Our February gathering was a tomato-themed triumph with more than 35 attendees sharing their experiences, tips and questions. Big thanks to Karral Miller for her work to prepare and facilitate the session and to all who joined in.
Karral has also generously summarized the discussions so you can refer back to (or catch up on) the content, including tomato varieties, growing advice, pests and diseases, saving seed, dealing with the glut (yes, that includes recipes!) and even links for further reading.
You might like to grab yourself a cuppa and settle in for a little reading session.
SOME BACKGROUND …
Tomatoes first came from South and Central America but records from France and Italy show that they were widely grown there in the 18th Century. It seems that red tomatoes were not the norm at that time- in fact the Italian word for tomato is “pomodoro” which translates as ”golden apple”.
Since the tomato crop has been commercialised, the demand for uniformly well shaped, large, bright red fruit that transport well and are long-keeping has lead to hybridisation. It’s a fact that hybrids are generally easier to grow on a large scale and more disease-resistant than open-pollinated varieties (most heirloom varieties are open-pollinated) but in trying to make the fruit more commercially viable, some of the important compounds that are linked to flavour have been reduced in the mutations.
For home gardeners who want top flavour, open-pollinated varieties often are your best choice as they offer the best flavours plus the seeds can be saved for future plantings. In taste tests heirloom tomatoes consistently far outrank the hybrid and commercial varieties.
And it seems that the green, pink, yellow, black and green tomato varieties are favoured over the red!
Till the 1990s the French variety, Grosse Lisse, was the standard by which to judge homegrown tomatoes but since then there has been an ever increasing reintroduction of heirloom varieties for home growers.
- Tommy Toe – grows easily, flavoursome
- Wapsipinicon Peach – yellow, soft fuzz supposedly deters fruit fly
- Grosse Lisse – still popular
- Ground Cherry – small, brown, very tasty
- Red Cloud
- And a new and interesting taste for most of us – Tomatillas!
When to plant suggestions:
- when self-sown seedlings start to appear in your garden
- when you can sit on the ground for a time without getting cold (Jackie French suggests with a bare bottom!)
- Melbourne Cup Day
Tomatoes need well prepared compost or organic rich soil. However too much nitrogen creates beautiful leafy bushes but less fruit and can, with insufficient or uneven watering, also inhibit calcium uptake by plants which can produce blossom end rot. You may need to add lime to soil when preparing beds to prevent this.
Watering should be by dripper or low sprinkler, as overhead watering can encourage fungal diseases.
Some people have had great success with deep planting. Take off laterals up the stalk and plant deeply, which forces the plant to create a larger root system.
Staking-methods used by members:
- Single stake
- Teepee with stakes
- Wire cages (fence netting)
- Trellis (concreting mesh)
- Strings tied to an overhead support
DISEASE and PEST MANAGEMENT
Fruit fly – the most effective method is to net (see our fact sheet for more information)
Slater attack of seedlings – use a pot or yoghurt container with bottom cut out as a guard until plants are established
Wilt – Plant collapses very quickly. Often bought into garden in pots or seed from other places. Soil borne, takes a few years to get rid of. Reduce risk by pouring boiling water over new seeds, bag and bin dead leaves around plant and especially infected plants. Remove soil if possible. Plant tomatoes in soil that has not had any of the tomato family (tomatoes, capsicums, eggplants, potatoes, etc) planted there for at least two years (preferably longer).
Damping off – very young seedlings collapse at base of stem. Often happens when nights are cool and soil stays damp. Spray with a light mist of a fungicide in water.
Here’s our instruction sheet.
If you leave to dry completely on kitchen paper towel, just roll up to store. Then tear off the paper with seeds on it and plant paper as well.
WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE GLUT?
- Sun dry, oven dry or dehydrator
- Sauce, passata, – cooking in a slow cooker is easy
- Tomato paste – takes a long time to cook but is delicious
- Fermented tomato salsa – very nice – follow the link for the recipe Emma Street recommended (and gave tastings of at our event); it’s by Erica from the North West Edible Life blog.
Good Australian sites
- ssaw.org.au (yes, us!) – see the links for our tomato recipe collection, seed saving tips and fruit fly control advice
- diggers.com.au – at our gathering we discussed the Diggers’ tomato taste test results.
- tomato.com.au – easy to read, informative
- Sustainable Gardening Australia’s tomato page includes a comprehensive list of Australian varieties.
- heirloomtomatoes.bizland.com/varieties.htm US site with an impressive list of heirloom varieties
- greenfingers.com.au/services/digging_deeper/tomatoes/5.html for comprehensive descriptions of diseases, disorders although organic gardeners may not be happy with suggested cures!
- aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/vegetable/tomato-problem-solver/ US site but has good descriptions of diseases with pictures plus other interesting stuff
A few years ago Jacky Cronin compiled some of our members’ favourite tomato recipes.
You can grab the collection by clicking the link. To whet your appetite, the collection includes:
- Tomato Herb Tart
- Roast Tomato & Chickpea Soup
- Spicy Red Lentil Soup
- Oven Roasted Tomatoes
- Shae’s Salsa
- Bocconcini, Red Pepper & Tomato Salad
- Kathy’s Tomato Relish
- Tomato & Basil Upside Down Pie
- Sweet Tomato & Apple Paste
- Roast Pork Cutlets with Tomatoes & Pine Nuts
- Smoky Tomato Pasta Sauce
And a bonus recipe:
SEMI-DRIED ROASTED TOMATOES
Serves: 4 cups
Preparation time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 4 hours
These juicy jewels are great for livening up salads, pizzas and frittatas.
- 1.5kg large, round ripe tomatoes
- 120ml extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 10 sprigs thyme, leaves picked
- 2 Tbsp sea-salt flakes
- 4 tsp caster sugar
- Freshly ground black pepper, to season
1 Preheat oven to 120°C.
2 Score base of each tomato with a small sharp knife, and remove cores.
3 Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add tomatoes and cook for 1 minute. Remove, then plunge into a bowl of iced water. Set aside to cool.
4 Remove skins and discard, reserving any juices in bowl. Cut tomatoes in half, then squeeze out several of the seeds.
5 Put tomatoes in a large bowl. Add oil and toss to coat. Arrange tomatoes, cut-side up, on an oven tray (reserving any juices from bowl).
6 Sprinkle garlic, thyme, salt and sugar over tomatoes, then season with pepper. Drizzle over any excess tomato juices from bowl.
7 Cook tomatoes for 2 hours (or up to 4 hours for drier tomatoes). Set aside to cool completely.
8 Serve or store in a sealed jar or container, topped with light olive oil, in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Recipe and image source: http://au.lifestyle.yahoo.com/better-homes-gardens/recipes/r/-/12485549/semi-dried-tomatoes/