We’re doing some serious (for us) tomato growing this year. And it’s all been going pretty well. We’ve figured out how to trellis those varieties that need it, kept the compost and biofertilizer up to them, and defended them from the dreaded 28 spot ladybeetles.
So just as the romas were all ripening in quantity (despite this crazily wet and cold summer), nature decided to ensure we didn’t get too smug about our first year of community scale food growing. Her solution? One big fat hailstorm in the middle of the night, right over Milkwood Farm.
The next morning we woke up to find the market garden somewhat rearranged, and drifts of hail everywhere, slowly melting in the morning sun. Everything in the garden was shredded. Some of the green manures had conveniently self-mulched (gotta look at the upside)…
The tomatoes were not looking good. The top canopy of the Roma tomatoes had the leaves all stripped off them, the trellis tomatoes were full of pock-marks, and the cherry tomatoes were thick on the ground.
So we had a little freak-out, and then I went and called Joyce from Allsun Farm for advice. I felt this was not a time to get creative with solutions. It was a time to find out what the heck to do, from someone who had done it before.
Joyce suggested the following ideas, which I’ve listed below in case anyone else is ever in need of reasonable ideas for their tomato crop post-hailstorm:
Roma tomatoes (bush tomatoes):
- Get as much of the stripped greenstuff out of the area as you can, to prevent the tomatoes beneath rotting or getting slug attack due to being hidden under the shredded leaves
- Pull off all the visibly hail-damaged fruit
- Pull off all the visibly hail damaged fruit
- Pull off everything that’s halfway ripe
The problem with hail-damaged tomatoes is (apart from the obvious bruising) the breaks in the skin caused by the hail damage. Broken skin means an opening for fruit fly and a bunch of other critters to get in, and you may find you quickly have a major problem on your hands if you leave damaged fruit on the vines.
And so we harvested all the hail-damaged fruit we could find. That took quite some time. Then we further opened up the canopy in the romas by snipping a path through the middle of them, to let in extra light and air, and to make the whole patch more manageable.
The ripe or nearly ripe fruit we turned into passata or roasted tomatoes. The half-ripe fruit we put outside in big boxes to ripen, and for the most part it all ripened up in a couple of days.
The super green fruit we’re turning into pickles, chutney and more pickles.
So that was over a week ago now. The market garden is now looking a little better, but it’s clearly been through the wars.
We still have tomatoes ripening, though I suspect we’re losing more fruit to rot than we would be if the hailstorm hadn’t come through.
So yes. We’re living and learning. And when in doubt, we’re pickling…