Thursday, May 05, 2011

The challenge of growing tomatoes outdoors

Tomatoes are a fruit we have always enjoyed growing to use raw in salads, juiced in refreshing drinks and cooked to make passata and pisto, a typical castillian recipe that mixes tomatoes, peppers, pumpkin, marrow, onion and herbs.

Since we came to La Pasera, we have found that tomato growing can be a challenge due to the high air humidity and sea mist that we get at this time of the year causing tomato blight. Even those varieties reported to be more resistant to this common fungal infection succumb if the conditions are such.

The local vegetable growers tend to grow the tomatoes in a sheltered position next to a south facing wall and with some added protection from a roof.

For the last few years we have grown our tomato plants under partial cover as in a mini poly tunnel that we can site in different parts of the vegetable plot according to our crop rotation system. In addition to growing them under cover, we may also use Bordeaux mixture and natural anti-fungal remedies during periods when the weather is particularly humid and still.

This year we bought seeds for a variety of tomato called Alicante, a fairly small but very tasty fruit that seems to like the conditions our vegetable plot presents. We are also trialling a local wild tomato that has small but sweet fruit.

We sowed seeds in early February in a compost that we mix ourselves based on garden soil, well rotted manure, leaf mould and vermiculite. After a few weeks, we potted up the seedlings in fresh compost with added organic slow release fertiliser to be grown on in a sunny and sheltered position before they were planted o the ground in the second half of April. So far the plants are looking very healthy and some are starting to have their second set of blossom.

As the tomato is a plant very susceptible to blight, we prune the side shoots on the young plants and leave only the main stem to flower. We have found that this method increases air flow and makes infection less likely.

The tomatoes we produce will be used fresh whilst the large quantities of fruit we need to make the passata and pisto is gathered from my sister Rita's vegetable plot in Palencia where she grows about 150 tomato plants in a climate that is much hotter than ours. We process about 60-80 kg of tomatoes each year, ensuring we have plentiful supplies of pisto and passata for the coming year.

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