The Tasteful Garden: How to grow and cook what you love to eat

Tasteful Garden: Bury the stems when you plant new crop of tomatoes

July 19, 2013 

Use heirloom cherry tomatoes called Black Cherry for the simple summer salad.

COURTESY OF DEBBIE MOOSE

Carol Stein grows it

Tomato plants remaining in garden centers may be leggy. But planting them in July, using an unusual technique, can yield a second crop of fresh tomatoes before cold weather arrives.

Lift the plants carefully from the pots and inspect the roots. White or pale roots mean that the plants have been well tended and are still eager to grow. Avoid ones with brown roots; they’re probably too weak to produce fruit.

If the plants have sturdy stems and lush foliage, plant them in the usual way.

For plants that are healthy but leggy, here’s where the unusual technique comes in, which prompts a stronger root system. Pinch off all the lower leaves between the roots and the top six leaves of the plants. Lay the roots and stems horizontally in rich, loose garden soil mixed with composted manure or organic compost. To prevent blossom-end rot, add a cup of lime to each planting hole.

For container planting, select pots based on the mature size of the variety – at least 1-gallon size pots for cherry or grape varieties, and up to five gallons for plum and slicing types. Cover the roots and stems with 2-3 inches of soil, leaving the remaining leaves and three inches of the stem exposed. Water well. Provide stakes or tomato cages for taller varieties immediately to avoid disturbing developing root systems later.

New roots will form along the buried stems. Sunlight will encourage the plants to grow vertically.

In both cases, add a layer of compost or organic mulch to maintain even moisture levels. Every two weeks, mix ½ cup of 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 fertilizer with one gallon of water and apply the solution to the soil around each plant.

Avoid using pesticides, which can harm bees and other pollinators. Pick off destructive insects, or spray foliage with organic insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.

Debbie Moose cooks it

If you do only one thing to make sure those gorgeous summer tomatoes bring all their deliciousness to your table, do this: Never refrigerate tomatoes.

Refrigeration deadens the flavor of beautiful tomatoes to the point that you might as well be eating cold, wet paper towels.

The only exception, as author Miriam Rubin points out in her new book “Tomatoes: A Savor the South Cookbook” (University of North Carolina Press) is for extremely ripe cherry tomatoes. You may refrigerate those for the briefest of periods, but use them up quickly. I suggest bringing them to room temperature for eating.

Purchase the ripest local tomatoes you can find, and treat them gently – very ripe ’maters, especially heirloom varieties, can bruise easily. Select ones with no soft spots, which will cause the tomato to rot quickly.

Cracks in the tops are caused by heavy rain coming after a dry spell. If the cracks aren’t soft or seeping and you plan to use the tomato immediately, they’re probably OK, but you might have to trim out the cracks.

Place tomatoes that still need a little ripening on a kitchen shelf or counter in a single layer. They don’t need to be in the sun, Rubin says. As to whether to place them stem-end or blossom-end down, large tomatoes with thin skins hold up better stem-side (or “shoulders”) down, she says.

If you end up with tons of tomatoes, I suggest saving them for the winter. Peel them by dipping briefly in boiling water (the skin slips right off) then chop coarsely and measure into airtight freezer bags.

My recipe today is not about exact measurements but the easy enjoyment of fresh tomatoes for a summer lunch. I used heirloom cherry tomatoes called Black Cherry, but use the ripest of any kind that you can find.

Reach Carol Stein and Debbie Moose at tastefulgarden@hotmail.com.

For a printable copy of the recipe, click the link:

Simple Summer Salad

Simple Summer Salad ½ cup good-quality olive oil 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar ½ teaspoon black pepper or to taste ½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or to taste 2 cups chopped ripe tomatoes (cut cherry tomatoes in half, larger ones in quarters) 1 green onion, chopped, including green part ½ cup shredded fresh basil 1 medium-sized cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced 2 cups baby salad greens 4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and quartered (see Note)

COMBINE the olive oil, vinegar, black pepper and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Add the tomatoes, green onion and basil, and stir to combine. Let sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes or up to 20 minutes.

PLACE the cucumber slices on a small plate and sprinkle lightly with a little more black pepper and salt. Let sit for a few minutes.

DIVIDE the salad greens between 2 shallow bowls and toss with a little additional olive oil. Then divide the tomato mixture and its liquid between the bowls. Place half of the cucumber slices around the rim of each bowl and do the same with the eggs. Serve immediately.

NOTE: You can substitute about 1/3 cup of crumbled feta cheese for the eggs, if desired. Sprinkle half of the cheese on top of each salad. Or use small balls of fresh mozzarella cheese instead of the eggs or feta. YIELD: 2 servings

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