The young couple behind Con Raíz, Lorena Veiga and David Puertas, believe in chemical-free agriculture. They both have Agricultural Engineer degrees and ethics is probably one of the main reasons why they are willing to share their tips to grow healthy organic tomatoes here on Foods from Asturias.
As it often happens, Lorena decided to go for the farm life dream when she had had enough of unchallenging, non-motivational jobs. She admits that now she works harder than ever, being her role one that requires physical power. In return, she has never been happier at work.
Lorena's eyes sparkle when she speaks about her tomatoes. People at her local farmers market, where she has a stall every Saturday (La Felguera, Langreo), didn't believe her at first when she assured them that she doesn't use any chemical pesticide or fertilizer. Two years on, the unique flavour and soft texture of her tomatoes have won her a well-deserved reputation, hers are likely the best tomatoes in the valley and at this point no one questions her organic approach.
Lorena has agreed to share her tricks to grow her impressive tomatoes.
One of the most reliable organic fertilizers she uses is nettle extract. She recommends using it "as soon as you plant the tomatoes, ideally around March/April" and adds "it really does make a difference".
When the plant is around 40 centimeters tall, Lorena prunes the suckers. She does this to achieve nutrient-dense tomatoes. By pruning the suckers she allows the rest of the plant to get more sunlight, what makes more energy for the plant, which eventually means bigger, healthier tomatoes.
Another important point to consider is to stake the tomato plants so that they have a guide to grow. Lorena uses a plastic clamp to attach the plants to the cords that lead the tomatoes' way up. The clamps leave the plant some breathing space and are consistent enough to deal with the weight.
When the plant has eight to ten tomato bunches, they cut the top of the main branch of the plant, so that the energy and nutrients go to the fruits instead of to growing the plant ad infinitum.
To fight the aphid they use another animal to kill it, an insect from the swaps family that basically eats the aphid. To fight the fungus they have tried two ways, one using bicarbonate, and the second, which they favour, using a mixture of milk and water. The proportion is two parts of milk for eight of water. The milk must be whole. Once it is well mixed, they spray it on the tomato plants, always during the day as these plants don't like to get wet and the sun dries them quickly.
"Lately I have been using homeopathy" says Lorena, "it is very complicated, you need to know in which stage is the plant, the environmental factors..." She admits that her first try didn't work as she would have liked, she thinks because of the doses, "I need to understand it better, it takes time".
Con Raíz deliver their nutrient-packed veggie boxes every Tuesday, which you can order online, or you can find them at the farmers market in La Felguera every Saturday. If you hurry you might catch the last tomatoes of the season!