits of organic farming; it's something tangible I can see when visiting the fields or polytunnels. I love exploring Dartmoor when I can: the open spaces really reflect the dynamism of nature, changing from picture-postcard pretty to windswept desolation and back in a matter of minutes."

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