The Tomato Stall -
Isle of Wight Tomatoes
BY NICK MACMAHON | 30 MAY 2019
Most people wouldn’t think of tomatoes and the Isle of Wight together, but then again, most people wouldn’t think the biggest producer of bananas in Europe is Iceland (the country, not the supermarket). What makes the Isle of Wight an ideal location to grow tomatoes is its own unique microclimate. The island receives far more sunlight hours on average than the mainland and it rarely gets snow or hard frosts. This warm climate makes it the perfect location to grow produce that isn’t so easy in other parts of the UK. The Tomato Stall farm, situated right in the centre of the island, in the Arreton Valley, grow a wide variety of tomatoes in large greenhouses.
The British tomato season goes through most of the summer, starting in June and going until about October. Here on the Isle of Wight, they produce tomatoes not just during this season, but also year-round. Utilising a combination of their unique climate and controlled environment agricultural systems means that they are able to create an environment that is warm enough through winter for some of their tomato plants to continue fruiting. A majority of their produce is grown during the regular growing season but being able to eat fresh British tomatoes through the winter months is quite an accomplishment.
In the greenhouses, they use organic and non-organic methods of cultivating tomatoes. Their organic tomatoes are grown in soil and the non-organic are grown hydroponically in 'coco coir', a medium made from coconut husks, and nutrient enhanced irrigation. Some people will argue that the flavour of hydroponic tomatoes doesn’t compare to organic, soil-grown tomatoes but flavour will always be highly subjective and there are so many more variables that contribute to flavour.
Generators are used to power the farm and a byproduct of this is CO2 and heat. Instead of expelling this straight into the open air, it is funnelled into the greenhouses, providing heat and CO2 to the plants. CO2, which has been detrimental to our planet, is actually a necessary element for plant growth and the added CO2 helps the tomatoes grow much better, producing higher yields.
The Tomato Stall strives for sustainable and environmentally friendly farm practices. Although their controlled environment agricultural systems can not be classified as organic, this does not mean that it is an environmentally detrimental practice. No artificial pesticides are used, instead, they incorporate biological pest control methods, breeding predator organisms to control pests and disease. This negates the need for harmful pesticides sprays. They also have many native British bumblebees in the greenhouses that pollinate their plants. All materials used in their systems are entirely biodegradable and all plant waste is composted to make compost to fertilise their plants and improve the soil quality. They are certified by the Soil Association, the UK’s largest organic certification body, as well as LEAF, an organisation that recognises sustainable farming practices.
The Tomato Stall grow over 60 varieties of tomatoes and have over 150 more being trialled for commercial viability. Alongside the classic tomato varieties, there are many heirloom varieties on offer. The winter crop, unfortunately, only consists of a few varieties that are hardy enough to fruit during the winter but thats still better than buying South African tomatoes. No produce goes to waste here, all the gnarled and unattractive tomatoes are turned into tomato products that are equally as good as the fresh tomatoes. This includes passata, tomato juices, ketchups, jams and marinated tomatoes.
The Tomato Stall sell their tomatoes and products all over the UK. In London, the best place to find them is at their stall at the Marylebone Farmers market, running every Sunday.
They are also stocked at a variety shops around London (visit their website to find more locations) and can also be purchased online.