In the panic of an Irish summer, with the optimism of sunny days, we sow tomatoes. If you haven’t sown any seeds, panic not — there will be plants to buy from garden centres and small growers, and they will have half the hard work done for you.
Tomatoes come in many a variety: from tall, cordon (vine) varieties to smaller ones. If you don’t have space, then just get some cherry types and pop them in a hanging basket.
Tomatoes grow well in sheltered suntraps and away from too much wind. They like it by the sea, just like humans, and are less prone to the dreaded blight in breezy, dry places. Think about where tomatoes come from — sunny, hot countries — so, if you can, put them on a window sill or in a porch. The life cycle of a tomato teaches us much about these tough, annual plants. From seed to stalk, flower, then fruit, we can take it all in with the promise of a plump, ripe gift at the end of many patient months.
Larger varieties will need staking for support and all plants need a feed rich in potash once flowers appear. Pinching out side shoots keeps the energy in the main branches with the fruit so you don’t end up with just lots of foliage.
Water a lot once the fruits appear as this is what makes them swell up, and never water the leaves or fruit, just the soil. We have many varieties of heritage tomatoes to choose from and, if it’s flavour you’re after, then I recommend the Sungold variety, usually available from Irish Seed Savers in Scarriff, Co Clare, or Brown Envelope Seeds in West Cork.
The Rosella is a wonderful fruit of deepest pink; the Alaska Wonder is a delicious medium-sized variety. Why grow ordinary tomatoes when you can have long, plum or black cherry?
To make an excellent feed at home, steep a harvest of nettles in a lidded bucket or large container for at least two weeks. It will reek, but your plants will love it. Dilute one part feed to 10 parts water, then water only the soil. Load up on feed when the fruits are forming and look forward to months of toms from well-managed plants.