You only need to two bits of knowledge to grow a wheelbarrow full of glorious tomatoes:
1. Tomatoes need sun, sun and more sun
2. Tomatoes need masses of tucker to give you masses of tucker
You will also need tomato plants. Don't stress about what kind to choose, though salivating gently as you imagine this fruit or that can be a true spring joy. Any you buy from the garden centre as plants or seeds is almost certain to be stunningly delicious. Some varieties may be more to your taste than others - I like my tomatoes squishy, full of juices I can then soak up with a piece of sourdough bread, possibly with a little olive oil and garlic added. Others like a dryish tomato that slices perfectly and is good on a sandwich.
We have an amazing choice these days, from traditional round red to old-fashioned ridged, roma tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, pear-shaped tomatoes, red, black, green when ripe, yellow and green striped, black, or purple, including punnets that give several varieties so you can have fun comparing quantity, taste and ripening times.
Cherry tomatoes crop longest in our climate and are the most forgiving, and also less likely to get fruit fly. Varieties that stay green when ripe, or are green and yellow striped as well as and the black and purple varieties seem to give less fruit, and die back from wilt more readily than the big round red varieties. But whatever you choose will be so good that you'll forgive its lack of perfection.
Now you need a spot to put your plants. Try:
1. Any spot in your garden that gets at least six hours of direct sun a day - in the flower bed out the front, or that bare patch in the lawn. Forget grass and grow tomatoes instead.
2. In the middle of the paving. Paving retains heat and reflects it too - magnificent for a tomato crop. If you can pull up just one paving stone and plant a tomato seedling in it, you should have tomato juice dripping down your chin by Christmas.
3. In a big hanging basket, hung next to a hot sunny wall. Make it large so the roots have plenty of feeding space. The tomato will grow up, then sprawl down as it gets weighted with fruit, making it a kind of weeping tomato.
4. In a very large pot, next to a hot sunny wall or the middle of a paved courtyard.
5. In six very large pots in a row against a hot sunny wall. These will look elegant, edible and colourful once the fruit arrive, but do stake your tomatoes if you are going for 'elegant'. Tomatoes have naturally poor posture. The more fruit they bear, the more the branches sag.
6. In a round cage of chook netting, about a metre or half a metre across, tied to a tomato stake. This 'tomato corset' will keep the bush growing upwards and maximise the amount of sunlight it gets. Eventually it will sprawl out over the top.
And other than that? The conventional wisdom is to plant tomatoes after frost danger, which is impossible in our climate - there have been frosts in December and January, but they are incredibly rare. Any time from now on is 'reasonable'.
Once the bushes are about hand high, mulch to the first leaves and keep mulching. New roots grow from the stem and the bushes become more vigorous. Put fertiliser on top of the mulch and water in at once. NEVER feed any plant without watering. Feed twice a week if you, can, little and often. Tomatoes are one of the few plants that sometimes even grow in fresh hen manure, but to be safe, make sure it's aged. A compost mulch will give you miracles, and a richer flavour too.
But plant, and soon. Even one big pot with cherry tomatoes will be a joy, giving fruit to pick every day, sun-warmed and luscious, the taste and scent of summer.
This week I am:
- Picking asparagus, eating asparagus, loving asparagus and waiting for the purple and white asparagus to pop up as well as the green.
- Waiting for the first rose of spring, usually a competition between the white banksia rose out the front or the yellow banksia out the back, or the Parson's Monthly, which won't be blooming this spring as the bush was cut right back so I can grow spuds where it used to sprawl.
- Watching the rhubarb putting out new stems, not quite big enough to pick yet.
- Realising I still haven't used any of the mint or lemon verbena I carefully hung in bunches for winter herbal teas. They will become mulch now, as both mint and lemon verbena are in leaf again.
- Muttering at the violets growing entirely uninvited in the middle of the veg garden;
- Smiling kindly on the gladioli that have decide to grow, again uninvited, in the vegie garden. I'll wait till they bloom then transplant them. I've no idea how the gladdies got there. Did a mulched flower have seed heads? But the gladdies don't take up much room among the asparagus, and are easy to pull up and plant elsewhere.