Nearly everyone I know loves cherry tomatoes, especially when they are homegrown and eaten straight off the vine midway through a morning on the plot or in the garden. Are you the same?
The first cherry tomatoes of the season always feel and taste particularly special to me, so I need to get sowing asap. Finding indoor space to start off seeds is pretty tricky on a narrowboat with no windowsills and in the middle of being refurbished. But, I will find space within the 65ft, I will!
Sow & Grow
Tomatoes are super easy to grow! Here’s what you have to do:
1. Sow indoors now on a windowsill or in a greenhouse into well-drained peat-free compost in a seed tray, and cover lightly with soil.
2. Water at the base rather than overhead as this can encourage blight, but don’t overdo it – they hate wet feet. Keep warm – around 18℃ to germinate – and they should be up in 7-14 days. Wrap a plastic bag around the tray or pot to act as a mini propagator.
3. Once the ‘true leaves’ unfurl, pot them up into 8cm pots.
4. They’ll still need 15℃ temperatures to flourish, so harden them off by putting the plants outside in the day and bringing them in at night for around two weeks until all threat of frost has past.
5. Once they’re fully-fledged, plant them in grow bags in a greenhouse or into containers outdoors.
Tips: Ensure the lowest leaves are flush with the soil or deeper to create a stronger root system. Shake the flowers gently as they arrive, like a little daily wiggle to mimic bumblebee vibrations and aid pollination. Don’t forget to also give them a good drink of a plant feed weekly once the fruits begin to swell. Basically they need a decent amount of nutrients, liquids and little dance on a regular basis…sounds like me!
You’ll need to tie the main stem to a stake and pinch out the side shoots between the stem and the branches to focus the plants energy into fruiting.
If you can’t bear to part with the off-cuts, these can be used as cuttings to produce new plants! BONUS!
If any of your homegrown tasty toms make it further than the garden or plot gate, then firstly, I’m impressed and secondly, here is a few recipe ideas to bring them even more to life.
Easy Tomato Sauce: Sauté 1 onion and 1 clove crushed garlic in olive oil until transparent. Plunge 2lbs tomatoes into very hot water and refresh in cold, removing the skins and crushing. Add to the pan and cook for a few minutes, adding a dash of balsamic vinegar, a pinch of paprika and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 20 minutes until reduced to a thick sauce. Spoon over pasta, generously spread onto pizza bases or freeze portions for an instant taste of summer.
Fruit Salad: As tomatoes are officially a fruit, we shouldn’t be surprised they go so well with other fruits. Mix them up with real cherries, peaches, strawberries or watermelon. Adding a gorgeous splash of balsamic vinegar, raspberry vinegar and sugar dressing. Plus, a sprinkle of fresh mint leaves.
Quick Panzanella: Toss torn bread pieces in olive oil and bake in a hot oven for five minutes to toast. Halve 10oz tomatoes and slice half a cucumber and mix with 2oz cubed cheese and the toast morsels. Add a good handful of torn basil and drizzle in a lemon dressing made from the juice of 1 lemon, 2tbsp oil, 1tbsp white wine vinegar, 1tbsp rice wine vinegar, seasoning and a pinch of sugar to taste.
Fried & Green: It’s easy to be left with a trug load of unripe tomatoes at the end of the summer, so try the classic South American trick of coating thick slices in flour, then whisked egg, and then breadcrumbs before frying. They’re great dipped into garlicky aioli and always remind me of the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, that I watched as a child. Have you seen it?