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Dublin: 17 °C Saturday 26 May, 2018
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A single tomato plant can produce 200 tomatoes in a season, here's how to sow them

There is simply nothing like a home-grown tomato, writes GIY guru Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

AND SO THE great tomato adventure starts all over again. A 10-month odyssey begins with the sowing of seeds in a cold potting shed with child number two chatting incessantly in my ear.

Growing tomatoes is a labour of love. Unlike, say, herbs or salads which are quick and easy to grow, tomatoes take time and plenty of work. But my, oh my, is it worth it. The variety, the flavour, the utter deliciousness. There is simply nothing like a home-grown tomato.

As always with tomatoes, you are balancing the need to get started (they need a long growing season) with the reality that they like a Mediterranean climate (and 18-20 degrees to germinate) which is sadly lacking in Ireland in February. This week I decided that spring had sprung and I got stuck in.

Now I am hearing ominous portends of a cold spell coming next week from Siberia (the “Beast from the East’ they’re already calling it on Twitter). Never mind. The tomatoes are on a heated bench in the potting shed (a sunny windowsill inside the house will do just as well) and I have a fleece at the ready for chilly night times.

Packing up flavour for the future

Regular readers (hi you two) will know that I am somewhat obsessed with tomatoes. For years I’ve grown around 20 plants in the polytunnel in the garden, but about two years ago I bought a commercial-sized tunnel just so I could grow more tomatoes.

For the last two seasons I’ve grown around 70 plants, and my summers have become a never-ending scramble to keep up with the abundance of tomatoes flowing from the garden. To put it in context – a single tomato plant could produce up to 200 tomatoes in a season. No family of four could keep up with this level of fresh tomatoes.

Instead it’s about processing them immediately into a sauce for the freezer, effectively packing up some flavour for the future. This year I put around 50 bags of tomato sauce in the freezer and they’ve provided a delicious base for many a pizza, pasta, soup and stew this winter.

As always I am aiming for a good mix of shapes, sizes, colours and flavours. There are some old reliables and new experiments; some new purchases and seeds found down the bottom of the seed box.

Oddly, given how much I rave about the variety Sungold, I somehow didn’t grow them last year and I missed them intensely. I have a feeling they were out of stock when I went to buy the seeds last year. I will be remedying that in a big way this year. I am also growing: Golden Sunrise, Sweet Million, Beefsteak, Sweet Aperitif, Gardeners Delight, Tigerella, Black Krim, Alicante and Moneymaker. Whatever you decide to grow, enjoy the ride!

The Basics – Sowing Tomatoes

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I generally start tomatoes in small pots of seed compost (10cm), sowing roughly 8-10 seeds per pot. Once they germinate (it takes two weeks) I carefully take out each little seedling and plant it in to an individual module in a module tray, using good quality potting compost. Alternatively, you can sow the seeds directly in the module tray using potting compost.

When the seedlings outgrow the module tray I move them on in to their own 10cm pot, before finally planting out in to the polytunnel in May or so. If you don’t have a polytunnel or greenhouse, you can grow them indoors in a growbag or large pot (it would need to be 40cm deep at least), being sure to keep them well watered and fed regularly with a good organic liquid tomato feed.

Recipe of the Week – Bulgar Wheat Salad with Butternut Squash

Thanks to last year’s growing, we still have a few squashes left on top of the dresser in the kitchen but it’s time to start using them up before they rot. Thanks to their hard skins, squashes will generally store for five months or so.

This is a delicious salad – the flavour of the squash really is superb, bringing an incredible sweetness to any dish it graces and I love the crunchy nuttiness of bulgar wheat.

Ingredients:

  • 200g butternut squash
  • 4tbsp olive oil
  • 150g bulgur wheat
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • 50g rocket
  • 50g walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 60g goat’s cheese, crumbled
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1tbsp balsamic vinegar

Instructions

Peel the squash and chop it into 1cm dice. Toss it in 1tbsp of the olive oil, and roast for 20-30 minutes at 200°C (Gas Mark 6 / 400°F), until it is soft and just beginning to crisp up.

Meanwhile, boil a panful of water and dissolve the stock cube. Add the bulgur wheat, and turn off the heat. Cover the pan, and leave the bulgur to soak for around 20 minutes, or until soft.

Drain any remaining liquid, and immediately stir half of the rocket into the bulgur to wilt it.

In a small bowl or mug, combine the balsamic vinegar, the remaining 3tbsp of olive oil, and the minced garlic, and stir this dressing through the bulgur.

Serve the warm bulgur wheat with the roasted squash, the chopped walnuts, the crumbled goat’s cheese and the remaining rocket.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ.

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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