How to plant tomatoes

Which mischievous deity is it that never fails to bring an unexpected early-morning visitor to the gate on those occasions when we are disgustingly late to arise? Maniacal barking from the dogs this morning at 9.30 heralded our wood merchant, with TOH unloading the dishwasher in his birthday suit, and oneself still in one’s pink satin shortie nightie. Enfolding myself in a black silk kimono I attend to M. Rousseau’s needs, noticing that he is discreetly trying to get a glimpse through the kimono.

No sooner has M. Rousseau left, than our farmer friend Fabrice arrives. What he doesn’t know about growing vegetables wouldn’t fill the nostril of an ant. And he’s not one to be encouragingly polite at my ineptness, either. So when he arrives this morning for his habitual tasse de café after doing something to the potatoes he plants in our vacant field, I almost burst into tears of joy when he compliments our modest patch of potatoes. Elles sont très belles, he pronounces. My potatoes are beautiful. For the first time ever, I have grown something worthy of his praise.

I gesture to the shallots. He nods noncommitally. But why haven’t we any garlic growing? I planted some, but nothing happened. But did I buy planting garlic, or just use cloves from the stuff we use for cooking?  The latter. “Ah! Little wonder nothing happened. That’s the same as planting tinned peas. Now, about the potatoes. You have sprayed them, haven’t you?” I look blankly from him to my perfect plants. “But you must! Mildew. Every fortnight you have to spray them with Bordeaux mixture. And the shallots – you need to treat them with sulphur. The strawberries – which I thought looked quite good – he tells me are very poor. They’re going to get rust. You need to do something about them. Pull them up and plant new ones.” But it was only a couple of months ago that we thinned out the patch and replanted them. It took nearly all day.

The reason our runner beans haven’t germinated is that they’re too wet. His beans are already 20 cm. high. My confidence and enthusiasm as a vegetable-grower are fading fast.

Even before I show Fabrice the unusual tomato plants we bought yesterday, I know he isn’t going to be impressed. “This is a blue one; this is black, and this one produces white fruit. They are old and rare varieties.” He shrugs. “I like tomatoes to look like tomatoes – red.” Well, we also have those; I point to a dozen plants we bought from the market a few days ago. “What variety are they?” I look for labels. There are none. I struggle to remember what the tomato-man told me, or for some names from the dozens of varieties he was selling. It seems to foolish not to know what we have bought. “I think these are cherry tomatoes, and I seem to remember these are called …………. Carmello!” “Bon. But you would have been better to buy the long variety with firm flesh and few pips.” God Almighty, next he’s going to expect us to know the names of each individual fruit on the damned things.

“You do know how to plant tomatoes, don’t you?” Is he having a laugh? Does he think I am so stupid I can’t take a tomato out of its pot and stick it in the ground? “Right up to here,” he says, indicating about 10 cm. below the tip of the plant. “Plant them really deep – even lying down – just leaving the crown and top two leaves showing.” I stare at him dumbly, wondering if this is some French joke. “Like that, secondary roots develop all along the buried stem. They hold the plant securely, and it will grow strong.” No wonder mine usually wobbled and toppled all over the place. They only ever got submerged to the same level as in the pots. Well, I’ve learned two things so far this morning: firstly, the correct way to plant tomatoes, and secondly that growing vegetables isn’t nearly as easy as Mr Nextdoor makes it look. I’ve never seen him do anything except hoe, and he has luxuriant rows of just about every vegetable you can name.

Fabrice takes his leave, promising to return this evening with some sorrel plants, and lightly grazing the front of my T-shirt with his index finger, as he always does.


Linked to #AllAbout France

Lou Messugo

15 thoughts on “How to plant tomatoes

  1. “Enfolding myself in a black silk kimono I attend to M. Rousseau’s needs”

    the mind boggles!

    Good tip about the tomato plants, its true, every time i try they grow super tall then fall over, basically. I just planted some from seed, hope its not too late in the season…take advantage of your garden, we have a litte landing at the front door! But we do our best

    • 😉

      Apparently the best tomato plants are those grown from seed sown directly into the ground, and now, according to Fabrice, is the right time to plant them. So bon courage. May your plants grow tall and strong and long, and be full of taste, nice and red, with firm flesh and no seeds. 🙂

  2. I thought tomatoes grow in the fridge until I met my husband – his mother has a farm – I never got along with her:) I respect her hard work, but really don’t want to be part of it. The tomatoes in the store here in America look like they are made out of plastic – taste like one too:) Good luck with the tomatoes – hope they thrive well!

  3. We saw some tomatoes in a supermarket in England with a label that said: “Grown for flavour!” What an extraordinary concept, don’t you think? We always believed they were grown as missiles. 🙂

  4. PS: your farmer would not approve but I planted some tomatoes in terracotta tubs tied to cane sticks last year and even though I watered them meticulously, I never got close to anything resembling a tomatoe. All I did was increase my water bill with Siveer!

  5. Ha ha! We had a French neighbour like that – full of really useful tips, but only delivered once we had been told how wrong the methods we were using had been… #AllAboutFrance

  6. Oh yes, planting tomatoes is quite an art! We have been told that putting torn up bits of nettle leaves at the bottom of the hole is a good thing to do. We don’t really know why but it doesn’t do any damage. If you buy grafted tomatoes, which will grow more quickly and earlier and which are also more resistant to mildew (you can get the heirloom varieties as well), you should not cover the graft (as opposed to burying the other tomatoes up to the first leaves as you said). There is a wonderful château called Bourdaisière in the Loire which specialises in heirloom tomatoes. We’re going to taste a few this summer.
    If you do get mildew (we don’t treat our tomatoes so it happens), you should cut off any that have it and not put them in the compost.
    Good luck!

    • I gave up growing anything, Rosemary. If it wasn’t too dry it was too wet. If it wasn’t too wet it was too hot. If it wasn’t too hot it was too cold. If the mice didn’t get everything, the aphids did. Etc. etc. etc. 🙂 After the cat ate all my coriander down to the soil, I just gave up. But M. Savoirtout told me about the nettles – they provide food and deter insects and disease. Wonder food for tomatoes. 🙂

  7. My attempts at growing tomatoes have always been unsuccessful, especially when a deer eats the one you’ve got your eye on, even though the plant is outside the kitchen door. It must be good to have expert advice so readily available.

  8. My attempts at growing anything in a potager have been dire, along the lines of your reply to Rosemary. I’m also fascinated by the start of your day! Thanks for linking up with #AllAboutFrance

  9. I would have to agree with him about planting deep, but my neighbour Dominique insists I put a small bunch of chopped nettle leaves in my tomato hole as I plant them and he also suggests laying straw as it helps to prevent damp and mildew problems. These old Frenchies know how to grow their veggies! #AllAboutFrance

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