Tomatoes are probably one of the foods I buy most often. My post for Crudaiola is one of the most viewed on this blog so I assume lots of you adore them as much as I do.
Since I have been a ‘proper’ grown up and lived away from the parental abode, I have never had a garden. I couldn’t even grow herbs on the window sill as the sills were too narrow to balance a pot on and I was worried about the subsequent lawsuit after inadvertently knocking someone unconscious in the street below when it fell off.
At the end of last year that changed and I was lucky enough to move into a place with a garden. One of the first things I did was start researching how to grow tomatoes. I have long harboured a dream to grow my own produce, particularly tomatoes. I spend a small fortune on them as I buy so many.
This is not a gardening blog and I cannot claim to have any expertise whatsoever. Anything I have picked up is from the web and very patient in-laws who have kindly responded to my often inane questioning.
So, I bought the equipment I thought I needed and selected three types of seeds; Gardener’s Delight, as they are supposedly easy to grow, San Marzano’s, as they make the best passata in the world and are fiendishly expensive to buy, and finally Heritage, which seemed a little vague in name, but the variety of colours and shapes attracted me.
After sowing the seeds in a little tray in the darkness of one March evening, I was hopeful but not convinced anything would ever appear. The excitement I felt when the first shoots came through after only a few weeks was totally ridiculous.
When the seedlings get to about 4cm tall, they need transferring very carefully into small pots filled with seedling peat.
Then they need transferring to a larger pot again when they get to about 15cm and are showing the first buds and flowers. I can quite smugly tell you that this is called a truss.
As the nights were still quite cold, I kept the plants on a sunny windowsill until they started to develop their own truss’. I moved them outside around the beginning of May. I would like to tell you that this was because it was the appropriate time, but it was actually because my other half was so sick of the kitchen looking in like it has been invaded by trifids.
When the first few truss’ have appeared you can start to feed the plants.
Once a plant has developed a maximum of five truss’, you need to break the top of the plant off, as otherwise you risk having lots of green fruit that never ripens. You also need to keep pinching off the little shoots between the main stalks, so they do not take away the energy from the main plant.
With a little luck and a fair bit of sun, the fruit will start to ripen.
And so eventually came the day when there were enough red fruit to pick and eat. Dressed simply with a little extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, they were, frankly, incredible. It was very special. I love the fact they are bit gnarly in places and not all of them look perfect. They are authentic, rather than forced into perfection because that is what the public want to buy.
The sun has been somewhat lacking for the last few weeks and so I still have a lot of green fruit. I am hoping that we get a few sunny days, as they seem to ripen overnight when there is warmth and light. The constant rain has meant that some of the fruit has started to split, which is a little heartbreaking. I have picked the ones which are showing the slightest sign of ripening and put them into a bowl on the windowsill in the hope of ripening them fully.
There are a few things I would not do again. I would only plant 10-15 seeds. The packet instructions suggested that only half the seeds would take but I have only lost two plants out of 45 throughout this process. Unless you are heading for commercial production, 43 plants are far too many for a domestic cook to maintain, however much you love tomatoes. It is actually bordering on insanity and has taken up far too much time and energy. Not to mention the amount I have spent on peat probably outweighs the amount I would have spent on tomatoes normally.
That said, some cliches exist for a reason and there really is nothing like the taste of tomatoes you have grown yourself. There is a wonderful feeling of productivity and pride that simply can’t be replicated by picking out a fridge cold plastic packet in the supermarket. This is a process I have enjoyed so much more than I thought I would. The time and care needed means you feel very invested in these little plants. I never thought I would be the type of person to find myself away for a weekend and catch myself worrying about how the tomato plants were doing in my absence! It all seems a bit too grown up.