October 26, 2022

Time for tomatoes

Spring is here and that means one thing to many home gardeners: it’s time to decide which tomatoes you’ll be feasting on all through summer.

There’s something special about growing your own tomatoes; wandering out into the garden on a balmy summer’s morning and grabbing a handful straight off the bush to have for breakfast, it’s just so gratifying and rewarding.

Once you’ve tasted a home-grown tomato, it’s almost impossible to go back. They are simply incomparable in terms of freshness and flavour.

Tomatoes are often one of the first choices for a beginner’s veggie patch, and for good reason. They’re just so easy and fun to grow – even the kids can get involved. From seed to leaf, flower and fruit production, it’s an excellent lifecycle for children to be a part of and may even convince the pickiest eater to sample their own produce.

However, with so many different varieties available, it can be daunting to make a selection. Here are some reliable favourites to help get you started:

Apollo Improved
The classic! Apollo produces large, round fruits which are firm, low in acid and carry a delicious, juicy flavour. This variety has good disease resistance and performs well in cooler climates.

Cropping earlier in the season, Apollo provides a bountiful harvest, perfect for use in sandwiches and cooking. Grows up to 2.5m.

The saucy one! Roma are medium-sized, pear-shaped tomatoes that are bursting with delicious, tangy flavour, making them sing in sauces, pastes and stews. Grows to around 1m.

Sweet Bite
The kids tomato! This variety yields small, cherry-sized fruits that are big in flavour. Great for lunchboxes or eaten straight off the bush, kids love picking these in abundance from the long, fruitful trellises. Growing up to 2m, they will continue to crop into autumn and have great resistance to disease and heat stress. The ideal beginner’s tomato.

Growing tips
Once you’ve selected your variety, consider positioning. Full morning sun with afternoon shade is preferable; or full sun with protection once the weather reaches 35 degrees plus.

If you decide to use shade cloth, ensure that it’s white and doesn’t block out more than 50 percent of the sun, or you’ll end up with leggy growth and a limited fruit yield. Tomatoes love the sun, they’re just not keen on being scorched by those intense afternoon summer rays.

Taller growing tomatoes will need staking or a trellis to support the bush and heavy crops.

Tomatoes should be planted when the topsoil temperature has hit a minimum of 16 degrees and the threat of frosts has passed.

If you live in the Adelaide Hills, consider holding off planting until it’s consistently warm, or get creative and turn those old plastic bottles into mini greenhouses to keep the heat in.

Prepare your soil by digging through some compost or well-rotted manure. This will aid in creating a healthy environment for root development, which will in turn make water absorption more efficient – you’ll be thankful in the middle of summer.

Mix through some blood and bone to kickstart performance when planting, but resist the urge to over fertilise in the early weeks as this can lead to excess soft leaf production and inhibit flowering.

Additionally, a half-strength liquid feed fortnightly can be given until fruiting begins. You can switch to a full-strength dose later and let the show begin.

Pinching out lateral growth will encourage your plants to grow and fruit in a more upright habit, which will also help with fungal issues by creating more airflow. Removing lower leaves will ensure that foliage isn’t touching the soil, which is best avoided as it can create an unfavourable environment and provide a highway for pests to take up residence on your plants.

Deep watering is a beneficial practice when it comes to tomatoes. Rather than shallow, frequent watering, a couple of deep soaks twice a week after planting will allow the roots to get established deeper down. This regime will obviously have to become more regular as the weather warms up, so water as needed once established.

It’s such a beautiful experience to watch children toil outside; their natural curiosity and delight as they pick that first fruit or vegetable, marvel at the production of flowers and that sense of accomplishment and pride in tending to their own garden.

Tomatoes are a fantastic starting point to get the whole family involved in home produce gardening, so grab the kids and get growing this season. You’ll be glad you did!

Homemade tomato sauce
This is a great little recipe to use up a surplus of cherry tomatoes – delicious over pasta or spread on mini pizzas.

75ml olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1kg cherry tomatoes
½ tsp caster sugar
½ tsp sweet smoked paprika
½ tsp salt
200ml water
½ cup basil leaves

In a large frypan over medium-high heat, add the oil. Once hot, add the garlic and fry for 30 seconds to 1 minute, stirring until it caramelises. Carefully add the tomatoes (as they can split) along with the sugar, paprika, salt and water. Stir for about 3-4 minutes as the sauce bubbles and tomatoes start to break down. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat once sauce has thickened. Stir through basil leaves and serve.


This article first appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of SALIFE Gardens and Outdoor Living magazine.

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