|Herbs for tomatoes|
by Alice Spenser-Higgs
If you are planting out tomatoes this month allow some space for the herbs that go so well with them.
Basil, oregano, chives, parsley and coriander are the herbs most commonly used with tomatoes, whether they are eaten fresh or cooked as a sauce for adding to pasta, pizza, and chilled summer soup.
Not only do these herbs enhance the flavour of tomatoes, they are also good garden companions because their aromatic foliage tends to repel insects that attack the fruit and leaves. Although there is no documented proof, many gardeners swear that growing basil next to tomatoes improves the taste of the tomatoes.
In my own garden I found that tomatoes grown with basil at their feet were much healthier, stronger plants than those without basil anywhere near them.
Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is the most popular basil and it has sweetly aromatic soft green leaves. Basil “Red Rubin” is a very attractive plant with purple leaves that have a spicy fragrance. Both are summer annuals but columnar basil is a perennial with smaller, very aromatic leaves and it is a neat, upright growing plant.
The leaves of all three basils are delicious in salads containing tomatoes or can be added towards the end of cooking when making a sauce.
They do best with plenty of morning sun, and should be planted in fertile soil that includes compost for good drainage and organic fertiliser for extra nutrition as they are gross feeders, especially if the leaves are picked regularly. For a good summer crop fertilise at least once a month and water regularly.
Italian parsley (Petroselinum crispum van Italian) is easier to grow and has a nicer flavour than the common Moss Curled parsley. “Italian Giant’ has deep green flat leaves and it is a vigorous plant that works well as a border in the vegetable garden, as it attracts bees but keeps aphids away.
It needs fertile, well composted soil, full sun and plenty of water; in other words the same growing conditions as tomatoes which is why the two go so well together.
Similar to the moss curled parsley, Italian parsley can be used in cooking as well as chopped up and added to salads.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) may seem like the odd one out because it is not used in Italian dishes, but tomatoes are also used in spicy Mexican and Indian cuisine where the flavour is provided by coriander, used alongside chillies.
One of the problems with coriander is that it is a short lived crop that bolts in the heat but there is a new variety that has been bred for commercial production that has bigger, tastier leaves with a longer shelf life.
Coriander ‘Jumbo’ is now available on the herb racks and it is a short (25 to 30cm high) compact plant that produces more leaves than any other variety.
It grows best in a position that receives at least four hours of direct sun a day. The soil should be well composted and should not be allowed to dry out. A light mulch is recommended. Fertilise once a month with an organic fertiliser, especially if you want good leaf production. Being a compact plant it is suitable for containers.
Coriander roots can also be used for flavouring so once the plant is over dig it out and cut off the roots which can be grated and used for flavouring.