Tino CarnevaleThe pioneer crops – tomatoes

Herbs are where I advise all aspiring tucker gardeners to start with because they are relatively easy to care for but are very productive and are great launching pad into the world of edible gardening. Oddly enough, nearly all of them when asked what crop they would like to grow next, answer tomatoes. It could be because there is no store bought comparison to a home grown one, picking it when the sun is shining so the fruit is warm. It could be that they look beautiful with their verdant leaves and vibrant colours or maybe the smell, especially the fruit and then the aroma of your hands after training them. The task of staking tomatoes can be akin to meditation. Whatever it is there is certainly something very romantic about this plant.

The Italians call tomatoes Pomodoro, meaning ‘golden apple’ because most tomato varieties were yellow, the rise of the red tomato is a relatively new thing. Its botanical name is Lycopersion meaning ‘wolf peach’, probably because it is closely related to the nightshade plant, which is what witches and the like used to try to summon werewolves. If this is one of their qualities it may require a slightly different pest management approach to what I would normally advise.

Traditionally on Hobart show day in southern Tasmanian, gardeners go into a frenzy of tomato planting. It’s Launceston show day for the North and I know that Melbourne Cup day is Victoria’s. While these are good general markers once you know your site you can start to plant accordingly. You may be able to start planting out a month before whatever the particular date is for your area or if you live in a hollow you may have to wait longer. At the end of the day the timing is all a bit of a punt. It is probably worth noting that a tomato plant whose growth has been checked by poor conditions early in the season will tend to do poorly later in the season so if you are uncertain about your particular site, I would advise holding off planting for a bit till the risk of frost has well and truly passed.

First of the season

I seem to have a handy knack of acquiring tomato seedlings rather than raising or buying them. They come from either family, neighbours, friends or even customers of nurseries I have worked in. They usually all share names like `That one that Jack always grew’, `The one that was like Jack’s but Yellow’ or `Richard’s Italian’ named so because a guy called Richard got them from an old Italian bloke years ago. This means that each crop can be a bit of a lucky dip but so far it has worked out well.

Because of this my crop gets planted in stages throughout the season, anytime from late August to early January, depending on the conditions. I have noticed that as a result of this our cropping period is extended.

An example of this knack of acquisition is when I was invited to attend the Royal Botanical Gardens tomato sale last spring to help answer questions and generally schmooze. Part of the deal for this service was a collection of fine looking tomato plants and a hop crown. I selected nine different varieties and got two plants of each.

Tomato varieties

Nejib Jaun

This tomato ticks all the boxes except for the one that really counts. Both the plants were extremely healthy and between them they produced basket loads of fruit, more than any other variety. The fruit looked and felt amazing, its golden skin was firm yet supple and it smelt like a real tomato should. The problem was that it lacked any real flavour. We tried to make sauce from it but found it did not keep well because of a high water content in the fruit so it boiled down to mush.

Nebraska wedding

This was my favourite of all the trial varieties for the season, a big, round, matt orange skinned fruit that is low acid and has an excellent flavour both cooked and fresh. Gave a very a decent amount of fruit and produced all the way through to late autumn. Certainly a good one to have to extend your cropping season.

Tomato Orlav’s Gold

Orlav’s gold

This variety had the typical chicken egg fruit form and the young fruit have a great plumbob shape to them. Great in a salad for colour, flavour and firmness.

Thai pink eggs

I was most excited about this one as it is supposedly Thailand’s favourite and I love Thai cooking. It is a warmer climate tomato so I thought it may have been a challenge considering the difference in climate between Bangkok and Hobart. Despite this, it grew very well and was covered in small dark pink fruit. The disappointment was that they tasted like a glass of tomato flavoured water.

Evergreen

This didn’t end up being evergreen – the plants must have been mislabelled which I suppose can happen when dealing with tens of thousands of them. The fruit of the unknown variety was quite good though, so kind of a win.

All the other varieties I grew last season were ones I had grown in the past and are fairly common like Green Zebra, Tommy Toe and Rouge de la Marmande.

Tomato String of Pearls

Strings of Pearls

I also planted a backup crop of ten Ky1s which are normally solid performers; they ripen early in the season, produce a large amount of fruit and are generally more disease resistant than other tomatoes. Not this year however! They contracted early blight and as a result produced a small amount of fruit very late in the season most of which was unusable. I know which plant it came in on and the most frustrating part is, it was a bought one. I did see quite a few cases of the blight around Tasmania last season and my guess would be a two week spell of uncharacteristically humid weather around mid spring caused it. It spread through my crop like a grass fire, possibly helped along by the fact that there was a high concentration of the Solanaceae family in close quarters. My potatoes were right next to the tomatoes because they were the only two beds ready for planting at the time and I was rushing to get them in.

If you are after extra plants and you don’t want to have to buy them or raise them from seed, try planting the laterals that you remove when training your plants. If planted quickly and kept moist they will take root easily, and in my area as long as they are in the ground before mid December they will bear well.

With the vegetable patch well under way it was time to turn my focus on some of other areas of the garden.

Next – Back To School

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Tino Carnevale

About Tino Carnevale

Born and bred in Tasmania, Tino's lifelong interest in plants and gardening stems from growing up on his family's small vineyard and olive grove. He studied landscape design at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and has an Associate Diploma in Horticulture. As well as being a presenter on Gardening Australia TV, Tino teaches gardening skills to both adults and children, is part of the The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program and patron of the Tasmanian Weed Society.

3 thoughts on “The pioneer crops – tomatoes

  1. I’m no vegie gardener but your descriptions of your tomatoes sound so appealing I might even give it a go. Or at least take those names along to a trivia night so when someone asks what are Orlav’s Gold, Thai pink eggs and Nebraska Wedding, I will know they are not Melbourne Cup winners or new wineries, but tomatoes!

  2. Sharon on said:

    Is fish emulsion better than fish hydrolysate to use as a fertiliser on vegetables? I saw your experiment on Gardening Australia – very impressive.
    I went out and bought fish hydrolysate. Was that a mistake? Should I have bought fish emulsion instead?

  3. les alcock on said:

    g’day tino, enjoyed your comments re tomatoes. never heard of some of them though ! where can i purchase some of those various types ? and when is sales of tomatoes held at the botanical gardens ? regards . les

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