Raising Reds - Why Growing Organic Tomatoes Is Healthier Than Buying
Lovely little tomatoes, (posh name: lycopersicon esculentum ), are annual plants in England's mild climates. I think of them as a veget...
Lovely little tomatoes, (posh name: lycopersicon esculentum), are annual plants in England's mild climates. I think of them as a vegetable but my encyclopaedic guide calls these ripe red, yellow, orange, and pink babies fruit. Fruit!
Buying local, which means from locally sourced farmers, is good business to buying from larger stores, but growing your own is ever better.
Above are last season's tomatoes, green and unripe, and still great for cooking.
Eco-mum used to grow a variety of tomatoes years in our first house garden. A small patch, no wider than a footpath, was overgrown with cherry tomatoes and plum 'tornadoes', which were picked throughout summer and autumn. Of course, being a child, I did not understand the purpose of a red skinned and watery vege- er, fruit and would pick them out. Today, oh em gee, I can't do without them.
I cannot afford to buy a pack of 6 or more toms for when I only need 2 and I see that as waste expenditure. As my eco-family have always grown their own vegetables that are in hot demand, organic tomatoes are usually in the kitchen table. They taste better than shop bought, they carry flavour, colour and because they're made with love, they're eaten with love!
In July 2011, our much larger vegetable patch was divided into segments for the various seeds I planted in March, which were ready for migration. Next to the herbs and peas, this squared area was dedicated to 'mirabelle' tomatoes.
When the indoors seedlings are at a two to three leaf stage and about 5-10cm in height, they are transplanted into larger pots before moving outside. Here, tomatoes can withstand night temperatures of up to 7˚ C (45˚ F) so long as there's no risk of frost. We moved our plants at the right time during summer, alhamdulillah, and with the correct preparation, saw a wonderful yield of tomatoes.
Two months later and my plants begin to flower.
Cordon tomato plants grow to around a metre and need tying for support. I tie mine to bamboo canes from the base, then in two more places - the middle and finally, later in of the season, near the top. I learnt that it's best to remove the the support towards the end of the season so that the plants can 'lean over'. Overwatering also reduces the flavour of tomatoes, bet you didn't know that!
Three months later, the tomatoes have reached required height and begin to fruit.
Tips: Keep vegetable beds free of weeds and debris; remove and burn diseased plant stems because they are pretty vicious and may attack again.
On some tomato plants, you need to regularly pinch out sideshoots as they develop to steal the energy which helps the fruit (vegetable) swell. During the late summer, when the plant has reached its maximum height, it's also advisable to nip the top of the main shoot. This too helps the remaining flowers to fruit better.
Keeping the tomatoes alive - Mulching
I have grown the cordon type of tomatoes which are planted 15 inches apart and in rows. More bushy tomato plants benefit from being mulched with plastic film. 'Mulching' is where the surface is kept covered with a layer of organic and inorganic material - rotten composts, animal manure, dried lawn clippings and seaweed. It may look odd but it's fantastic for the plants.
To reduce problems with pests and diseases, I had to look into what preparations were needed to keep my plants healthy.
Tomatoes need low amount of nitrogen. They can tolerate a wide range of fertile and well drained soils. I thought the clay-like and clumpy soil wouldn't work but this didn't seem to affect the tomatoes. The pH of soil should be fairly acidic, a pH of 5-7. And tomatoes need high levels of phosphorus.
Besides using tomatoes in cooking, grow cherry tomatoes to eat raw and put in the kids lunchboxes, add into salads and every meal. They also freeze whole or chopped and are great pureed into soups and stews. I just look forward to the day I see tomato flavoured ice-cream!
Peace + eco-jihad.
Zaufishan, The Eco Muslim