You Can Dig It

Garden to table conversation — Small fruited tomatoes

By Jackie Blevins and Jim Janke | Mar 01, 2017

Jackie Blevins: Let’s talk about cherry and grape tomatoes. They are a staple in my kitchen all summer until frost.

Jim Janke: Growing tomatoes from seeds is easy. Pick a variety that has good disease resistance and that is less susceptible to cracking.

In early April, plant three or four seeds a quarter-inch deep in a pot filled with a peat-based seed starting mix. Cover the pot with clear plastic and place in a tray with a half-inch of water.

Once the seeds have germinated, cut off all but the best-looking sprout and grow under florescent lights or in a bright window. Fertilize weekly with a half-strength liquid fertilizer, and grow on the dry side.

Plant in the garden after the danger of frost has passed. Remove all but the top two bunches of leaves and plant deep, so that only about 6 inches of the plant are visible.

These types of tomatoes can get huge, so give them lots of space. I plant mine in a sturdy tomato cage, staking the cage so it can’t fall over, and put additional cages around the main cage so the plant can expand on to them.

Inconsistent soil moisture causes fruit cracking, so a layer of mulch will help (but don’t let the mulch touch the vine). Feed monthly. Depending on the variety, one plant can produce a pint or two of sweet fruit daily at the height of the season.

Jackie: Here are some of my favorite ways to use these little gems:

— Make a delicious caprese-style salad by using as many varieties as you can find. Cut them in half, then toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, feta or fresh mozzarella cheese, and top with torn basil leaves.  And maybe add a few olives or a sprinkle of capers. It’s a party on a plate.

— Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place about two cups of whole grape or cherry tomatoes on a 13 x 9 inch pan. Add two tablespoons of olive oil, the juice of a lemon, and salt and pepper to taste.

Toss in two tablespoons freshly chopped herbs (basil, tarragon, chives, parsley or other favorites.) Roast in the oven for five to seven minutes until the tomatoes are softened but still hold their shape. Then use as a sauce alongside grilled chicken or fish.

— Cut them in half and sprinkle on top of a pizza for a pop of fresh flavor.

— Use several different colors and shapes to add pizzazz to a simple tossed salad.

Jackie Blevins owns Perfectly Seasoned Catering in Waynesville. Both Jackie and Jim are Extension Master Gardener Vvolunteers in Haywood County. © 2017 NC State University.

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