Fruit and Veg

Grower Profile: Nutbourne Nursery

Written by Tom Moggach
July 25, 2014

"It was a million to one chance that I would become a commercial tomato grower," says Gary Griffiths, guiding me around his plant-stuffed glasshouses.

Gary Griffiths from Nutbourne Nursery

Son of a greengrocer, Gary grew up in Tooting, went to school with snooker player Jimmy White and has childhood memories of buying trips to the old Covent Garden and Borough markets.

Now he runs Nutbourne Nursery in a tranquil area of Sussex and is possibly Britain's top grower of specialty tomatoes.

"No-one else is doing the vine tomatoes in mixed boxes – it's a niche product," he says.

Mixed box of vine tomatoes from Nutbourne Nursery

Nutbourne is a family business (his wife Jenny is the model above), with 0.41 hectares of glass and a small, highly skilled team.

The Nutbourne Nursery van

The Nutbourne Nursery team

They grow dozens of varieties, from the bite-sized 'Couer de Pigeon' ('Pigeon Heart') to larger 'Couer de Boeuf' ('Ox Heart').

Bite-sized 'Couer de Pigeon' (Pigeon Heart)  from Nutbourne Nursery

Tomatoes from Nutbourne Nursery

Indeed, the Nutbourne range of tomatoes was featured in our Tomato Product Profile back in May.

Gary says: "We want to produce nice colour in the boxes – stripy fruit like Tiger, striped orange, pink, yellow and dark brown."

'Couer de Boeuf' ('Ox Heart') from Nutbourne Nursery

He trials new varieties each year and is rigorous in selecting only tomatoes that deliver in terms of flavour and yield.

One of their newer lines, for example, is a Pineapple Marmande - yellow with an attractive tinge of pink.

Gary explains that the original concept for their mixed boxes came out of desperation some years ago.

"We took a big gamble by growing all these varieties. We put our heart and souls into it," he says. "Every variety has a different cultural requirement… It would be much easier selling one [variety] to a supermarket."

Their state-of-the art operation is a hydroponic system in two glasshouses, in production from March to November.

State of the art hydrolic system at Nutbourne Nursery

The vines can reach 30ft long by the end of their season and grow up to 2ft per week. Pollination is by imported bees.

Imported bees at Nutbourne Nursery

Staff  picking from Nutbourne Nursery

His team pick three times a week, with deliveries to a range of distributors across England plus a circuit of local shops.

Tomatoes ready to be delivered out  from Nutbourne Nursery

An order  from Nutbourne Nursery

Gary drives the tomatoes to London himself: "We almost lead the market in Covent Garden. We think our core strength is picking and shipping – we don't have any fruit going into cold stores. It's about attention to detail from beginning to end."

Over the last decades, Gary has seen many similar-sized growers nearby shut down or switch product in the face of stiff competition from abroad and escalating energy, water and labour costs. 

"I have seen them all go by the wayside over the years. It's only been my sheer stubbornness that’s stopped me from going that way."

Nutbourne Nursery, West Sussex
01798 812902
@NutbourneTomato

Available for sale at the Market from wholesalers Bruce White and Premier Fruits and from wholesale distributors Allison Risebro, Cream of the Crop and First Choice.

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