The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Growing the best tomatoes

Imur prior beta donated to me by Magic Cochin of Purple Podded peas fame

Imur prior beta donated to me by Magic Cochin of Purple Podded peas fame

Growing tomatoes is quite easy but growing tomatoes well requires relentsless enthusiasm. Their growing period can last for six or seven months before the first small and fragrant harvest. They are susceptible to blight. If not watered regularly they can fail due to blossom end rot. If you don’t feed weekly when the first flowers appear they will not set much fruit. And of course it’s very hard to remember to nip out every side shoot on cordon tomatoes. And when do you ‘stop them’ (nip off the tops) to finish flower production when summer is on the wane and all energy should be focussed on the quality of the fruit that is developing on the plant? In my case I nip out the top after the fifth truss of flowers.

“If they can be so tricky and labour intensive, why do we grow them?”

Most people who have access to even the tiniest growing space will have tried tomatoes. The taste has most people rushing back for more feeding/watering/nipping out shoots the next year. Home grown toms are the Prima Donnas of the entire salad opera. My mum admitted the other day that all her tomatoes had not reached her kitchen yet.
“I’ve guzzled them straight from the plant.”
Nothing beats the flavour of an ultra fresh tomato plucked on a sunny day and savoured on the spot. Danny agrees too.

Apart from the fact that homemade tomato passata makes a wonderful Bloody Mary, tomatoes are packed with vitamins and minerals. Almost enough to view that second Bloody Mary on a Sunday as a health drink. It’s the lycopene that makes the difference. The human body does not produce lycopene. The redder the tomato the higher the lycopene levels.

Lycopene neutralises free radicals in the body. Has been proved to fight numerous cancers. Cooking tomatoes releases even more lycopene and enables the body to absorb it better.

Everyone said that I would grow great tomatoes the solar tunnel. I imagined that they’d be similar in growth to greenhouse tomatoes and that I’d just have more space. Wrong.

The laden truss in the photo has the potential to grow 26 tomatoes! Once the ripe ones are harvested tomorrow this will send a signal to the distant cousins (twice removed) at the far end of the truss. These tiny fruits will spring into action and if we have a warm September they should produce small fruit that can be ripened on a sunny windowsill in the cottage.

The temperature in the solar tunnel is very, very hot on a sunny day. Even with the doors open. Of course the tomatoes are basking in the warmth. This combined with a decent weekly feed and a good soak with water every other day, has produced a stunning harvest.

My only excuse for my surprise is that I’m a solar tunnel virgin. Just completing my first year. My legs are worn out from dashing down the garden each morning to survey my tomato harvest and then rushing up to The Rat Room to announce the daily count. Danny smiles and nods in between conference calls and densely worded emails. He has big plans for my tomato growing next year as we’re both tomato fans.

Of course, he is not yet the grower – so any plans will remain on the drawing board unless he reaches for tomato seed next spring. As yet he’s not watered these triffids or fed them lovingly or tried to keep them from snapping with the weight of the fruit. He is The Sampler of Texture and Flavour. His self appointed role of Quality Assurance Supervisor is his excuse for constantly sampling and comparing . Actually he is Q S Assistant but his input is useful as his taste buds are finely tuned to a more complex level than mine. This in plain English means – if he doesn’t like it he won’t eat it.

We both agree that the solar tunnel tomatoes have a better flavour than the greenhouse ones. And even the toms grown against the sunny wall of the cottage don’t have the va va vroom taste of the solar tunnel fruit. This year we have actually grown the same variety of tomato plants in all three places so that we could compare and contrast the harvest and flavour.

A complete surprise to me as I always used to think that outdoor raised tomatoes had the best flavour of all. That’s the draw of gardening.


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  1. I have a recipe handed down from my great grandmother for tomato Charlotte. It’s so easy and tasty:
    Blanch 8-10 large toms skin them and slice,
    Cut off crusts from 8 slices of stale White bread and turn into bread crumbs, then take a small deep Pyrex dish about 6 – 8” wide and layer sliced tomatos a grind of pepper and pinch of salt and if you like it garlic granules and bread crumbs and a few dots of butter continue layering until you’ve finished up all ingredients finishing with a layer of bread crumbs and dot with butter lumps put into oven 180c degrees until golden brown about 45 mins.
    My grandparents and my mum used to serve this with roasted meats or chicken. I like it on it’s own hot or cold. I sometimes finish it with a layer of grated cheddar instead of the butter. Or occasionally I spray it with a low fat oil if I’m very feeling good….! It’s still delicious.

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