Is anything better than a fresh, home-grown tomato? ... No, but perhaps the nearest thing must be a home-grown tomato eaten in the dead of winter. Tomato ‘Principe Borghese’ is an old Italian variety that dates back to 1910, it was originally selected for the production of sun-dried tomatoes. A favourite of gardeners and farmers for its heavy yields of small, plum-grape shaped tomatoes that can be eaten fresh but are at their best when dried right on the plant.
This classic drying tomato can be found filling backyards, soaking up the sun throughout Italy. Known as ‘pomodori secchi’, sun-dried tomatoes can be eaten all year round and have probably been around as long as tomatoes have.
Tomato ‘Principe Borghese’ is a prolific plant that produces and abundance of small 4cm (1½in) acorn-shaped red fruits, often with a small tip on the end. The plants are fast growing, vigorous and very hardy, with gardeners raving about their ability to keep producing under conditions that ruin most other tomato varieties. The fruits grow in clusters of 5 to 11 fruits and hold their perfect shape without cracking.
A determinate variety, the plants can be grown as a single stem, removing offshoots as they grow, or can be left to form a bush by allowing the side stems to grow. They require a limited amount of staking for support and are perfectly suited for container planting. Harvest 75 to 85 days after transplanting.
Principe Borghese produce high quality fruits with a special vine-ripened flavour. The size of a large cherry or small Roma style tomato, with thick, meaty flesh, thin skin and few seeds, they are perfect for eating fresh from the vine or in salads. Use in pasta sauces, soups or for last moment stir-fries.
The flavour intensifies after drying, making them perfect for sauces and pastes. Chopped into winter salads with olive oil and pumpkin seeds, they are decadently good.
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As they cannot tolerate any degree of frost the timing for sowing and planting outside is key to successfully growing tomatoes. Where the seeds are sown under cover or indoors, aim to sow the seeds so that they reach the stage to be transplanted outside three weeks after the last frost date. Tomato plants take roughly seven weeks from sowing to reach the transplanting stage. For example, if your last frost date is early May, the seeds should be planted in early April to allow transplanting at the end of May.
Tomatoes require a full sun position. Two or three weeks before planting, dig the soil over and incorporate as much organic matter as possible. They will grow well in growbags and large pots if regularly watered and fed. The best soil used for containers is half potting compost and half a soil-based type loam: this gives some weight to the soil.
Sowing: Sow from the end January to April.
Plant about 3mm (1/8in) deep, in small pots using seed starting compost. Water lightly and keep consistently moist until germination occurs. Tomato seeds usually germinate within 5 -10 days when kept in the optimum temperature range of 21-27°C (70-80°F). As soon as they emerge, place them in a location that receives a lot of light and a cooler temperature (60-70°F); a south-facing window should work.
When the plants develop their first true leaves, and before they become root bound, they should be transplanted into larger into 10cm (4in) pots. Young plants are very tender and susceptible to frost damage, as well as sunburn. Protect young plants by placing a large plastic milk jug, with the bottom removed, over them to form a miniature greenhouse. Depending on the components of your compost, you may need to begin fertilising. If you do fertilise, do it very, very sparingly with a weak dilution.
Transplant into their final positions when they are about 15cm (6in) high. Two to three weeks prior to this, the plants should be hardened off.
Just before transplanting the tomato plants to their final position drive a strong stake into the ground 5cm (2in) from the planting position. The stake should be at least 30cm (1ft) deep in the ground and 1.2m (4ft) above ground level - the further into the ground the better the support. As the plant grows, tie in the main stem to the support stake - check previous ties to ensure that they do not cut into the stem as the plant grows. Dig a hole 45cm (18in) apart in the bed to the same depth as the pot and water if conditions are at all dry. Ease the plant out of the pot, keeping the root ball as undisturbed as far as possible. Place it in the hole and fill around the plant with soil. The soil should be a little higher than it was in the pot. Loosely tie the plant's stem to the support stake using soft garden twine –allow some slack for future growth.
A constant supply of moisture is essential, dry periods significantly increase the risk of the fruit splitting. Feed with a liquid tomato fertiliser (high in potash) starting when the first fruits start to form, and every two or three weeks up to the end of August. In September, feed with a general fertiliser (higher in nitrogen) in order to help the plant support it's foliage.
Over watering may help to produce larger fruit, but flavour may be reduced. Additionally, splitting and cracking can result from uneven and excessive watering.
Cordon (Indeterminate) varieties of tomatoes have a central stem that produces leaves and trusses of fruit. Once a truss has been established and the first fruits begin to form, pinch out the side shoots that emerge from joins between the leaves and the stem. The plant will then concentrate on growing your chosen truss. Also remove any lower leaves which show any signs of yellowing to avoid infection and as the plant grows, remember to tie it loosely to its supporting cane.
Bush (Determinate) varieties don't need this intensive training. They should be sturdy enough to cope without support and there's no need to limit the amount of shoots that they develop.
Harvesting: June to September.
Harvest tomatoes as soon as the fruits are ripe, when they are fully coloured and firm, this also encourages the production of more fruit.
About a month before the average first autumn frosts, clip all blossoms and any undersized fruit off the plant. This will steer all the plant’s remaining energy into ripening what’s left.
If you have a lot of under ripe tomatoes near the end of the season, and a frost is approaching, pick them and store them indoors in a single layer away from direct sunlight to ripen.
'Principe Borghese' was bred and introduced in by the M. Herb Company of Naples, Italy.
In 1910, it was released into the United States by the Chas. H. Lilly Co. as 'Prince Borghese'. Lilly stated, "This is a new and distinctly peculiar variety of tomato recently produced by the great Italian horticulturist, M. Herb, from whom we have procured a small quantity of the seed. It has never been grown in this country, but we believe that it will be a success."
Heirloom, also known as Heritage varieties are just what their name implies. They have been handed down, through generations of farmers and gardeners, from family member to family member. Many of these tomato varieties are known to have thrived since the 1800's. Unlike hybrids, they are not selectively bred for taste or appearance. They are open-pollinated, growing 'true to type' plants, like their predecessors, from seed.
Although heirloom tomatoes are indeed delicious, you won't find them in super markets for several reasons:
- Long time to maturity - Heirloom tomatoes, generally speaking, take longer to mature than varieties that were bred for commercial production. This means that they are more expensive to grow because they require a longer residency in the field and therefore more resources before a farmer can harvest and recoup his investment.
- Not good shippers - Many heirlooms were not bred to be shipped and because of their thinner skins do not transport well. For any supermarket that relies on nationwide supply chains this is an obvious problem as it means that there is a high likelihood that produce may arrive at market in a condition that cannot be sold.
- Indeterminacy - this means that the tomatoes mature slowly over time and do not ripen all at once. Most commercial tomato production (99%+ of what is grown for retail chain sale) are produced from determinate plants since these can be machine harvested. Indeterminate tomatoes must be hand harvested so again you end up with a very expensive tomato to produce. Indeterminate tomatoes also occupy a field for a longer period of time (since they do not all ripen at once) which means that even if you have low cost labour available for hand harvesting, your harvesters will need to be working the fields for many weeks, rather than days, making the tomatoes again more expensive to produce.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 300mg Average Seed Count 125 seeds Common Name Plum-grape Tomato, Heritage (Italian 1910)
Family Solanaceae Genus Lycopersicon Species esculentum Cultivar Principe Borghese Hardiness Half Hardy Annual Height 150cm (60in) Spacing 60cm (24in) Season Mid-Season Time to Sow Early April to End May Time to Harvest 75 to 85 days Notes Tomato Rosada was recently featured on Gardeners World.