Updated: May 17, 2022
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 veggie 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 fresh and raw tomatoes as I never really liked the ones from the shop... Organically grown ones are so much healthier and the flesh of a tomato ripened naturally is so tasty. Another thing I love about growing tomatoes is to experiment with different varieties, taste, size and colours. There is a little more challenge when choosing heirlooms as some are not as resistant as the modern varieties. 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 Snowy Mountains), we get a shorter season compared to warmer zones. In Québec, I see my friends having greater 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. Each year taught me a different lesson. From this I’ve managed and improved my soil, watering, positioning and organic pest control (I tried the yellow sticky trap this year, a winner for white flies!). 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. A good preventing tip is to try keeping an eye on the plants every day, while watering or wandering the yard. Not only you might identify a problem quicker, observing plants has a therapeutic effect, especially after a stressful day.
Enjoying colourful varieties • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2019-22
If you love diversity when growing veggies, there are plenty of tomato 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 in any pasta sauces base. I preserve the extras in the freezer. Bigger tomato varieties take more time to get to maturity but are great sliced in a sandwich. Try a sweet and salty combination with figs (harvested at same time of year) and haloumi cheese, yum that is so tasty! I always keep a bunch of big red ones for making some condiments like my autumn harvest chutney. And if they don’t ripen before the frost, it is also fine, because I make some green tomato relish, a recipe inspired from my grandma's one. Tomatoes are packed with nutrients and considered a superfood. There is so many versatile ways to cook and preserve tomatoes 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.
Enjoying colourful varieties • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2019-21
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