This is rather late due to me being away so much in September and although it is now currently October, I thought I would still put up my vegetable of the month for September!
September – Tomatoes
Tomatoes! A staple of the garden and the kitchen! I am sure that nearly every gardener has tried their hand at this vibrant red fruit whether it’s in a greenhouse or tumbling from baskets! Tomatoes are such a staple ingredient in so many different dishes in my kitchen that I am really not sure what people did before them?
A short history of tomatoes
Tomatoes are originally native to the Americas and were part of the diet in Meso-American cultures.Tomatoes were introduced to Europe by the Spanish in the 16th Century after the discovery of the Americas. Originally regarded with suspicion, the tomato was shunned as many people though it was poisonous since it was a member of the deadly nightshade family. The tomato thrived easily in the warm Mediterranean climate and eventually by the 18th century, tomatoes were rapidly being incorporated into daily cuisine across Europe!
Why should we eat tomatoes?
Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene which is thought to have anti-oxidant properties and, along with other flavonoids (of which there are quite a few present in tomatoes), can play a role in bone and heart health. The anti-oxidants generally found in tomatoes are thought to play a preventative role against cancers including colon, prostate, breast and lung cancer. Nutrients in tomatoes are also thought to help regulate fat in the blood stream. They are low in fat, zero cholesterol and only 18 calories per 100 grams. which often leads to them being recommended as part of weight and cholesterol control programs.
Tomatoes also provide a generous source of Vitamin C contributing 21.5% to your recommended daily value per 100g and 28% of your recommended Vitamin A.
How to grow tomatoes?
Tomatoes require a long growing season in our cooler climate and are tender plants which require frost protection. Tomatoes can be grown both indoors and outdoors depending on the variety and as a rule, indoor grown tomatoes will be ready approximately a month before their outdoor cousins.
Depending on your variety of tomatoes, you can sow seed from mid-January until April but always read the sowing guide on the back of the packet. Fill a tray or pot with seed compost and sprinkle your seed thinly over the top. Cover the seed with a fine layer of the same seed compost or vermiculite and press down well to make sure the seed is in contact with the soil. Water well and cover the tray or pot with a clear plastic bag or polythene cover if necessary. This creates a warm humid atmosphere for the tomatoes to germinate (I like using a heated propagator). You can leave them uncovered but make sure the soil stays moist and they are kept in a warm place. The seeds will take 7-14 days to germinate.
Once true leaves have started to develop, you can transplant your seedlings into larger pots. If growing outside, tomatoes should be planted in their final growing positions after all chance of frosts have passed. If growing in a greenhouse or polytunnel they can be planted into their final positions once they are about 15-18cm tall, however, you should still keep an eye out for any frosts and make sure the plants have adequate protection. A late hard frost in April one year killed all my tender plants in the polytunnel!
Tomatoes can be planted into the ground, into grow bags or can be grown in large pots. Most importantly is knowing if your tomatoes are indeterminate (grown as cordons, will need support) or determinate (forms bushy plants that don’t need support). If your plants are indeterminate, you will need to provide support in the form of bamboo canes or some other training system (of which there are many!). Tomatoes will need to be tied into your supports as they grow to stop them breaking under the weight of the fruit they produce.
Side shoots should be pinched out as they develop and the tops of the tomatoes should be pinched out once 6 trusses of flowers have set. As the fruit develops, leaves below the first truss should be removed to improve ventilation and prevent diseases from taking hold. Removing some leaves can help the fruit to ripen by increasing the access to light although some people don’t like to do this.
Tomatoes should be fed at regular intervals to encourage flowers and fruit to form. A good quality general tomato feed will be sufficient.
Tomatoes, like potatoes, can be infected with blight. Blight is a fungus, Phytophthora infestans, which attacks the plant starting in the leaves and then travelling through the rest of the plant causing it to rot. Growing tomatoes indoors can help to reduce the chances of blight infestation and good horticultural practices such as providing adequate ventilation, watering at the roots and not on the leaves, removing debris can also help to prevent its spread.
Greenhouse grown tomatoes can also suffer from whitefly or green fly which are aphids that suck the sap of the plant and can spread diseases. Insecticides can be used to control these aphids or using companion planting or organic gardening will attract natural predators of these pests.
Problems with the fruit include splitting , blossom end rot and blossom drop all of which is cause by irregular watering. Ensure that you water well and regularly to avoid this problem.
How to cook tomatoes
Tomatoes can be eaten raw or cooked and is a staple ingredient in many Italian dishes. Tomatoes can be grilled, roasted or chopped up and boiled down in their own juices as the base for many sauces. They are incredibly versatile and their uses are endless. Below is a selection of recipes that use tomatoes.