Tag Archives: growing tomatoes

il giardinaggio per gli avvocati italiani (or gardening for Italian lawyers – I think!)

After our disastrous summer, Mr Mac and I took ourselves off to Italy last month to catch some late summer sun……and we were not disappointed. This was our third trip to Italy, our second to Ravello and my first as a gardener.

 
From previous holidays my lasting memory was tomatoes. Big fat ripe juicy sweet tasty tomatoes everywhere. When I think about it, that is probably why tomatoes are my most precious crop. But our wishy washy Scottish summers cannot compete with the sunshine and heat of Naples and the intensity and sweetness of flavour they bring. A simple insalata pomodoro can make you smile all day!

This time, having spent all year scrutinising my own garden, I was immediately draw to all things green and vegetative. What struck me the most was how every square inch of ground is given up to growing fruit and vegetables.

 

These vegetables were being grown in the ground at a hairpin bend in the road!

 

 

Ravello sits 375 metres above sea level. Check the view from town down to the sea. Almost vertical but look at all the terraces filled with produce.

Even the hotels were getting in on the act and making a big deal about growing their own fruit and veg. This is the garden for the Hotel Villa Maria.

This did backfire on us though. On our first day we were treated to a delicious antipasti of figs with parma ham. Every day after that when we asked for figs we were told, “figgies finish”. The hotel’s fig tree was empty. However, on our last evening our waiter gave a conspiratorial wink when we gave our order, he disappeared for ten minutes and then returned with a plate full of juicy ripe figs. He nicked them from a neighbour’s garden!

As so much ground is given over to growing fruit and vegetables there are not many flowers in gardens. Other than Villa Rufulo and Villa Cimbrone where there are cultivated beds of roses and dahlias, most of the flowers we saw were wild. A perfect example can be seen in this bush growing wild.

And remember my blue wall project I tried this year? A trellis full of blue sweet peas and morning glory…well these morning glory climbers at the side of a road were slightly more successful than mine!

One feature of almost every garden was these trumpet flowers in yellow and peach….absolutely stunning.

Cyclamen were also growing in abundance under every tree. A far cry from the potted up versions currently being sold in our supermarkets and garden centres.

Finally, it would appear to be law that to be eligible to collect olives you must have a minimum age of 80! It was scary how many old couples with a combined age of 160 we saw climbing trees.

Arrivaderci!

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The best tomato pasta in the world!

In any normal year, come August and September, Mr Mac and I usually take on an orange glow due to the amount of tomatoes we eat. Our staple diet is usually this simple pasta dish which originally came about as we had to find ways to use up all the tomatoes.

This year it was 21 September before we ate it for the first time and I have been waiting all summer to share it with you!

It takes minutes to prepare and you can leave it in the oven for an hour and go potter in the garden.

Ingredients

  • one big bowl of tomatoes
  • spaghetti
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper

Method

  • Fill a bowl with ripe tomatoes.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Wash and slice in half (or quarters if they are large).
  • Place in a roasting tray and add a generous helping of salt, freshly ground black pepper, a drizzle of olive oil and a glug of balsamic vinegar.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Place in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees C until the mixture has reduced and the tomatoes have started to caramelise. This usually takes about an hour. Check after 30 minutes and give it a stir. It will look very watery but, trust me, it will reduce down to a gorgeous sauce.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Boil and drain the spaghetti and stir in the tomato sauce.
  • Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

We have tried adding garlic but I think this makes it bitter. Chorizo works well cut into small cubes and also using chilli oil instead of olive oil adds a nice bit of heat. However, I believe the tomatoes are always the star of the meal and this is definitely a case of less is more.

 

Tippety top tomatoes

I think if I could only ever grow one thing, without a doubt it would have to be tomatoes. One of my earliest memories is helping my grandad in his greenhouse and even now, the smell of a greenhouse full of tomatoes on a sunny day takes me back to when I was three years old.

Since then I have always associated gardening with growing tomatoes before anything else…plus I love them!

In the past I have tried growing different varieties with mixed success. Central Scotland doesn’t have the same climate as Naples so the San Marzanos that you see dripping off Italian balconies did not quite live up to expectations. So this year I decided not to be clever and stick with what I know works and tastes good – Sungold, Red Cherry and Moneymaker (my grandad’s favourite).

Having started early, sowing my seeds in February, I then lost all my plants to frost in April. I started again, gutted at having lost my 7 week head start and finally, last week, my boys were all ready to be planted in their final growing spot.

My boys are raring to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year Mr Mac made me some troughs which I used for growing tomatoes, melons and squashes. The mistake I made was putting weed membrane along the bottom to stop the compost falling through. I did not put in any drainage either and I don’t think my plants were very happy.

This year, I learned from my mistake and filled the troughs full of stones first for drainage then added a layer of our own compost and topped the troughs up with growbag compost.

The troughs were filled with stones and gravel for drainage

They were then filled with a layer of our own compost and topped up with growbag compost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I had to call on Mr Mac to do his special string trick! He thinks he saw Alan Titchmarsh doing this on tv but is not sure. It definitely works though. He runs wire along the roof of the greenhouse. Then he measures a length of string long enough to reach from the wire, down and underneath the rootball of the tomato plant, then back up to the wire. He then plants the tomato with the string underneath the roots and then ties both lengths of string to the wire. It should not be too tight but the tension can always be adjusted by untying the string on the wire and loosening or tightening as required.

The string is under the roots of the tomato.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This means as the tomato grows you can wrap it round the string and this provides all the support it will need.

All happy in their new home!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, I planted some French marigolds and basil in between the tomatoes to deter whitefly!

And then I had a little surprise when I went to plant some basil…

A little tomato plant is growing in the basil!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I checked my book and last year I planted the tomatoes on 25 April. This year it was 8 June! Now all we need is some sunshine although a friend told me that lining the greenhouse with foil or mirrors can increase the light to help them grow….I would prefer sunshine though so fingers crossed.