Tomatoes are the Dons’ favorite crop – they grow huge amounts of them and the vast majority go into the freezer as tomato sauce. Onions harvested in summer can be stored in a dry shed over winter, and the Dons grow enough to keep them well supplied until the spring. With onions and tomato sauce to hand, they have the basis for pasta sauces, pizza toppings and soup
- Tomatoes are not hardy and so they need to be started off indoors. In early spring, sow the seeds thinly in organic peat-free compost. Top with compost or a layer of vermiculite, a lightweight mineral substance that is an ideal consistency for the emerging seedlings to push through with ease. Label, water and leave in a consistently warm spot to germinate – either a glasshouse or windowsill is ideal. Germination will take about a week.
- Prick out the seedlings as soon as two true leaves appear – about two weeks after germination. (These follow the production of two seed leaves known as cotyledons which are not true leaves.) Holding the seedlings by the leaves and levering them gently from below with an implement such as a fork, lift them gently out of the compost and put them in individual pots. Sprinkle soil gently around each seedling to fill the pot. Grow on for another month or so, never allowing them to dry out.
- By mid May, the tomatoes will be ready to plant out into the garden or an unheated glasshouse. If you are growing them outside, harden them off for a couple of weeks by placing them by a warm wall or in a cold frame during the day and bring them inside at night.
- Tomatoes need rich, fertile soil and a sunny spot. Monty digs plenty of mushroom compost into the soil before planting them.
- Plant at least 60cm apart to give the roots plenty of room to develop. Firm the plants into the soil and tie them to a stake to give them support.
- Keep the tomatoes well weeded, fed and watered. Pinch out the diagonal sideshoots to encourage the main shoot to grow strongly.
- In July, cut off the tops as too much growth means not enough ripe fruit. Once the tops have been removed they will stop growing and put all their energy into ripening the fruit that is already there. Take off leaves at the base to improve ventilation.
- Tomatoes grown outside will ripen about a month later than those grown in the greenhouse.
- Alicante: A productive early variety with good flavor.
- Gardener’s Delight: A large cherry tomato with excellent flavor and smooth consistency when cooked.
- Marmande: A beefsteak tomato with ribbed fruit weighing about 250g. It needs bees for pollination, so grow it outside.
- Shirley: A robust, disease-resistant variety good for organic growers.
- Feed tomatoes with seaweed concentrate diluted with water. Apply to the leaves and soil every few weeks.
- Plant basil beside the tomatoes in midsummer as the smell will keep aphids away. The basil fulfills a dual role, as it tastes delicious with tomatoes.
- Grow flowers such as poppies near the tomatoes to attract hoverflies which will eat aphids.
- Spray aphids with diluted soft soap (from organic suppliers, or use washing up liquid). It will kill the aphids but will not affect the taste of the tomatoes.