Tomatoes need to be planted in warm, well-drained soil that gets plenty of sun. Dig the soil to one good spade’s depth a few weeks before planting your seedling, and mix in some organic compost as well as manure or blood and bone. Plant 45-50cm apart. If you are planting in a pot, choose one with good drainage holes and keep it raised off the ground. Water well at planting time and fertilise five weeks and 10 weeks after planting with a fertiliser designed for tomatoes that contains similar amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.
Once the vines start to grow, tie them to wooden stakes placed in the soil to provide support. In mild conditions, deep watering once a week will sustain the plants and encourage good root growth. In warmer weather this may be needed every 2-3 days. If you live in a cooler climate, consider growing your tomatoes in a greenhouse (pictured above) to create warmer conditions.
Homegrown tomatoes have an intense flavour and sweetness, so once off the vine they deserve to play a starring role on your plate. Opt for recipes that let the natural flavours shine through.
Head online to our food section for lots of inspiration including a Tomato, Basil and Feta Salad that makes a wonderfully fresh summer starter. For something a little more substantial, try Stephanie Alexander’s Tomato and Goat’s Cheese Tart or Kumar Mahadevan’s Scallops with Tomato Chutney, which make for easy yet impressive entertaining.
During summer, while tomatoes are at their peak and plentiful, buy a large box and preserve them as a jam, chutney or passata, or dry them in your oven and store in olive oil in a bottle with herbs. Through the cooler months you will have the taste of summer tomatoes at your fingertips.
Dixie Elliott’s Tomato passata
Makes approx 6 cups
1/3 cup olive oil
2 large brown onions, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2kg ripe red tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 cup small basil leaves
Heat oil in a deep saucepan over a medium heat. Add onion and cook for 10 minutes or until soft. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring until mixture comes to the boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour or until tomatoes become pulpy and thick.
Remove from heat and season well with salt and pepper. Allow to cool slightly before adding basil leaves. Spoon or pour sauce into sterilised bottles with a wide funnel. Alternatively, pour sauce into airtight containers to freeze for later use.
Having bottles of passata on hand will make dinners easier and tastier than ever. Here are some delicious ideas for how to use it:
• Spread onto homemade pizza bases.
• Toss through your favourite pasta, and top with shaved parmesan and freshly ground pepper.
• Use in lasagne or cannelloni.
• Spoon onto veal/beef schnitzel or eggplant schnitzel to make a parmigiana.
• Use as the base to make a chilled gazpacho soup for hot summer days.