Every year, I pick the biggest, the ripest tomato I can find in my garden, carefully cut it open and pull the seeds out. I leave it on a piece of paper to dry out in the sun, scrape the seeds into an envelope and store it until the spring. This is how we save the best from the year for the next year, so we always have good tomato seeds.
When the spring comes, we look at the sky with attention, hope it won’t snow; we monitor the ground if it will catch frost. When the temperature stops going under the freezing limit, it is time for us to open up the season and plant the seeds. Have in mind; the frost will damage the seeds if they are in the ground, because of the climate shock. Even when the plants start piercing the surface of the ground, it is possible for the temperature to go low and inflict damage. That’s why we cover our hothouse with plastic, sometimes with fabric to keep it warm.
The way we prepare the ground is that we sift the soil and use only black type dirt. We then mix the sifted amount with the sifted manure, so we double the amount of material. This amount is being positioned on a location of a hothouse. The way we lay this mixture comes in layers between two layers of plain sifted black dirt with sifted manure on top. With a tool handle, we carve in the parallel lines throughout the prepared ground and sprinkle the tomato seeds. Usually, we create lots of this material and we form 3.5 meters by a 1-meter chunk of a lane which we use for more than one culture. In my homestead, we plant tomatoes, peppers, chili peppers, cucumbers, basil, an early type of onions, early type of garlic, early type of scallions and other plants.
With a very gentle movement of fingers over the surface, we drag the fine base material and cover the seeds. After that, it is crucial to use warm water and pour it over this, thus adding warmth and moisture needed for the seeds to be activated.
During the first week, I water the lane with ordinary water, but I use sprinkler mounted on a gardening bucket so I don’t unravel the seeds. In two week time of watering the lane, first tomatoes stems will appear. At this point, I already keep track of how much sun the lane gets and how wet the ground is. It is preferred that ground should have some moisture at all times, even during the hot summer day, but dare not pour too much water. We need the seeds to crave for water so they will spread its roots deeper in the ground searching for nutrients. The hothouse is opened at the peak of the day and closed at dusk, so the climate is regulated and the chilly night air is kept away from hurting the plant at its delicate stage.
When the plant reaches 10 centimeters of height, it is preferable to transplant the tomatoes onto a prepared tomato lane. With a gentle pull, you will be able to take the plant from the ground and take it to where it’s needed to be. Sometimes the ground gets dry in the time of transplant operation, so to ease the process and secure a healthy plant taken from the ground, you could previously water the lane and soften the ground.
To do the transplant of tomatoes to their designated location, it is advised to use a tool to punch a hole in the ground, pour some fertilizer at the bottom and then plant the tomato. Always use sifted soil when covering the plant’s roots, because if you use granulated dirt, there is a chance you will trap air inside and roots don’t like air. Roots get dry and so the tomato can’t take minerals from the ground and when it can’t feed itself, it will perish. To further secure that there is no air bubble in the ground, use water to press in the fine dirt, form a muddy material, activate the fertilizer melting process and thus provide your tomato with food. This will also cause the tomato to spread its roots in search for a bountiful feast you’ve prepared for it. It will catch on for the new surroundings and adapt to a new location. Add a hefty amount of water every second day and have no worries about the climate, because we are well into springtime and favorable temperatures.
Your tomato plants should be positioned in a way where each plant is at the 30-100 centimeters distance from each other. This shall provide enough space and feeding ground for your tomatoes to develop uninterrupted by the fellow plants. In a few weeks, the tomato will double its size and to keep it growing strait, you’ll need to secure a bundle of sticks reaching over 1.5 meters. Each stick must be of a thickness of a toe on your foot or even thicker. These sticks are used as guidelines, a base for a tomato vine to grow up its body. You should stick these pieces of wood near the plant, but stuck it firmly and deep, so the weight of a tomato plant won’t be able to knock it over and break its stem. Use the cord to tie the stem for the stick and secure an upward growth trajectory. Add water every second day and according to the tomato height, amplify the amount of water. Never pour water over the leaf, or over the top of the plant. Sun will scorch your plant or cause spots on it, thus weakening your harvest. During their growth, the tomato will need more and more water to keep a good life and when the tomatoes start carrying, you will double the amount of water because plant need’s it to develop a product.
It will be the middle of the summer when the first tomato fruits will start to show red color, a sign of ripeness. When picking the ripe one, always give them a gentle squeeze because only the ripe ones will be a bit soft on the touch. When picking the fruit (tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable), do it with a twist of the hand, so you will only take the fruit and not damage the plant. One plant will provide a good portion of fruits; the exact number varies on the quality of care and dirt. My best catch was a fruit of 1 kilogram, big as my face. The most I took from one plant was around 60 kilograms during a season, so from the middle of summer until the end of autumn.
The types of tomatoes most used in the Balkans are Amerigo and Beefsteak. Amerigo is mostly used in salads, while beefsteak is perfect for cooking. Amerigo usually has some sort of acidity, while Beefsteak contains more juice and sweetness.
The biggest enemy to your tomatoes is ‘green louse’ and snails. To get rid of those, we can’t count on ladybugs to devour all ‘green louse’ or all snails to encounter nettle in their way to ravage your garden. To protect your tomatoes, regularly visit your tomato lane, hand remove the intruders if you can, or pick nettle, submerge a big bundle of it in water and let it stay there for a few days. Take ash and throw it in a separate vessel of water and let it stay for a few days. Drain water from the ash container, but watch out not to take ash with it. Use both types of waters in a spray can and cover your plants from top to bottom, every leaf, every fragment of its stem. This coating shall change the taste of the plant and it will repel the nasty visitors. Rain will surely wash it away so you will need to repeat this process after every rain.
And for the end, I will give you a common recipe for „Ljutenica“. Ljutenica is a winter type additive for meals, mostly described as ‘sweet death’. The name Ljutenica is forged from Serbian words Ljuto – Hot, spicy, chili and ica – a diminutive sometimes represents the meaning of ‘made from’.
For this hot sauce, you will need the following
5 kilograms of tomatoes
200 milliliters of wine vinegar
400 milliliters of sunflower oil
250 grams of sugar
1-2 kilograms of red hot chili peppers
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 small bag of food preservative powder
Boil the tomatoes for a short time so they turn saggy. Peel them off and then mush them to a fine pulp. Set them to boil for 1 hour and keep the temperature at high to evaporate the water. Add oil and start frying the tomatoes. Add sugar, garlic, vinegar, chili peppers and stir in a set tempo for 1 and a half an hour. The sauce is done when you pull your stirring spoon and it leaves a clean mark at the bottom of the cooking vessel. Add the bag of food preservative powder, stir for few more minutes and remove from the heat.
Heat up empty jars in the stove, then fill them with the sauce, cover with a lid and set all the jars on the cold side of the stove to gradually chill.
According to preferred taste, control the number of chili peppers added to the mix, control the amount of salt and black pepper. Also, control the amount of oil if you prefer less greasy food.
When completely cool, serve over baked potatoes, over bread, over everything salty you consume. Ljutenica goes great with pasta, meat and dairy products.