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Indigo Rose tomatoes

Growing black tommies

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For sublime flavour try your hand at growing black tomatoes, writes Penny Woodward.

I’ve decided to take a chance and plant some early tomatoes. I’ve some seedlings that are ready to go, so I’m planting them deep and surrounding most of them with large pots that have the bottom cut out and planting one into a grow bag in a sheltered sunny position. I’m hoping they’ll survive and thrive, thumbing their noses at any cold weather, and that they’ll be producing tomatoes well before Christmas.

The rest of the seed-grown tomatoes will be planted out at more conventional times (late October and early November for my region) but they’ll be more advanced because I’ll transplant into bigger pots first, before planting out. For various reasons, last year the bulk of my tomato plants went in just after Christmas. This is getting pretty late to plant tomatoes in my climate, but I still got a useful crop and was able to make tomato sauce and chutney. My favourite tomatoes are the black ones (many are really browny red and maroon when ripe, rather than black) because I think their flavour is sublime. In the past I have grown Black Russian and Black Krim, Black Cherry and Red and Black. Red and Black is perhaps better known as Indigo Apple, and along with Indigo Rose and Blue Berries are part of the new range of truly ‘black’ tomatoes, now with black or very deep purple skins, rather than brown. The parts of these tomatoes that are exposed to strong sunlight are dark purple; the more shaded bits are green and then turn to purple/red when ripe. The truly black/purple skins mean that these tomatoes are high in anthocyanin, as are blueberries, grapes and other blue-berried fruit.

I’m particularly looking forward to the Black Cherry and Blue Berries tomatoes because they produce prolifically and early, so I’m hoping for some really good results. They do well in most climates, planted in spring and summer in temperate and subtropical regions, and autumn in the tropics. They are often called modern heirlooms because they originated from breeding in the USA in the last 15 years. Both Black Cherry and Blue Berries have a complex, sweet, rich, strong flavour that makes them winners in taste tests. I actually prefer the taste of Black Cherry, but like the look of Blue Berries better. Blue Berries, Indigo Apple and Indigo Rose all need to be really ripe before you pick and eat them; otherwise they can be a bit bitter. Check they are slightly soft before picking. Being small, both Black Cherry and Blue Berries will mature more quickly than many other types so are ideal at any time but like Tommy Toe, especially for late-season planting.

If you want to plant tomato seed now, then do this where they are to grow into compost-rich soil or into small pots. Then thin to, or plant, about 70cm apart. As plants can reach 2m in height, I grow them against a screen of reo mesh, which provides lots of points to which I can tie and train these rambling tommies. When flowers start appearing water with seaweed extract and sprinkle around some potash. Always keep water off the leaves to prevent mildews. You should be harvesting in about two-and-a-half months.