Last year was a sad tomato year. All the tomato seedlings I had lovingly carted up from London succumbed to blight. This year, I have a small fifth-hand greenhouse, held together mostly with tape and luck, which has made all the difference in this beautiful damp corner of Scotland.
It is a slow game, tomatoes up here. I start them in March, and they are only now giving me fruit in August. Over the five months, I transplant, pot up, feed and water, and watch diligently for caterpillars. Then at last. The first tomato. The first tomato is worth the wait. Different from the flavourless watery orbs from the supermarket, a home grown tomato tastes of summer and light.
Like a lot of hobby gardening, the amount of energy and time I put into my tomatoes exceeds the amount of work and time it takes to pick some up from the supermarket. We all have different thresholds for time and effort, and different ideas of what is worth our time. For me, unlike potatoes and onions, the tomato is worth growing. For its flavour, and for the varieties you can grow!
Year after year, I grow and save seeds from the Black Cherry Tomato, first saved by my friend Vicky Chown over a decade ago. This is my fourth year growing the aptly named Scotland Yellow, and my first year growing the gorgeous Blue Bayou from The Seed Saving Network, which turns a dark, almost-black purple, but remains blush red at points, depending on where the sun hits it.
I am writing this at the end of August, and some of my plants are closing down, a result of the unusually chilly August and the three different kinds of caterpillars which moved into the greenhouse while I was away. The labour is long, the harvest is small, but eating them makes it worth it. Every single time.