This week, my Yorkshire plot finally saw some warmer sunshine; not quite the type that brings hayfever and hosepipe bans, but nonetheless a decent level of sunshine that means it is time to sow the first much loved seeds of tomato.
Tomato seeds are slow to germinate and so this means they need to be in a place where it is consistently warm until the temperatures rise. I have space in my warmer conservatory (the greenhouse is still a little nippy) and a good early start should hopefully mean a longer season of fruit.
Last year I was asked: "why do you grow so many tomatoes? Why don't you just buy some?" What? I was horrified: a summer without home-grown tomatoes must be like being a duck without water. The smell and taste alone make growing your own tomatoes worthwhile over shop bought tomatoes.
So I have written this blog for a gardener new to tomato growing or the people that state: 'I don't know what to do with the glut of tomatoes'.
The varieties I have chosen for this year are 'Tropical Ruby', which is a solid plum; 'Golden Cherry', which is small and great in flavour. My final choice this year is Black Krim, which are new to me but are a beefsteak variety available from https://www.seedparade.co.uk/
WHAT TO DO WITH A GLUT
My opening thought for this section is to ask you two questions: how many tins of tomatoes must you buy each year? Have you seen how the prices have doubled this year?
With a glut of tomatoes, there are several ways you can use them within the kitchen:
You can puree for bolognaise dishes or as a base for tomato dishes. Make a large stock pot of gently cooked tomatoes with seasoning, a little sugar and garlic (if you like a more Italian style puree) and towards the end of cooking add Oregano or Basil. This can simmer away until it thickens, then use a hand blender to puree it down. If not being used immediately, this can be frozen in portion-sized bags for around six months until required.
Tomato Ketchup is one of the most popular sauces in this country. Try to make your homemade sauce. I prefer to leave it for a few months bottled up before using, although I will warn you that the flavour of supermarket bought ketchup will not compare to your own in any way.
Tomato soup is great and easy to store in the freezer for over winter. Start off as a base like the puree but blend down earlier whilst the tomatoes are still juicy. Add any flavours you prefer and mix in. I like a spicy warm soup so a little chilli and lentils make this a good winter warmer.
Tomato chutney is great for Christmas: http://chattydaisygf.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/chutney-free-from-and-festive.html
Freezing tomatoes is usually not recommended but I have found that the plum variety can be frozen whole and then defrosted. These can then be baked in the oven with cheese and basil to make a tasty dish.
Sun-dried tomatoes: I tried these last year, firstly drying them on trays in full sun sprinkled with salt. I have since been told by a trusted Italian that the right way to do this is thread the whole tomatoes and hang them in a warm, dry environment (i.e. a greenhouse). This must be done at the height of summer and not left until the back end of the season. Watch for insects, though; it is best to cover them with a fine mesh.
I do hope anyone considering growing tomatoes finds this guide useful in looking at ways that costs can be cut through growing your own produce. Although, I haven't mentioned how to grow tomatoes, I thought it would be good to explain why it is good to grow your own. Please let us know how you get on and of course, share your own tomato stories and success on here.