Behind the scenes in the Walled Kitchen Garden
We caught up with our Head Gardener Chris Margrave to find out what's happening in the Walled Kitchen Garden this month and what you need to be doing in your gardens for the season ahead.
Tomatoes for taste
One of the many attractions of growing your own is the wide range of varieties from which you can choose, which will far exceed the choice on the supermarket and greengrocers’ shelves. This summer we are growing an amazing 41 varieties of tomatoes in Clumber’s Long Range glasshouse.
These range from those with tiny, currant- sized fruits to the big, beef-steak kinds. Skin colour includes cream through yellow, orange and pink to deep red, almost black. Some are marked with attractive stripes. Taste varies enormously, from the ultra-sweet to the sharp and tangy.
Our crops in the Walled Kitchen Garden are grown organically, which many believe improves their flavour. We rely on good hygiene and biological controls to keep pests and diseases in check.
For many years we have grown tagetes ‘Red Gem’ as a companion plant at the base of our tomato plants. The thinking is that their flowers will attract beneficial insects such as hoverflies and lacewings, which will help to reduce numbers of greenhouse pests such as aphids. In addition, the flowers are attractive and are produced all summer long.
The two top tips to ensure maximum flavour when growing tomatoes are, firstly, to leave the fruits to ripen fully on the truss. Wait until they have fully coloured up, and you will get the full flavour.
Second tip is to feed plants regularly with a liquid fertiliser which is high in potassium. There are several proprietary brands on the market. Look for the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium on the label. Potassium is denoted by its chemical symbol, the letter K.
Last month we began weekly tastings in Clumber’s Walled Kitchen Garden, allowing our visitors to sample the tomatoes and vote for their favourite tasting variety.
Top of the crops so far are:
‘Limmony’ – pale yellow fruits and a crisp, clean flavour that hints at lemon
‘Wapsipinicon Peach’ - a US heirloom variety, named after a river in Iowa, it has furry, yellow fruits, often shaded pink, hence the name, and a flavour described as complex, spicy and sweet
‘Purple Bumblebee’ – cherry-sized fruits which have purple skin with green stripes; flavour is described as complex, but sweet
‘Orange Banana’ – a plum tomato with large orange-skinned fruits which have a sweet flavour.
As part of our conservation work for the UK Heritage Seeds Library, which co-ordinates a seed exchange scheme aimed at keeping old and endangered vegetable varieties alive, we are growing four tomato varieties. One of these is ‘Stonor’s Most Prolific’, which dates from the 1940s. It produces strong plants and small, firm, orange-red fruits with pinkish-red flesh, which are described as being perfect for eating fresh in salads and sandwiches and also great for tomato sauces. We grow the plants, collect seed from them, keep a little of the seed to grow next year’s plants and send the rest to the Heritage Seeds Library, where members of the scheme can then acquire the seed and grow the variety. If you would like to find out more about the Heritage Seeds Library, and even become a seed guardian, details can be found on www.gardenorganic.org.uk/hsl
Jobs for the Month – September
This is one of the peak cropping months in the kitchen garden and there are lots of vegetables to harvest, from tomatoes and peppers under glass to salads, French and runner beans and main crop potatoes outside.
Cover perpetual fruiting strawberries, such as ‘Mara des Bois’, ‘Aromel’ and ‘Flamenco’, with cloches to help developing fruits ripen and to protect them from blackbirds.
Cover garden ponds with netting before autumn leaf fall starts.
Order or buy spring flowering bulbs. Daffodils and narcissi benefit from September plantings, tulips and hyacinths are best planted in October.
Get out and visit gardens to see what’s looking good and what events are taking place. Some will have pear or apple events in September.