At the beginning of August my high hopes for a tomato bonanza were dashed. The dreaded blight (the love apple’s equivalent of Voldemort) had visited overnight and exhaled its deadly spores. A third of my front garden tomato plants had to be cut down, the others trusses snapped off or leaves removed to give them a chance of survival. Every day since, I have carefully checked each remaining plant and removed any leaves that have succumbed to the grey-brown discolouration. I have tried to stay positive as these tomatoes mean a lot to me.
Earlier in the year I had been sent a copy of this lovely book to review, The Tomato Basket, by Jenny Linford. Packed with loads of tomato-rich recipes, interspersed with interesting extra tomatoey culinary facts, festivals and tips on growing, this book is a delight for those who consider tomatoes more than just another vegetable. Well, fruit. Actually a berry. Technically.
Anyway, my yearning for the Mediterranean experience I can’t afford (a cooking holiday in Italy) was reignited. With my over-ambitious selection of tomatoes (nurtured from seed on a dark, damp, draughty cottage windowsill) I channelled my dreams into a DIY ‘staycation’, with similarly heat-induced fruits gracing my kitchen worktop, ready to be turned into lip-smacking dishes. And this book is packed with them. I couldn’t wait to try a few… only using my own tomatoes, of course. But so far it has only graced my coffee table, not my worktop…why?
Without a greenhouse, growing tomatoes in the Great British Outdoors is always a gamble, and a race against time. Still, while other people’s outdoor tomatoes were ripening a month ago, and with my blight now under control, I was downright perplexed as to why my tomatoes were stuck on green (and, bizarrely, the ones that were meant to be green were stuck on amber). The breath of Voldemort (or perhaps it was that week of chilly nights back in early July?) seemed to have ‘turned off’ their development as well.
Looking back, I can see where I didn’t help matters. Yes, there was the awful weather… but I had simply packed too many tomatoes into one space. I had fed them too soon and let them grow jungly and the resulting airlessness in damp conditions, and leafy shade on the trusses, did not help my tomatoes ripen. And it helped the blight get a grip. In a small garden, and especially with raised beds, the temptation is to cram a few more plants in. In fact, there’s the ‘square foot’ garden technique that advocates just that. I’d say, just don’t do it with tomatoes! Less is More.
But all is not lost. It has been hugely fortuitous that August has been mostly dry, warm-to-hot, and sunny… The tomatoes have been given the sun’s kiss of life, a rosy hue is coming to their cheeks, and I am just, just, starting to get a decent harvest. Hurrah!
I float around the garden on my ‘staycation’, gravel crunching underfoot and feel the warm breeze. I gather tomatoes, close my eyes and breath. Voldemort is not in my garden, and the Mediterranean, briefly, is… I feel blessed and hugely content.
Now, where have I put that beautiful book?… I’m going to read it again… Outside.