Who can resist taking in a long deep inhale of the heady smell of tomatoes still growing on the vine, warmed from the sun? I like to leave the stem sitting on my worktop for the day after the tomatoes have hit the pot, just so I can sneak another sniff when it all gets too much! Tomatoes are one of my favourite crops to grow and happily are a perfect addition to a sunny wall or a balcony. Here they can be away from that nasty little creature ‘blight’ that makes them oh so difficult to grow on an allotment or in a town centre garden. I find that the cherry varieties are best for this, as the fruit doesn’t weigh the foliage down too much, and a combination of upright and tumbling give me the opportunity to mix and match pots, troughs and hanging containers. This year we went for the staples of Gardener’s Delight, Tumbling Tom and added the delicious golden Balconi Yellow for a splash of summery colour. Others to try could include Red Alert, Sungold and Black Cherry.
I like to start them off in expandable coir growing pellets – pop the hard little discs into a tub of water and watch them grow to the perfect size self-contained ‘pot’ into which you can pop just one or two tiny seeds. Line them up in a windowsill propagator, keep them damp but not soaking and within a week or two the first shoots will appear. These seedlings can be potted on into larger containers without removing the outer mesh casing of the pellet as it will rot away, although I do like to tease open the bottom of the casing to let those roots free – a gentle hand is needed for this! I always add tomato feed, a handful of water retaining beads and some vermiculite to good quality compost for potting on.
Harden them off in a mini greenhouse if you have one and then get them into their final position. Make sure you provide support from the beginning with gentle ties to a cane – remember to leave room for the stem to get fatter otherwise your tie will cut into the stem later on. Once your plants are off and growing you will notice that tiny new sideshoots, known as laterals, form in between the leaf and the main stem. Gently pinch these laterals out (and sniff, naturally, for intense tomatoiness!) to redirect all that growing energy into the fruit instead. Once the plant is the desired height, common consensus being after at least three or four trusses, you can also pinch out the top growing tip to maintain a healthy bushy plant that does not get too leggy or out of control.
Make sure you water regularly, onto the soil not the foliage, preferably when it’s cool so first or last thing in the day. Remove the bottom leaves if they are touching the ground and getting soggy to help avoid the dreaded blight. A feast and famine of watering day to day will only reduce your quality and quantity of crop so try to stick to a routine.
Top tip (credit to James Wong, whose book ‘How to Eat Better’ I am currently digesting)If you want to increase your intake of the carotene pigment lycopene, which scientists believe may be linked to reducing some types of cancer, and which is found in tomato skins – choose a cherry variety for high skin to flesh ratio and store your tomatoes on the worktop, not in the fridge. This will keep that ripening process going and those lycopenes increasing. If we go one step further and cook those toms, the cells are broken open, releasing the pigment and breaking it down to make it much easier for our body to absorb.
Feeling peckish now?
On Monday Eoin made this delicious soup – if I was making it later in the summer I would combine with freshly picked yellow and green round courgettes from the garden. These can be staked and made to grow neatly up a wall and are oh so different from the shop bought courgettes – please try them at home! Pick them when they are golf to tennis ball sized. Varieties to go for – Summer Ball and Eclipse. You could stuff a courgette flower with herbed ricotta and fry in a light tempura batter to go alongside if you were feeling fancy :)
Tomato and Courgette Soup with Garlic, Tomato and Basil Mayonnaise
(credit to A Celebration of Soup, Lindsey Bareham)
- Olive oil for frying
- 2 white onions, finely sliced
- 225g courgettes, diced
- 450g tomatoes, cored, diced
- 2 potatoes, peeled and diced
- 110g broad beans, shelled and peeled (a faff but so much nicer on all but the tiniest, freshest bean)
- 40g small pasta or broken spaghetti
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 tomatoes, grilled, skinned
- Bunch of basil
- 2 egg yolks
- Grated Parmesan and chopped parsley to serve
- Sweat off the onions gently until soft but not coloured
- Add diced courgette & cook until soft
- Add diced tomatoes & soften
- Add diced potatoes and hot water, bring to the boil, simmer for 10 mins
- Add the broad beans, pasta and season to taste with salt and pepper
- To make the mayonnaise, blitz the garlic in a food processor along with the grilled and skinned tomatoes and the basil, then add the egg yolks to make a thin mayonnaise style sauce which will be used to thicken the soup
- Once the pasta is cooked add a ladleful of soup to the egg mixture, combine, add another ladle and combine again. Pour this mixture back into the soup slowly, stirring all the time and without letting it boil. If you do not follow this step and just add the egg mixture to the soup you will end up with scrambled egg floating in your soup!
- Just before serving add Parmesan and parsley
Warm deep bowls, fill with soup and serve with extra Parmesan and warm granary bread spread with lashings of butter. Grab a book and sit in a comfy chair with a view of the sea to eat – or find 40 other Molecules and do the crossword over the lunch table which is how we like to roll at Mm :)
Head on over to our Instagram to see more photos of our beautiful blooming flowers and veggies!