One of my favourite ingredients has to be the tomato. It’s delicious, extremely versatile and also happens to be really good for you! Few people know that the tomato is a fruit, although we tend to treat it as a vegetable when cooking because it’s more savoury than sweet. Not only is the tomato a fruit, it’s actually a berry. Native to South America, this berry is part of the nightshade family, cousins to potatoes, paprika, eggplants, and peppers. Originally eaten and enjoyed in Mexico, the tomato soon traveled around the world following the Spanish colonisation of the Americans.
“Knowledge is knowing that tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” Miles Kingston
Nutritionally, tomatoes are the major dietary source of the antioxidant lycopene, which has been linked to many health benefits like reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. Lycopene is also a powerful inflammation fighter with hydrating powers, which makes tomatoes a great hangover ‘cure’. According to a study, consuming tomatoes with a little fat can improve your body’s ability to absorb the lycopene by up to 4-fold. Tomatoes are also a great source of potassium, vitamin K, vitamin C and folate (a B-vitamin that is of particular importance to pregnant women and all women of childbearing age).
For me, tomatoes are a rock star ingredient. What would a pizza or pasta be without tomatoes?
How would I get away with drinking vodka before midday without tomato juice? What will I dip my chips in if not for tomato sauce? The options with this humble, delicious fruit are endless. Chop them, roast them, fry them, blanch them, pickle them, saute them.
The beauty of tomatoes is how they come in many shapes and sizes, all offering different sweetness and acidity levels. Globally, tomato production has reached a whopping 130 million tons and while there are tons in the supermarket, there’s something very special about growing and tasting your own tomatoes. They are sweetest when just picked and we all know you’ll never experience that flavour buying them at Pick ‘n Pay. So, if you’re lucky enough to have a little bit of spare space, why not try and grow some tomatoes. You can start out with baby tomatoes as they require the least attention and then see how you go with larger varietals.
I took some pics of tomatoes I’ve grown from home. They are delicious and I am so proud that I didn’t kill them! If I can do it, you can too.
Here are my 10 tips for growing your own tomatoes:
- Tomatoes like warmth so plant in late spring or early summer and choose a sunny spot, they require at least 6-8 hours a day of sun
- Tomatoes need space, their leaves and roots tend to spread as they get older. If planting in a pot, try to find something between 45cm and 65cm in diameter
- Once seedlings sprout, you may find success in blowing a fan on a gentle setting twice daily for 5-10 minutes. It seems tomato plants need to move and sway in a breeze, it’s said to help strengthen their stems
- Your tomatoes will grow best when the soil PH is between 6.2 and 6.8. A continuous release fertilizer with calcium plus a good compost is very important. The calcium helps to prevent blossom end rot. Ask someone from your local nursery for help on which product works best for your choice of varietal
- Cover the soil with mulch to reduce weed growth and ensure the soil is kept moist. But only mulch once you’ve planted and the soil has had a chance to warm up again, tomatoes love heat!
- Tomatoes can dehydrate very quickly. Their roots grow really deep so always make sure you water in a steady stream for a while to ensure the water seeps down well
- If you’re buying young tomato plants, when you plant them at home, bury them a little deeper than you would any other seedling. By planting them deeper, you allow the stem to grow stronger, giving you healthier, firmer plant
- Once your plant is growing nicely, remove the bottom sets of leaves. They are the oldest and more likely to develop disease. Being closer to the ground, soil born pathogens can easily splash up onto them
- Pinch and remove sprouts that develop in the fork of two branches. They waste energy and will not bear fruit. But be careful not to over prune the rest of your plant
- Don’t forget to water your tomatoes regularly
I would love to see pictures of your progress!
Co-founder and chef at smak delicatessen and restaurant