Ripe red alert

Ripe and ready: Above and below, trusses of trial variety cherry tomatoes from Thompson & Morgan.
Ripe and ready: Above and below, trusses of trial variety cherry tomatoes from Thompson & Morgan.
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PERSUADING tomatoes to ripen when light levels fall and temperatures drop can be a challenge.

In my experience, the only solution is treat them mean to keep them keen.

You have to get the maximum amount of light and warmth to the fruit, giving them the best chance to mature so you get vine-ripened tomatoes naturally – much better than sticking them in a drawer with a banana!

So, armed with a machete and mosquito repellent, I ventured into the conservatory for the early autumn tomato hack-back.

By this time of year, the lower trusses are finished and leaves have been removed. They’re not a pretty sight.

However, it’s also the time when you’re likely to get the biggest gluts.

To encourage the last trusses to ripen (nobody wants green tomato chutney), brutality is in order.

Pick fruit as you defoliate (there’s often tomatoes hidden by leaves).

Cut off anything bar trusses to ripen and the top leaves. Light levels are diminishing and tomatoes need all the help they can get to ripen. If any plants are finished, remove them to let air circulate. Still feed and water them, but there’s not as much bulk to support, so you can tail off the water a bit.

Clean up fallen leaves as you go – pest and diseases take refuge inside at this time of year, especially if it’s damp. Mould is a particular menace at this time.

And lastly, ventilate during the day, but close windows at night to keep warmth in.

Even though they’re at the end of their lives, they don’t really appreciate rapid swings in temperature.

Don’t forget to open windows again in the morning – coming home from work to a 120°F sweat box isn’t good for you or the tomatoes!