Photo by Rick Gush
It’s almost tomato-harvesting season again, which means datterini for me! This type of tomato is 75 percent of our plantings every year. At the moment, our datterini are about 3 or 4 feet tall and loaded with a lot of clusters of still-green fruit. Today’s photo is from the market, but I don’t remember if these datterini are from greenhouses north of Rome or from open fields in Sicily. It takes a certain audacity to write tomato-growing advice but, nonetheless, I’m going to share my three favorite tomato-growing tips.
- I like growing tomatoes on top of a big ball of something nutritious that I’ve buried relatively deep in the soil. This year, I buried a bucket-size amount of cow manure 2 feet beneath the surface under each plant. This is more or less the same fertilizing strategy that the Native Americans taught the Pilgrims when teaching them to grow corn. Some Native American tribes lessons buried a fish under each plant. I think digging a deep hole to bury the fertilizer material is also useful because I often discover buried rocks and invading tree roots that I can remove in the process.
- I like to plant tall, leggy seedlings, and I like to plant those deeply in the soil. I think the tomatoes will make new roots all along the nodes on that buried section of stem, so burying seedlings deeply is a way of improving the root-system potential of the plant. Most plants don’t want to have their stems buried, but tomatoes are one of the exceptions.
- I always remember the amazing fact that many commercial tomato growers will irrigate their fields only twice during the whole season: one flooding right after planting seedlings, and another a month or so later. I also just wrote a piece on antioxidant creation in tomato fruit cells, and it turns out that a dry and slightly stressed tomato plant will probably produce tomatoes with higher antioxidant levels.
This year, we are growing a lot of our datterini plants so that they hang down over the tall garden walls and can be collected from the pathways below. It’s not perfect, because one can see that the plants strive to grow vertically, but their weight pulls them down into a hanging position. They are very wide hangers, and don’t lay flat against the walls at all, so that makes walking below a bit difficult.
We eat the datterini in a lot of salads, and also as sliced as garnish to pasta and pesto dishes. Cooked green beans with pesto and pasta and sliced fresh datterini on top is one of my favorite meals of this upcoming season. Datterini tomatoes can also make good jars of tomato sauce, but then small fruits are more work to peel than the traditional Romas.