May is a good time to plant seedlings if you fancy home grown tomatoes and cucumbers for late summer and autumn. These two plants need very little care, basically just some well drained soil, plenty of water and as much sun as possible. You will be able to make lovely, fresh, full flavored salads every day, wonderful tomato sauce for pasta and pizza, pisto or gazpacho. Remember, there is nothing like home grown food, and you’ll save quite a lot of money too.
Part 1: Growing Your Veggies
Selecting a Spot for Your Seedlings
You will need a sunny place where your tomatoes can have lots of growing room. If you have an outdoors area available, select a well drained place with lots of space for the roots. Tomato plants require lots of water when they get big and they tend to get too heavy to support their own weight, so choose a place where watering won’t be a problem, and where you will be able to tie them to something to hold them up. A south-facing wall where the ground doesn’t get boggy would be ideal.
Cucumber plants are creepers, so you will need put up something for them to climb (some cables or string).
Picking your Tomatoes and Cucumbers
There are hundreds of varieties available, so research and select the ones which closest match your tastes. Personally, I love the meatiness of the sweet Beef Tomato and the flavor and texture of the Garden Cucumber.
Best place to get seedlings is at a farmer’s market or a reputable nursery. Prices can vary but seedlings should not cost you a lot of money. If you prefer, you can just buy the seeds and germinate them yourself, that will be much cheaper but require more patience and a bit of attention.
Planting your Seedlings
If you bought your seedlings in little plastic pots, you will have to repot them, or plant them in the ground ASAP, they will need as much space as you can spare, the more root space the more they will grow.
- Dig a hole about the size of your plant pot in the ground, take time to ensure that it is deep enough.
- Put your hand over the top of the pot but allow the seedling to safely sit between your fingers.
- Carefully turn the whole thing over to slide the pot off the soil, the roots and your hand should hold all the soil in place.
- Now you can put the seedling into the prepared hole without the pot, use the spare soil to fill any gaps, checking that the seedling is not too loose.
The First Weeks
There are just two things that you need to watch out for: creatures that might eat your seedlings, and lack of water. Just one watering a day should be fine, but do make sure that the water drains away. If the ground does not dry or gets waterlogged, you will need to reduce the amount of watering so that the roots do not rot.
You can stop most birds from eating your seedlings by putting some chicken wire over the top. Take care to make sure that the structure doesn’t actually touch the seedlings and remove it once they are 10 cm in height. I have never actually experienced attacks on my tomatoes, just on the cucumbers.
If you have slugs or some other pest, take early steps to dissuade them from eating your plants. Simple methods such as salt barriers and beer traps can be the most effective, a quick browse online is a good place to start.
The Waiting Game
Your veggies will start to be ready for picking around late summer, till then, all you have to do is keep the plant well watered. You don’t need to do anything else, just be patient and remember to water your babies more as they grow bigger.
The Waiting Game
When tomatoes and cucumber start to appear, the plants will need some support to stay off the ground. The cucumber is a creeper so with some sort of netting it should be ok, just check it now and then. If your cucumbers grow off the ground they will be less prone to attacks.Tomato plants can get enormous, five feet on average. Once they start to produce tomatoes they will weigh too much to hold themselves up, so you will need to tie them to things to keep them up. You can use a structure made up of a couple of sticks or just a few strings, the important thing is that you support the tomato plants without harming the branches.
Growing Your Own Food
Obviously this depends on exactly what varieties you have chosen. If you go with my recommendations, the tomatoes should have some yellow and maybe a little red on them, and the cucumbers should be about 6 inches (15 cm) long and a deep healthy green.
If you pick something a little early, don’t worry, just leave it to ripen on a windowsill and it will be ready to eat in two or three days.
Part 2: A Couple of Recipes
This is a nice summer soup, traditionally from southern Spain. It really fills you up but it’s super healthy and refreshing.
one kilogram of tomatoes (no skin)
one cucumber, (but no skin!)
two tablespoons of vinegar
one clove of garlic
one red pepper (can be omitted)
a quarter cup of olive oil
salt and pepper
- First peel the tomatoes, a good trick is to put them straight into boiling water till you see the skin splitting, then get rid of the water. It should only take a minute. Once the tomatoes are peeled, put them in a mixing bowl or food processor.
- Peel the cucumber (really important, so don’t forget or omit) and add to the container with the tomatoes.
- Peel and add the clove of garlic
- Add the pepper, obviously cleaned and with no seeds.
- Blend all the ingredients till the consistency becomes quite even, then;
- add the olive oil, vinegar, salt and, if it seems to need thickening, a small slice of bread.
- Blend again till the consistency is even, it should be quite thick but still runny enough to pour, like a thin slushy.
Pasta Sauce, also Good for Pizzas
two cloves or garlic
salt and pepper<
- Chop up the onion, garlic and parsley. chop everything finely. If you don’t like crying when chopping onions, wash it after peeling and cutting in half. Don’t blend the onion, it becomes excessively watery and will make the oil spit.
- Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into the pan and heat it up. use a medium flame or the onion will burn. When the oil is hot add the onions and the parsley. When the onions start to caramelize just a little, add the garlic, the stagger will stop the garlic from burning.
- Cook the onion and garlic on a medium flame until the onion is caramelized, stir it now and then to make sure that its not sticking or cooking unevenly. While the onion is cooking chop up the tomatoes really finely, if you want you can use a food processor or blender.
- When the onion is caramelized, add the finely chopped tomatoes. Add salt and pepper and some oregano, I recommend using whole pepper corns and sea salt and grinding them down in a mortar. Cook on a medium heat till the tomato has reduced and the taste is more neutral, i.e. less tomatoey.
- Keep and eye on the sauce to make sure that it doesn’t reduce too much, if it starts to stick, add a little water. You might want to partially cover the pan, that will help to decrease the rate of evaporation, and stop your cooking area from getting too tomato-splattered. From when you add the tomatoes, it shouldn’t take any more than 30 to 45 minutes.
- When you are happy with the taste and consistency turn the gas off.Bon Appétit.
Grub Street Writing and Translation: Leaving out the parts that people skip