Tomatoes and basil go great together in the garden and kitchen
Once you go homegrown, you never go back. How to grow the best tomatoes you've ever tasted
There are a lot of reasons to grow food in the garden – it’s good exercise, provides zero-mile grub and is a smart way to eat. But for us gardeners of edibles, let’s agree that it’s also highly addictive.
Chloe helps to pick the crop (Image: Carol Pope)
Who can bite into a just-plucked ‘Tigerella’ still tepid from the sun and want to ever taste another store-bought “tomato” again? Or savour a salad of just-snipped ‘Buttercrunch’ or ‘Conquistador’ romaine and then eat a shrink-wrapped iceberg?
Different Types of Tomatoes
While cultivating lettuce or kale all year round is easy in most of humid B.C., the addiction to growing your own becomes more complicated once you have nibbled through a handful of ‘Black Cherry’, ‘Yellow Currant’, ‘Golden Pear’ and ‘Green Zebra’ heritage tomatoes and are hooked for life.
In the heat of Tuscany, this would not be a problem, but what’s a gardener to do in this land of drizzles and downpours?
Harvesting Tomatoes and Creating a Tomato Greenhouse
For years, we hankered after any garden tomatoes that managed to ripen before the blight made its first blotch. Once it was tainted, we knew it was time to haul in the harvest – green or gold. We ripened fruit on window-sills, sizzled some up in a frypan, and pitched the rest into a pot with apple, raisins and spice to be simmered into mincemeat for winter revelries. Any excess was fired into the freezer for future use.
Unable to bear the blight again, we finally decided to go for a greenhouse. High on a cement slab and warm and dry under glass, our tomatoes now form a robust forest of fragrance and flavours. Grown in tall buckets, they line the sides while shorter crops of tomatillos, hot and sweet peppers and basil fill in the middle. More crowd our covered patio and homemade hoop-house for later harvests.
Homegrown toppings for pizza Margherita (Image: Carol Pope)
I may pick and pinch the plants, but it’s my husband who starts our tomatoes from scratch in January and sees them through the long haul. Using peat pellets under grow lights in a basement room, he taps two seeds into each come January, then early in the process pinches out the weaker start. Determinate (bush) plants are preferred to indeterminate (vine) because they are better behaved, but either work.
Eeking out organic fertilizer and morning waterings, he coaxes them all to thick-stalked perfection, then picks each up by the stem and plants it into a 10-cm (4-in.) pot.
After more grow-light gestation, the plants are moved in April to the greenhouse (heated to keep the temperature above 10°C /50°F) and patted into buckets of soil mixed with composted manure. Staked or buttressed by a galvanized support, the tomatoes literally hit the ceiling if we don’t keep them clipped.
And, if we must be folly to an irresistible fixation, the unforgettable flavours that follow actually make it worth all the fuss.
As editor of GardenWise for a decade, garden contributor for BC Home & Garden and bcliving.ca and an editor of gardening books, Carol Pope is firmly rooted to the B.C. garden scene.