In today’s instalment of my Grow and Eat series, I’m really excited to have a guest blogger – Stephanie from ‘Life at 139a’ is here to talk about tomatoes! Stephanie is a blogger who lives in South London and has recently acquired an allotment which needs a lot of work. She’s recently bought a lovely bike with a basket (that’s important) and spent some time earlier in the summer cycling around the Bavarian Alps.
Take it away Stephanie…
Growing tomatoes is rewarding, and the reward is the taste. A tomato that’s never been in a fridge, is picked when it’s ripe and ripens naturally beats any supermarket tomato hands down. Trust me.
I sow my tomato seeds as late as I can to give them the best chance possible in my north facing greenhouse. Usually by the start of March I’m itching to get going and I always sow more than I can grow, thinking that this will be the year that I’ll discard the weaker seedlings, but knowing deep down that it never will be.
I mean if such a tiny seed has put so much effort into growing then how can I just throw it away?
This year I grew Sungold (a yellow cherry tomato), Tigerella (with tiger stripes as the name suggests), Gardeners Delight and Pomodoro (both cherry tomatoes), all from seed. I used a single half seed tray for all four varieties, partly for space and partly to restrict the amount of seeds I sow.
Many garden centres sell tomato seedling at a reasonable price if growing from seed isn’t your thing. It’s also handy if your seeds don’t germinate as well as you expected or if your seedlings are munched overnight by an army of slugs and snails.
Once they’ve grown their first proper leaves, transplant the seedlings – it’s here I have to learn to be more ruthless, as you should only transplant the strongest ones. I cosy them up two in a pot as I know I’m going to pot them on again and it means there’s space in the greenhouse for other things too. Although the greenhouse is mostly full of tomatoes, and I lovingly refer to it as my “tomato farm!”
This year has been a year of tomato firsts for me. The first time I’ve grown them on our new allotment and not in pots in the garden, and the first time I’ve grown a bush variety (Pomodoro) alongside my favourite cordon varieties. I’ll be growing both again next year too.
Starting off I’m meticulous about labelling my plants, but at some point every year – most likely when I’m short of space, they get jumbled up and I lose track of which is which. Now when that happens I just label them as Lucky Dip…
I’ve had a good tomato year. As they grow it’s a good idea to pinch out the side shoots on cordon tomatoes; these are the shoots that grow in-between the main stem and the leafs, if you do it while they’re small you can easily do this by literally pinching them with your thumb and forefinger. Tomatoes, like any plant can be prone to diseases and there’s lots of helpful advice here: http://www.growingyourownveg.com/tomato-pests-and-diseases.php Tomato pests and diseases, growingyourownveg.com
Once the tomatoes are flowering and setting their first fruits it’s a good idea to feed them with a liquid feed – don’t forget to water it down first though! It’s also a good idea to pinch out the tops of cordon tomatoes once they’re around 5ft – they don’t need to be so tall, but they do need to have fruits and this encourages the plant to focus on them.
Then from mid-August onwards it’s all about getting those tomatoes red! To help this remove as much of the foliage as you can so the sun can easily get to the tomatoes and ripen them. I’ve discovered this year this is much easier to do with cordon varieties.
Mine are now getting there but there’s a few tricks to helping them along indoors too –see here.
Well I’ve lost count of the number of ripe cherry tomatoes that haven’t made it home from the allotment, but there’s plenty you can do with the ones that do make it back. When the weather’s warmer salads are the obvious choice, whether that’s adding them to a garden salad or in Greek Salad – I like this Nigel Slater version.
Once the salad days are over (and I think they may be for this year) I make batches of pasta sauce for the freezer. And it’s an easy one. Simply cut the tomatoes in half, add them with herbs from the garden – I use bay, rosemary & oregano, but any work – swish some olive oil over them so they don’t stick to your tin, add some seasoning and roast in the oven until they’ve collapsed.
If you want a finer, less rustic sauce you could remove the skins before roasting and you can of course puree it once it’s cooked. But for me, this rustic tomato sauce is a great reminder of sunnier days.
And for the larger tomatoes that I can’t bear to cut up Nigel Slater has a fabulous Tomato curry recipe; he calls it Tomatoes with turmeric and yogurt. This is a lovely dish, and an unusual way to enjoy your tomatoes.
What’s your favourite way of cooking with tomatoes?
To read more of Stephanie’s lovely writing, about food growing and more, take a look here.
If you’re interested in being a guest blogger on Grow & Eat, please do get in touch!