Tuesday, 26 October 2010
There are several ways of storing tomatoes for later use. If you pick one and are unable to use it right away, it can usually be kept a few days before use. The best way of keeping these is to store the them in a cool, dark place, preferably a cellar or cold shed. However, this is not always possible and a refrigerator is the next best thing. The important thing about storing fruits and vegetables is that they should not touch one another and that air should be able circulate around them. Tomatoes can be frozen but then they can only be used in cooked dishes as they lose their firmness. Another traditional way to store tomatoes, frequently used by Italian's, is to make sun-dried tomatoes. These can be preserved in olive oil for future use.
Try to resist the temptation to harvest tomatoes to soon. Indoor cherry tomatoes are the first to bear fruit, whereas long vine types take longer. Until they have developed fully, the taste might not be matured and some might even be bitter. When you are harvesting do not simply pick the best fruits. If you also come across any that are diseased or rotting, harvest these as well and compost them. Do not leave rotting tomatoes on the plant or on the ground because they will spread their problems to healthy fruit of the spores may remain in the ground until the following year.
There is no hard and fast rule about when or at what time of the day to harvest, although taking the tomato straight from the garden to the pot does of course give the freshest tasting dish. If possible, try to harvest when you want the tomatoes, rather than leaving them lying around for a few days.
Home grown tomatoes are best for flavour and they are at their peak when they have ripened naturally in the sun. They should ideally be allowed to ripen slowly on the plant so that their flavour can fully develop and they have a good aroma, not only from the green stalks, but also from the tomato itself. Red tomatoes should be deep red. Yellow or orange tomatoes should also have a good depth of colour. The fruit should have flesh that is firm, but gives slightly when pressed gently.
Leave slightly hard tomatoes to ripen at room temperature and preferably in direct sunlight. Paler tomatoes or those tinged with green will redden if kept in a brown paper bag or fruit bowl with a ripe tomato or banana. The gases given off will ripen the tomatoes, although they cannot improve the basic flavour. Ripening on the plant is the only way to ensure really sweet taste, which is largely why commercial tomatoes are so often inferior.
Overripe tomatoes, where the skin has split and they are bursting with juice are good in soups and sauces. However check for any sign of mould of decay, as this would spoil the flavour of the finished product.
Generally, hanging baskets are not ideal for growing large crops of tomatoes, mainly because they are too small and the plant will become very heavy when when the fruits appear, but a basket can be very eye catching. Some cultivators of tomato are trailing, producing tiny, bite sized fruit and these suitable for baskets. A little imagination should allow you to create something productive as well as attractive.
The tumbler tomato variety is compact but heavy fruiting and has been bred especially for use in containers, window boxes and hanging baskets. Plant them in spring or early summer in a greenhouse until midsummer and then move outside to a sunny sheltered position. Keep the tomato plants watered at all times, and feed with a proprietary tomato food or liquid.
This is the best method of growing tomatoes for the beginner or anyone else who finds watering a chore. The plants will have a lot more space for their roots to roam, so they will be less dependant on your for food and water. You will need to improve the soil with well rooted organic matter before planting and to incorporate a general fertilizer at the rate recommended by the manufacturer. You will still need to water the plants thoroughly every couple of days during the height of summer as this is important for tasty crops. The main drawback of border planting is that soil borne pests and diseases can build up after a few years, so once every few years it is a good idea to dig out the soil from a different part of the garden.
The best method of feeding tomatoes is with a liquid fertilizer. There are several brands that have been specifically designed for use with tomatoes. In most cases there is sufficient fertilizer in growing bags to last until the plants start fruiting and it is at this stage that liquid fertilizer is used. Check the manufacturers instructions and follow them carefully.
Splashing or spraying water over the greenhouse path (known as damping down) helps to create a humid atmosphere. This is beneficial for most crops and most plants appreciate a moist atmosphere on a warm day - including the majority of pot plants. Do it often on very hot days to create the kind of humid atmosphere that most tropical plants prefer.