Updated: Mar 17
The challenge of growing the most beautiful and tasty tomatoes that ripen on the vine.
Tomatoes are the pride of anyone growing food. When late summer comes to early autumn, it’s the moment of truth. You’ll either be picking and eating them every day, or it is time to say okay, bugger, I’ll do better next year. Nature is not a simple thing and neither is growing tomatoes organically. Every year I am discovering something about their cultivation, especially when a new problem appears. Since I started a garden in Australia, every summer was so different, and so were the tomato crops. They are prone to so many pests and diseases, affected by the weather or growing conditions but still worth the challenge. I will admit that I only eat homegrown tomatoes fresh and raw as I never really liked them from the shop... Garden grown ones are so much healthier and the flesh of a tomato ripened naturally is so tasty. What I love with growing tomatoes is to experiment with different varieties, taste, size and colours. The various ones that are not sold in supermarkets, like the heirlooms, are my favourites. Many of them are not as resistant as the modern varieties so there is a little more challenge there. I’m getting to know which are best for our climate and one thing is for sure, the cherry tomatoes “Tommy Toe” are incredibly productive and hardy. In the cold climate mountain region where we live (foothills of the Snowys), we get a shorter season compared to warmer zones. Even in Québec, my friends seem to have better and earlier crops and that is probably because of the extra hour of daylight (the course of the sun in the southern hemisphere makes the summer days in Australia shorter and the winter days longer). Tomatoes originate from South and Central America, so they love warm sunny days.
Cherry tomato time • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2019-20
GROWING & COOKING TIPS
Tomatoes are prepared like vegetables but are, botanically speaking, berry fruits. You can grow tomatoes from seed or by seedling, depending on your preference and climate. It will take longer for a plant to produce from seed if you don’t have a heated greenhouse to give them an early start. In our cold climate zone, planting out tomatoes before November is always risky as we get late frosts. There is a lot to know about growing tomatoes and I would suggest to make some good documenting before getting started. But even knowing all these basics, there is always, each year, different things to learn from. I’ve managed and improved my soil, watering and positioning to avoid the blossom end rot, split and any disorder but I’ve experimented fatal situations like the leaf curl, hail storm, drought… and this year, the white flies. On the positive side, these failures are part of the growing experience and learning curve. It is best to never compost the affected or finished tomato plants (burn or discard) as fungal diseases can survive and come back again. It is also good to practise crop rotation and companion planting. Basil, marigold and nasturtiums are the best tomato buddies. Success and failure is not only caused by gardener mistakes but weather conditions bringing the unexpected. A good tip is to try keeping an eye on the plants every day, while watering or wandering the yard. Not only might you identify a problem quicker, I find observing the plants regularly so therapeutic, especially before or after a busy day.
Enjoying the unusual varieties • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2019-20
I love diversity when growing veggies, and for tomatoes there are plenty of cultivars to choose from. The cherry tomatoes are so prolific, yummy, early and hardy. They even come up like weeds all around the garden because of the bits I left to the chooks or in the compost that has self-seeded. When I get too many of them, I make some batches of my cherry tomato sauce base that can go on pizza or saved for later in the freezer. Bigger tomato varieties take more time to get to maturity but are great sliced in a sandwich, in pasta sauces and condiments like my autumn harvest chutney. And if they don’t ripen before the frost it is also fine, because I have my grandma’s green tomato relish recipe for them! My mum and sister always loved a simple tomato sandwich but I did not like it at all. However, I've developed an exciting version adding figs (harvested at same time of year) and haloumi cheese. Hmm-mm that’s tasty! Tomatoes are packed with nutrients and considered a superfood. There is so much to do with tomatoes and ways to preserve them that they are certainly a must have in the summer veggie garden (or balcony, as they also do well in pots), and, of course, the kitchen. Fresh and organic in season is always best of course, and to shop for locally grown produce a first choice if not growing and preserving your own.
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