Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

September Ripening

It is time to close up the greenhouse to make the most of the last warmth of autumn

The time to finally give up on the greenhouse vegetables is coming, but for me it’s not here quite yet. The temperature has dropped and when I pop down the garden each morning it is now with a cardigan on, but I am still picking tomatoes and aubergines regularly, for now. Although it hasn’t been a particularly sunny summer the temperature has been warm enough, but that has suddenly changed. I wouldn’t quite call it a nip in the air yet, but it’s clearly on its way.

Mediterranean veg such as tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and chillies loves warm weather, and it is in the long, hot days of summer that they are happiest. Sadly they also take an absolute age to grow, flower, fruit and ripen, which always sees their gluts appearing right at the edge of the colder weather. And this hasn’t been a great summer. The beefsteak tomatoes – which make up most of my tomato crop – are noticeably smaller than in previous years, and while the flavour is always beautiful, especially if you leave them on the vine to ripen to a deep, glossy red, it does not have that Mediterranean fullness of flavour that we sometimes get close to in good years. A grey cool year does not make for a great greenhouse crop, simply because the crops that we grow in them are so needy of sun.

But a greenhouse can help, particularly now. The cool summer also means that my aubergine crop has begun later than I would ideally have wanted it, just as it has grown particularly autumnal, but it has begun. I grew three grafted plants, hoping for an extra early crop, hmm… but suddenly they are absolutely covered in small, round, purple-black fruits just ready to swell. A spell of hot weather and I would be inundated with my absolute favourite vegetable but the weather is against me. And so I am doing all I can to keep the crop going for its last few weeks. I am watering them well every day, giving them plenty of moisture to swell the fruits. I have draped a little veil of fleece over each plant to create a microcosm of warmth around them as the nights cool, and I have finally closed the greenhouse doors at night, and in fact through some of the cooler days too. This is when the greenhouse can really help me to try to extend the season, trapping in every bit of daytime warmth to keep the plants active and producing.

Tomatoes need slightly different treatment. I stopped them last month, which means choosing just how many trusses of fruits you are going to try and ripen, and then preventing the plant from making any more by chopping it off just above your final truss. This means that the plant is no longer putting energy into fruits that have no hope of ever ripening. While I am plying the aubergines with water to fatten them up, I am gradually withholding water from the tomatoes. I know that they are not going to get any bigger now and this helps to signal to them that growing time is over and it is time to concentrate on ripening.

I may not get much more out of them. The remains of the tomato crop will be picked soon, green or red, and we will either cook them up and each them green or put them into a paper bag and wait for them to ripen to eat raw, but I’m fond of a cooked green tomato so it is no hardship either way. The late aubergines that we will have to abandon are a little more heart breaking, but the greenhouse will help me get every possible one before we are forced to give up on them.