The world has gone tomato crazy. And why not? It's a reaction to the decades when the only tomatoes available were pink tennis balls, firm enough to cut with a blunt knife into perfect slices for a sandwich. What more did you need? No one wanted to eat a salad made from tomatoes like these.
I've been browsing this spring's seed catalogues - only browsing, as I put my orders in long before the first daffodil bloomed here - and there are hundreds of tomato varieties. Literally. Most companies that sell seeds have made sure they have at least a few kinds that no one else offers. All claim that they can sell you the sweetest, richest flavoured, most meaty textured tomato of all. And possibly they can.
As long as you avoid the varieties bred to be cold stored for the next millennium and shipped to Pluto with no bruising, you will inevitably grow a magnificent tomato, even possibly hundreds of kilos of magnificent tomatoes. You only need to follow some simple rules, dictated by the tomatoes themselves. If the plants are unhappy, they will droop, turn yellow, or find other ways to let you know.
Sunlight: Tomatoes like it hot and bright. This is one plant that would adore a tub on your baking concrete patio, as long as you feed and water well. We even had a tomato fruit in a crack in the concrete when I was in high school. We all watched it grow, hoping it might be something interesting and illegal, though none of us knew what that would look like. Then it grew a tomato, and many more...
Feeding: It may be impossible to over feed a tomato, which is why seedlings can pop up in the manure in the chook house. Feed plants lightly till they are hand high, then feed every few days according to directions on the packet or your own knowledge if you have gone beyond packets to home-grown hen manure et al. Always water fertiliser in well.
Staking: I'm not sure about this one. Tomatoes that sprawl all over the place put out new roots along the branches that hug the ground and can thus become vast tomato jungles, producing masses of fruit, even if you do have to hope there are no resident red bellied black snakes hiding in the foliage every time you reach in to pick the fruit.
But that soil may also contain the spores of various wilts and fungi that tomatoes are prone to. In other words, floppy untamed bushes can be much more healthy, or much less healthy, or pretty much the same as those that are staked like a row of vampires.
Mulch: Mulch will stop spores splashing up, and help keep the soil moist and earthworms active and weeds down. It's also a useful barrier in case you get too over enthusiastic with the fertiliser.
Be different: You don't need a need line of tomatoes, or even to keep them in the veggie garden. Grow cherry tomatoes at the back of the flower garden, or let climbing yellow pear tomatoes clamber up your rose bushes. Plant a couple outside the chook house to share the manure washed out by the rain. Let a bush sprawl down instead of up from a giant hanging basket, or plant one in the middle of the lawn, with mulch around its stems to kill the grass. Make rounds of chicken wire and grow the tomatoes inside, to keep them growing straight and up and for ease of picking as the branches grow through the holes, no tying up needed. Plant them in an elderly wheelbarrow, or old bathtub or in a window box, or even go hydroponic, with gro-lamps indoors. There are hundreds of ways to grow magnificent tomatoes, and every one is fun.
Be lavish: Choose at least six different kinds of tomato, because racing out to try each one will make sure you remember about the feeding, watering and mulching. This year we are going to an early maturing one, though the difference is only a matter of a week or so in our climate, but that early tomato is so welcome. There'll be cherry tomatoes in red and pear-shaped yellow, and a meaty one for the tomato passata I like to stew to a sludge then freeze, and which we are still eating now. Just now I think Black Krim makes the most perfect tomato salad, with a few added leaves of basil, olive oil and the tiniest touch of caramelised balsamic vinegar, but by the end of summer I'll probably have changed favourites all over again.
That is the joy of growing tomatoes. Once you have grown them you become passionate about eating them, and once you are passionate about eating them you will be equally eager to grow them, one variety then another and then some more...
This week I am:
- Marvelling how the camellias keep putting out flush after flush of blooms this year, at least four months per bush.
- Still watching for that first asparagus spear.
- Planting another crop of spuds to follow the ones producing small ''new potatoes'' to bandicoot now, and that will also give us a good crop of ''storing spuds'' in six weeks or so.
- Trying to give away more rhubarb, or possibly investing in a brewery for Rhubarb Beer.
- Watching yet more fruit trees that seemed dead after the fires put out new buds and even blossom. Am beginning to suspect you cannot kill a damson, nor a plum.
- Not quite planting absolutely every summer veg yet, but planning where they'll go.
Open Gardens Victoria Online Indoor Plants Workshop
Open Gardens Victoria is non-profit organisation that during lockdown is a non-open garden too. They are offering an online workshop instead, on how to keep your indoor plants thriving.
Date: Sunday, September 19
Time: 10.30am-11.30am (EST)
Tickets: $30 at https://www.trybooking.com/BUBHY)
This online event is LIVE only (not recorded). The Zoom invite and notes will be emailed out the morning of the event. Bookings close at 11.45pm on September 18.