Wine Guide and Guest Blogger, Kristina Johnson shared with us her favorite treat for summer—a caprese salad! Read on for her tips on the perfect salad and how to grow your own tomatoes at home, and of course, the best wine pairings perfect for summer!
A favorite summer treat in my home is a caprese salad. If you’ve never had one, it’s super simple to make, and perfect for a hot summer day. Tomatoes, mozzarella (preferably fresh), and basil sliced, topped with some extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar. That’s all there is to it! During the summer months, it’s extra special for one simple reason—fresh ingredients. I specifically grow basil and tomatoes in my garden for this salad. It’s a meal by itself, but I’ve been known to grill up a steak to slice and serve with it for some added protein.
Ever since I bought my first house, I’ve been an amateur gardener, going on almost 15 years. Every year I try something new and my garden keeps growing. Tomatoes have always been a constant in my garden. Nothing beats the flavor of a homegrown tomato—I seriously can’t get enough of them!
Want to grow your own tomatoes? Here are my top tips for having a successful tomato garden! (It’s not too late to buy some plants—I promise!)
Gather Your Supplies
Starting a plant from seed is fun, but it can be challenging. Don’t worry—it’s still homegrown if someone else started the plant. Take a trip to your local greenhouse and buy your tomato plants— there are so many varieties of tomatoes out there to choose from! The tag on the plant will tell you what variety it is, how big the tomatoes will grow (some can be over 2 lbs.), whether it’s determinate or indeterminate (determinate means it will stop growing at a certain height, which is great for a deck or small garden area), and some other great advice like watering, sun needs, and spacing. The smaller the tomato, the quicker it will be ready to be picked. Smaller tomatoes typically aren’t the easiest to work with for a caprese salad, but they are sweeter and great for other summer dishes.
Get Your Soil Ready
Time to till your soil. Tomato roots need some aeration first so they can grow deep, that way you get a hearty, sturdy plant. If you are growing in the ground, till the soil before planting the seedling. Tilling simply means to turn over and break up the soil, this helps to soften the soil so your plant can flourish! Tomatoes don’t like to be planted in the same area every year, so be sure to move your tomato plants around from year to year.
Time to Fertilize
There’s no shame in my tomato game. In order to have flourishing tomatoes, you will need calcium and nitrogen based fertilizers. There are some great tomato specific fertilizers on the market to pick up at your local garden or home improvement store! A quick DIY fertilizer I’ve been know to do is to crush up some Tums and eggshells, and add it right to the soil before planting. If you want to be like the pros, fertilize prior to planting and then fertilize again about every 2 weeks.
Give Your Tomatoes a Drink
Tomatoes are primarily water, so they’ll need it to grow and thrive! Where I live in Iowa, we’ve had some wild temperature swings the past few weeks. I’ve gone from covering my tomatoes for frost protection to them wilting in the heat. The constant for tomatoes is they always need water. The amount of water needed varies—when it was cooler, they only need a little bit of water, but when it’s hot, you’ll need to water consistently. Make sure you water in the morning or in the evening so you don’t burn the leaves! Sometimes Mother Nature even helps out and naturally waters your plants!
All About Staking & Caging
Tomato plants get really heavy and can fall over once they start producing fruit. It’s important to put a stake in early so as not to disturb the roots, and then incrementally use plant tape to help provide support. You’ll want to do this periodically as it grows.
Tomato plants also get really wide. If you cage them, it helps contain their growth. This step isn’t always necessary for deck plants, but this step can also help you get to the “inside” of the plant to pick the fruits of your labor.
Time to Pick!
This is the hardest step—waiting for the tomatoes to ripen. You will see the green fruits hanging out getting lighter and lighter until one day they are blush colored. And then a few days later, boom it’s red and perfect!! They are best to eat right after picking. Get excited! This is the reward stage and it’s oh so delicious!
This year, my garden has five different varietals of tomatoes. I almost always grow a cherry tomato for lettuce salads and a 4th of July varietal for getting tomatoes as early as humanly possible. These varietals are generally relatively small tomatoes. I do love putting some of the 4th of July tomatoes on a caprese, but this year I’m growing an heirloom tomato which I think will make the perfect caprese salad.
Whatever you are doing, remember to pair it with a Traveling Vineyard wine. My favorite pairing is Bella Mente, Pinot Grigio—remember if it grows together it goes together, and that’s why this Italian white pairs perfectly with all Italian cuisine. If you’re grilling up a steak to go with or on your caprese, try Woodvale Estates, Merlot or Desvia, Tempranillo, for a red perfect for summer eats!