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Tomatoes and cucumbers: the vinery’s finery

by Hattie Moore, garden apprentice

Over summer the west section of our vinery transforms from a plant nursery into its first intended function- a glasshouse for growing edibles. The full name, ‘the pinery vinery’, is in reference to its history as a place where the bishops of London would grow grape vines and pineapples.

Once our frantic rate of propagation for the vegetable patch slows around April/ May time and it becomes warm enough for us to move most of our stock of plants outside, we pull up the covers on the beds, dig in well-rotted manure and plant the tomatoes and cucumbers in our vinery. They grow up strings which are first staked into the ground and then tied to the ceiling. The plants twist up and around their supports at an incredible rate and it doesn’t take long for them to reach the vinery ceiling.

The young cucumbers and tomatoes in April 2020.
The same tomatoes and cucumbers in July 2020!

As the tomatoes grow we pinch out any side shoots which come from the junction between the leaves and the stem of the plant. We do this to ensure the upward growth of the plant, and to concentrate its energy on fruit production. We also remove the lower leaves as more grow at the top; this is to create air flow around the plants to prevent pests and diseases like powdery mildew and to allow light and air onto the fruit.

Like any glasshouse, we do sometimes suffer from pests such as aphids. To combat these we maintain hygiene levels by sweeping and weeding regularly so slugs and sails don’t hide amongst debris. We open the windows and doors to maintain airflow, although temperatures can still reach 50 degrees on a sunny day!

You may have also noticed what looks like large white tea bags and pieces of card hanging from the plants. These are types of biological control, they contain insects that prey on the pests. For example, Encarsia formosa is a type of parasitic wasp that kills the aphids, we introduce it into the glasshouse ecosystem on little pieces of card to control the population. In this way we avoid using pesticides and can ensure our tomatoes and cucumbers survive the summer and remain organically grown.

The aptly named 'Sungold' tomatoes being harvested

This year we have opted for tried and tested cultivars such as ‘Sungold’, ‘Rosella’, and ‘Gardeners Delight’ tomatoes and supplemented these with some new ones such as ‘Alicante’ and ‘Supersauce’. We are growing ‘Telegraph Improved’ and ‘Delistar’ cucumbers again, but trying ‘Marketmore’ for the first time. Part of the fun of growing these plants is discovering the colours and flavours of the new fruits.

Punnets of freshly picked tomatoes and cucumbers are for sale on our market barrow in the walled garden along with a whole range of produce and cut flowers. Our cucumbers, rhubarb and other soft fruits are being made into pickles and chutney, also for sale on the barrow.

Stop by our market barrow in the walled garden on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays between 11.00-15.00 for this fantastic, freshly picked produce – we are now accepting contactless payments!