I’m excited. A big box has appeared from Spalding Plant & Bulb Company containing all manner of interesting and exciting things, not least of which are some packets of tomato seed. The gardening season is under way and I’m itching to get going.
First, a confession. Cabbages, onions, swedes… there’s a lot of traditional veg I really can’t be bothered to grow. They’re cheap to buy and to my mind taste exactly the same from the shop as from home. But pop a sun-warmed tomato straight from the plant into your gob and wow! Nothing you can find in the supermarket will ever be as good.
There are lots of types and it can all get a bit confusing for the first time grower. Basically, tomato plants fall into two main categories; bushes and cordons. Bush ones are fairly self-explanatory – cordon varieties are the types you grow as one main stem up a cane, removing the side shoots as they appear.
Then there’s the question of fruit type. When I worked as a gardener in Provence we grew half a dozen varieties, every one delicious and useful in a different way.
I’d never quite realised the diversity of them before then. Tomatoes come in every shade from near black to red, orange and green to light yellow, with all manner of stripes and shadings in between. Their flavour is surprisingly unrelated to colour, although as a general rule, cherry tomatoes are the sweetest – these are the best for eating straight off the bush. Children love them.
And if making tomato sauces for pasta is your bag, try bush varieties such as ‘Brione’. These give a heavy yield for not much work, although their flavour is not as concentrated when eaten raw as the cherry tomatoes.
March is an ideal month to get going. Sow them now and you’ll have sturdy plants to put into grow bags in mid-May. Sow them shallowly in a heated propagator, or else wait till April and sow them in seed trays with clear plastic covers on a windowsill. If you have a greenhouse or even one of the plastic ‘tomato frames’ you’ve the widest choice of varieties at your disposal, otherwise be careful to select those which are suitable for growing outside – these are mainly bush varieties, and some cordons. You’ll increase your chances of success by growing them somewhere sunny and sheltered – if you’d like to have a barbecue there, then it’s a good place to grow tomatoes! So get going soon, and enjoy a summer full of the tastiest toms that money can’t buy.