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. lisa110rry

    Terrier, may I suggest a salsa recipe for your glut?

    Chop some toms roughly (to about 1cm), add the juice of two limes, three or four finely chopped garlic cloves, two or three chapped chillis and a big bunch of coriander, finely chopped. Refrigerate, best the next day, serve with corn chips. The younger generation absolutely love it in our house.

    On another subject, some volunteer tomato plants grew in our veg beds, which had been spread with our compost, so I transplanted them and though the fruits on them may not mature now, the will be made into chutney, if the expected very high winds don’t dislodge them from the plant.

  2. Tamar@StarvingofftheLand

    We learned the hard way that it can get *too* hot for tomatoes in an enclosed space. We put them in our hoophouse, and when we had a spell of 90 temperatures, it got over 100 inside, and we lost a lot of blossoms.

    That said, the siren song of the home-grown tomato is irresistable. The differential between store-bought and home-grown is greater than for any other fruit or vegetable, I think

  3. Terrier… try using them in Jamie Oliver’s Mothership tomato salad recipe. If you havent got it I can post it here for you. Delish if you like balsamic, olive oil, garlic, chilli, oregano! mmm

  4. Terrier

    I’m in that glut period with my toms at the moment, I have them in my greenhouse and my green polytunnel, they are ripening faster than we can eat & give them away…must have done something right for a change.Just dried a load in the oven today

  5. All my beefsteak tomatoes got blossom end rot sadly, never had a problem with it before. Danast I agree with you about Sungold, they are so tasty and prolific. I keep a bowl of them on the kitchen table for casual snacking, and it’s surprising how often I have to refill it! This year I’ve grown those, trusty old Gardeners Delight, some un-named tiny cherry tomatoes, all of which I’m picking daily and loads and loads of plum tomatoes which look very healthy but are resolutely remaining green. Home grown tomatoes – can’t beat ’em!

  6. Domestic Executive

    I have to admit I am so excited about the prospect of growing tomatoes in our poly greenhouse this year. The weather in Wellington is just not warm enough to get a decent crop. I can taste them now…….

  7. The Liquineer

    E grows and tends our tomatoes- we used to try and grow a crop in Scotland when we lived there, and always got a lot of toms, but if the summer weather was poor, ended up with lots of green ones.
    However they make a great green tomato chutney which E won a prize for at the local produce show.
    This year we have hit the glut time so have had tomatoes with every meal so far!

  8. The only tomatoes I am managing to harvest so far are the little sungold ones. They are so delicious, but every other variety is still green and does not look like ripening any time soon. It is disappointing to say the least as tomatoes are my favourite food and there is nothing quite like the taste of home grown.

  9. I know the feeling Kate as our polytunnel fell down over the winter and we had to erect a new greenhouse style one in its place to survive the snow for this next winter, which meant everything was late again. Maybe, just maybe next year it will be fine and we will get everything in on time.

  10. My tommies are hopeless thus far- very late setting trusses, not a fantastic set either ( beans likewise- not enough insects about) only had about four ripe fruits do far all of which have been eaten by something other than me,which skilfully ate all the soft bits before my early morning visit to the greenhouse and left the empty skins hanging on the truss.Usually by now I’m enjoying ripe fruits and wondering what the hell I shall do with all those tomatoes…sigh.Sometimes it just doesn’t go to plan!

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