Garden to table series
Dear reader, would you have guessed that tomatoes are the most googled vegetable? (ok, they’re actually a fruit, but we generally think of them as vegetables!). Now is the time to sow your tomato seeds on a heated bench, and my colleague Christiane Share once again takes the spotlight in this column and shares her tips. Grow your own tomatoes, you will not regret it… – Hans
During the long summers in Spain there is a simple dish that is eaten by everyone, Pan con Tomate – toasted bread, rubbed with garlic and topped with ripe tomatoes. Last July and August at the Organic Centre in Rossinver, Co Leitrim, there was a super abundance of tomatoes and I regularly ate like a Spaniard. The tomatoes were so full of flavour that they needed very little added to them; they were the star ingredient in many delicious summer meals.
To produce these large amounts, the vine type tomatoes are grown in polytunnels, where each plant is supported by twine. During planting, one end of the twine is buried in the soil beneath the roots of the tomato plant. The other end is tied taut to an overhead wire or string running the length of the polytunnel. As the plant grows, the stem is wound around the twine. In this way the plants are held upright, grow tall and crop heavily. If you have a polytunnel you might like to try this method.
However, you don’t need a polytunnel to grow your own tomatoes successfully. While it is not worthwhile to plant tomatoes outside in the west of Ireland, they will grow well in pots kept inside in a warm, sunny place.
Interestingly, Lycopene, the chemical that makes tomatoes red, is thought to prevent cancer. Cooked tomatoes contain even more lycopene than raw. Tomatoes are also high in vitamins C and A.
In our climate, cherry and medium-sized varieties are an excellent choice, they give a good return and will ripen faster than larger types. For cherry tomatoes on the vine, I recommend Gardener’s Delight, a variety that reliably produces good numbers of delectable tomatoes. Different coloured varieties mixed together in a salad always looks impressive, so try Yellow Submarine or the orange-coloured, extra-sweet Sungold.
Matina is a red, medium-sized tomato that bears fruit earlier in the season and Moneymaker, another red, mid-sized variety, produces a beautifully round tomato. Dwarf and bush varieties are more compact and well suited to container growing. Pixie, a small bush variety, can even be planted in a hanging basket.
How to plant
Sow seeds in April in module trays. Fill each tray with seed compost, water well, then place one seed in each module and cover over with a sprinkling of compost. Place the trays on a sunny windowsill. You can stretch cling film over each seed tray to speed up germination.
You should see shoots apppear in six to ten days. When the tomato seedlings have three leaves transplant them, using potting compost, into individual 8cm (3-inch) pots.
Keep the soil moist as the plants grow. When the seedlings are about 20 cm (8 inches) tall, pot them on again into larger pots. For tall varieties use large, deep pots and stick a 1.5m (5ft) cane into each pot to support the plant as it grows.
On dry days, move the pots outside to your sunniest sheltered spot. Fresh air and direct sunlight will intensify the flavor of the tomatoes. Bring the plants back inside in the evenings. Once your tomato plant has four or five branches (trusses) you can cut the main stem off at its top. This will prevent the plant becoming too tall for its pot and focus its energy on fruit production. Removing the shoots that develop between the stem and main branches or ‘side shooting’ will also maintain the plant’s shape and productivity.
When flowers have appeared, feed tomato plants once a week with a liquid seaweed dilution to encourage fruiting. Over-watering tomatoes will diminish their flavor. Water your plants a little and often, rather than drenching them – and water the soil, not the leaves. Pick and eat your tomatoes as they ripen and enjoy a burst of summer.
Hans Wieland is joint manager of The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim. For more information, visit www.theorganiccentre.ie or phone 071 9854338. Questions or comments? Contact Hans at firstname.lastname@example.org.