For nearly five months now we’ve been nurturing our tomatoes to get to this point; a kaleidoscope crop of cancer fighting, sweet, succulent fruits that can be used in almost any meal.
Tomatoes aren’t an obvious crop for Cornwall, they often suffer from blight in wet and warm summers, which are most here in Kernow. But when they work, boy are they worth the long journey to get them.
Tomatoes are part of the solanaceae family, like potatoes and deadly nightshade. Like potatoes they were diligently bread by the ingenious indigenous people of South and Central America who had a real knack for turning poisonous plants into nutritious and mouth-wateringly yummy crops. They have a long growing period before cropping so they need to be sown early.
We are growing about 12 different heritage varieties, they have more flavour, better texture and are just much more fun and interesting than the often flavourless hybrids bred for agribusiness. We are growing these from seed we saved last year and will be saving seed again this year, slowly over the years selecting varieties which suit our conditions and taste buds the best.
They were sowed in February and placed on a heated bench. Sowing this early has its risks but you need to get in early to have a decent growing and cropping season before the Cornish sun fades in autumn. In March we prepared beds in the polytunnel with horse manure shovelled into the bed, to be topped with compost.
Then in April comes the big planting, we have around 150 tomatoes plants growing, including, cherries, plums and beef steaks. We’ve reduced our chances of blight by using drip tape, a type of hose which delivers drips of water directly into the soil. This almost eliminates the increase in humidity from watering as well as wasted water through evaporation.
Throughout May and June we’ve been ‘winding on’, this is training our tomatoes up strings, and side-shooting to focus the plants energies on ripening fruit. Then we’ve begun defoliating, taking off the lower leaves as the plant grows to encourage air movement, allow you to see the fruit and again encourage ripening of fruit.
And then it begins! Signalled by a flash of yellow and within days more flashes and flecks of orange and before you know it you are harvesting the first punnet of those sweet, juicy balls of goodness. Growers look forward to the time of year when all the time nurturing pays off and you can fill punnet after punnet with a mosaic of stripey, purple, red and yellow tomatoes of all sizes and shapes. We have red and green zebra varieties, yellow pear, white cherry, farenheit, Amish gold, black Russian just to name a few!
To get hold of cherry, plum or beef steak tomatoes just get in touch and we’ll see what we can do.