Expert ... Deakin's Maurice Haddad has grown tomatoes for 40 years and has 18 varieties in his yard. Photo: Stuart Walmsley
WHEN tomatoes go bananas, go it alone and grow your own.
That's the advice of one of Canberra's most experienced fruit growers for ACT grocery shoppers and salad lovers facing tomato prices that have increased five-fold in recent months.
Sold for as little as $2 a kilogram in the ACT last year, tomatoes have cost up to $11 a kilogram in the past few weeks and $7 a kilogram in recent days.
Rain and cold weather delaying the north Queensland harvest had constrained supply so much for Griffith organic vegetable grocer Karen Medbury that she had broken with tradition and started selling non-organic tomatoes.
She said her premium organic tomatoes retailed for $15.80 a kilogram this week, $6 a kilogram higher than normal.
The deputy chief executive of grower group Ausveg, William Churchill, expected tomato prices to drop to their usual level before Christmas.
Mr Churchill was confident the tomato would not lose its place as Australia's third most popular vegetable behind carrots and potatoes. ''You can't have a garden salad without tomatoes,'' he said.
If the humble tomato was too good to lose then Canberrans could be picking their own by December, according to experienced Canberra fruit grower Maurice Haddad.
The Deakin resident, who has grown tomatoes for 40 years, knows his Roma from his San Marzano: he has 18 varieties planted in his yard.
Mr Haddad said growing tomatoes was straightforward as long as amateur gardeners adhered to some simple rules. ''There's no particular variety best for Canberra, so it all depends on your taste,'' the 73-year-old said.
Now is the time to transplant small tomato plants, grown indoors to avoid the frost, into the ground outside. Seeds can also be put into the ground now because it is warmer.
Planting at home: Maurice's tips
SELECT healthy soil bathed in the sun and at least 50 centimetres deep.
Make sure there is nothing overhead and no trees nearby competing for nutrients.
Fertilise and weed the area before planting.
Dig the hole 10 centimetres deeper than required and put some manure in first, cover with soil and then plant.
''Fertilise with a handful of manure for each plant every three to four weeks,'' Mr Haddad said. ''And make sure the watering is constant.''
Erratic watering would rot the fruit, he said.
The amateur gardener could stick a finger into the ground to see if it was damp and, if it was, the plant did not need more water. Sagging leaves could mean the plant is either thirsty or over-watered.
''When watering, avoid splashing water hitting the ground and splashing the foliage,'' Mr Haddad said. ''This develops fungus.''
Gardeners should also beware of sucking beetles in January and be sure to pick the beetles off early to keep their numbers down.