CHENNAI: The Mexicans discovered tomatoes, the Spaniards brought them to Europe, the Italians used the cheerful red berries as table decoration, the French called them pommes d’amour, or ‘apples of love’, and the two cooing pigeons on the ledge above our balcony are totally ruining my cherry tomatoes. But, it’s the season of love, and I’m prepared to forgive the birds.
After all, I didn’t really sweat to bring up the tomato plants. Usually, I just bung the remains of a squished healthy tomato in the soil, and within days, there is a fresh crop of seedlings. This time however, my brother-in-law gifted me a batch. Squirrels have been chasing each other all over my plants too, and only two saplings survived. They have now grown all over the grill in the kitchen balcony to give us handfuls of cherry tomatoes that taste as good as they look. But then, I may be biased — I love tomatoes!
What’s not to love about them? Tomato seeds are easily available. They are eager to germinate and grow. Once transplanted, they are easy to manage. They are fruit within three months and it’s love at first sight. Seeds are easy to harvest and sow. And you can push the difficulty level of the gardening a notch higher by trying to grow different varieties of tomatoes.
As children, my friends and I used to rescue tomato plants that came up in unlikely places like bus-stands and footpaths. Ah, the innocent pleasure of doing good! Sometimes the plants did well. But some plants never came up, and some gave fruits that tasted odd. Lesson learnt is that if you want healthy tomatoes, it is best to start with healthy seeds.
Get seeds from a known source of organic seeds. Or buy healthy, ripe tomatoes from an organic store. Save some of the seeds from a juicy tomato. You could put some directly into a pot, or dry them for use later.
Sow the seeds in a pot with a good mix of soil, cocopeat and compost. Cocopeat makes the pot light and suitable for terrace and balcony gardens. The seeds should sprout in a week. Relax, wait for them to grow and have a few real leaves. Then transplant into separate pots. Use stakes to support the tomato plants.
Nurture with compost when you see flowers. Soon, you should have one or more tomatoes blushing in your plants. When they are nice and red, pluck them and share it with your loved ones.
Like in true love, there are many villains in our tomato lore too. Watch out for leaf miners, the critters that cause the white trails on leaves. Snip off affected leaves. White mealy bugs? Wash them off with plain water, or add a little neem oil to the wash. Brown patches on the underside of tomatoes? Low nutrition may be the cause. Add powdered eggshells or bury banana peels in the soil. Grow some marigolds, garlic and onion bulbs close to the tomato plants — they are the good guys in the tomato love story.
The perfect match
Love is all about pairing, right? Tomatoes and cheese can give strawberry and cream a run for the rupaiya. But as a tomato gardener, you can let love bloom by getting the carrots and tomatoes growing in the same container. No, you won’t get carrots, but you’re likely to get healthy tomatoes and carrots.
Ah, the simple pleasures of gardening!