And so the great tomato adventure starts all over again. A 10-month odyssey begins with the sowing of seeds in a cold potting shed with Child Number 2 chatting incessantly in my ear. Growing tomatoes is a labour of love. Unlike, say, herbs or salads which are quick and easy to grow, tomatoes take time and plenty of work. But my, oh my, is it worth it. The variety, the flavour, the utter deliciousness. There is simply nothing like a home-grown tomato.
As always with tomatoes, you are balancing the need to get started (they need a long growing season) with the reality that they like a Mediterranean climate (and 18-20 degrees to germinate) which is sadly lacking in Ireland in February. This week I decided that spring had sprung and I got stuck in. Now I am hearing ominous portends of a cold spell coming next week from Siberia (the “Beast from the East’ they’re already calling it on twitter). Never mind. The tomatoes are on a heated bench in the potting shed (a sunny windowsill inside the house will do just as well) and I have fleece at the ready for chilly night times.
Regular readers (hi you two!) will know that I am somewhat obsessed with tomatoes. For years I’ve grown around 20 plants in the polytunnel in the garden, but about two years ago I bought a commercial-sized tunnel just so I could grow more tomatoes. For the last two seasons I’ve grown around 70 plants, and my summers have become a never-ending scramble to keep up with the abundance of tomatoes flowing from the garden. To put it in context a single tomato plant could produce up to 200 tomatoes in a season. No family of four could keep up with this level of fresh tomatoes. Instead it’s about processing them immediately in to a sauce for the freezer, effectively packing up some flavour for the future. This year I put around 50 bags of tomato sauce in to the freezer and they’ve provided a delicious base for many a pizza, pasta, soup or stew this winter.
As always I am aiming for a good mix of shapes, sizes, colours and flavours. There are some old reliables and new experiments; some new purchases and seeds found down the bottom of the seed box. Oddly, given how much I rave about the variety Sungold, I somehow didn’t grow them last year and I missed them intensely. I have a feeling they were out of stock when I went to buy the seeds last year. I will be remedying that in a big way this year. I am also growing: Golden Sunrise, Sweet Million, Beefsteak, Sweet Aperitif, Gardeners Delight, Tigerella, Black Krim, Alicante, Moneymaker. Whatever you decide to grow, enjoy the ride!
GROW COOK EAT
Exciting news. GIY’s new 7-episode TV series GROW COOK EAT starts on RTE 1 TV on Wednesday 14th of March. Each week we will take a particular veg and take you on a plot-to-plate journey showing you how to grow and cook with the veg. Along the way we will be visiting GIY projects in communities, workplaces and schools, and getting tips from some amazing, sustainable commercial growers. Presented by Michael Kelly and Karen O’Donohoe, GROW COOK EAT is sponsored by Bord Bia and the EPA. There will be lots more info on growcookeat.ie and on our Facebook and Twitter!
The Basics Sowing Tomatoes
I generally start tomatoes in small pots of seed compost (10cm), sowing roughly 8-10 seeds per pot. Once they germinate (it takes two weeks) I carefully take out each little seedling and plant it in to an individual module in a module tray, using good quality potting compost. Alternatively, you can sow the seeds directly in the module tray using potting compost.
When the seedlings outgrow the module tray I move them on in to their own 10cm pot, before finally planting out in to the polytunnel in May or so. If you don’t have a polytunnel or greenhouse, you can grow them indoors in a growbag or large pot (would need to be 40cm deep at least), being sure to keep them well watered and fed regularly with a good organic liquid tomato feed.
Beginners Guide to Growing with Michael Kelly Saturday February 24th
Have you always wanted to grow your own food, but don't know where to start? Do you get confused by all those weird horticultural terms and Latin names for plants? Join Michael Kelly on Saturday the 24th of February or Saturday 24th March for a Beginners Guide to Growing course at GROW HQ. Learn how to make a simple veg patch plan, the most common veg to grow, and how and when to sow a variety of seeds. Full day course starts at 10am, costs €65 and includes a delicious HQ lunch.