Here's to a harvest of juicy, deeply-flavoured, sweet tomatoes
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Several consecutive days of sunshine and thoughts turn to the more glamorous and Mediterranean flavours we can provide ourselves with.
Everything seems to be arriving later this year and I'm sure that’s as much to do with my own attempts at revamping the plot as it is to do with the weather.
While I’ve been relieved to be able to dodge the occasional surprise shower by hiding in the greenhouse, it’s also offered me the chance to offer a greater degree of care to the tomato plants I grew from seed earlier in the year.
Last year's crop was fatally wiped out in what seemed like a day by a strong dose of blight.
This year, I’ve made extra sure that the site is biologically secure and that I have not planted tomatoes here before to avoid the same fate this year.
Planting them in the same soil three years running is asking for trouble. Using grow bags is by far the easiest solution to reuse the same space.
Bush varieties can easily be grown outside against a sunny wall and can offer a consistent harvest of juicy, deeply-flavoured, sweet fruits to make you wonder why ones you buy sometimes taste like cotton wool.
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They don’t necessarily need any fancy, technical care other than to feed them twice a week.
In fact, last year I planted the variety ‘Ailsa Craig’ outside in error in the flower patch because I thought they were flower seedlings I’d not grown before.
They seemed to manage just fine, tangling their way through my annuals and hiding under the dahlias.
It was mildly embarrassing explaining their presence to my neighbours but they were delicious come late August.
It’s not too late to beg, borrow or even buy a plant if you have to and it will repay you in spades in a few months' time.
Most gardeners are offered tomato plants that someone has grown too many of so it shouldn’t be too difficult to acquire one.
You might even enjoy bringing one back to life from the sale area in the garden centre with a child in the family.
They might even say let’s go crazy and start taking an interest in vegetables, you never know.
Having been gifted a ‘Tumbler’ variety last year, I was still able to enjoy its cherry tomato fruits by putting it in a hanging basket, and as the name suggests watching them tumble from the basket.
I have to admit I just ate them at the rate they ripened and still had enough to bring home and make a lake of Sopranos-style tomato ‘gravy’ that cheered everyone up when as it emerged from the freezer, giving a splash of summer in the dark at 5pm in frozen mid-January.
You will need to support the plant with a cane and string, but once the tiny, star-shaped, yellow flowers appear, it’s time to start feeding them.
It is cheaper and more efficient to make your own, admittedly disgusting smelling feed from nettles or comfrey in a bucket, but commercial feed is seemingly everywhere at this time of year. Just mix with water and you'll be picking bright cherry red fruits in no time.
A fully grown tomato plant alters its need for water depending on the length of the day and sunshine.
This can range from half-a-pint in dull weather to three pints in bright sunshine.
Somewhere in-between will probably suffice if like me you don’t always have a measuring jug to hand.
To maximise your tomato harvest, you might want to ‘pinch out’ and remove the little side shoots in the leaf axis of the main stem.
This allows the plant to devote more of its energy into fruit production. With any luck this will lead to a glut which in my book is always a good thing.