October is tomato season in our region. I know this because the local weekend gardening show on the ABC, listened to by all people in South Australia over 60 and me, ran its annual Spring tomato segment this weekend. People call in and text the varieties of tomato they are planning to grow this season, and other gardenerds take notes. While I wasn’t exactly taking notes about the tomatoes, I was texting my friend about scale and citrus gall wasp (we have the scale, she has the gall wasp), so we are officially gardenerds. If you hadn’t already figured that out…
This year I am planting eight varieties of tomatoes:
- Pineapple tomato (from seed)
- Moneymaker (from seed)
- San Marzano (from seed)
- Jaune Flamme (from seed)
- Black Cherry
- Tiny Tim
- Red Truss
- Rouge de Marmande
I am also planning to find a Rapunzel tomato to grow from the balcony outside my bedroom, from which I have successfully grown cherry tomatoes in previous Summers.
I have planted the Tiny Tim and Black Cherry in pots already. The Red Truss seedlings, an F1 Hybrid, went in the garden on Sunday afternoon with a shovelful of compost and a handful of blood and bone. The seed plantings are still in their infancy, only just having popped their little heads up out of the jiffy pots.
This was Spring harvest weekend, as we had to start making room for our potatoes. It’s at least a month late for potato planting, but we have had such a long growing season for our Winter vegetables. I still have heads forming on some of the broccoli plants, and I am unlikely to see cabbages at all this year – it is just too warm now. However, I have picked a quite astounding amount of broccoli – two kilograms on Sunday alone, so I can’t complain. I would have liked at least one Purple Cape cauliflower, but I guess the Romanesco broccoli will have to satisfy me. I gave some away to friends and my sister, and we made soup with the rest. There is still more out there, shooting delicious side shoots.
My husband discovered a cache of compost that I had forgotten I made. We have a worm tower that sits underground. Most of our worms live in our compost bin, but I recently tossed a whole heap of weeds and scraps in the worm tower, and chucked a couple of handsful from the compost bin on top. The worms from the compost bin got to work, and when my husband removed the lid he discovered that in six weeks the worms had created perfect compost.
He dug it out for me to use in the garden, and we topped up the worm tower with more weeds and scraps. He replaced the worms and hopefully in another six weeks we will have more compost. I dug the compost around the rhubarb plant, an apple tree, and into the soil of the newly planted tomatoes.
Can I take a moment to say how much I love compost? Kitchen scraps thrown in the bin do not rot the way they do in compost; because landfill is anaerobic and the scraps are usually in plastic bags, they turn into sludge and produce methane, a greenhouse gas. At the very least, these scraps should go in the green bin where the council should dispose of them in the proper way. However, green bin pickup in our area is only monthly, and a month’s worth of kitchen scraps in a green bin will be pretty ripe. By contrast, our compost bin doesn’t smell bad, and eventually ends up back in the garden where it will feed the soil and by extension, us.
Planting potatoes is something gardeners do purely for kicks. Potatoes are cheap and easy to come by, so it’s not like we can’t go to Woollies and buy a bag of spuds easily enough. I just like growing them – but I am also well aware that I am lucky enough to have the space to devote to growing them. And by choosing to grow potatoes, I am giving up the opportunity to grow something else.
Potato growing: a lesson in opportunity cost.
I am also well aware that I am lucky enough to have a partner in crime bonkers enough to spend his Sunday afternoon digging trenches to plant them. The trenches in the photo above don’t look that deep, but they are quite deep and took a long time to dig. In the end he had to dig five trenches to plant two kilograms of certified seed potatoes.
We are growing Red Otway potatoes. Last year we grew Red Otway and King Edward, and we preferred the Red Otway. They grew slightly smaller in size than the King Edward, but were more prolific. They were also a good all rounder for our purposes. And they were delicious.
Dig the trenches as deeply as possible, and plant the tubers at the base of the trench, about 10-15 cm apart. Use certified disease-free seed potatoes, unless you want to take the risk of spreading a fungal disease to your soil. We bought ours from Bunnings.
We ‘chit’ our potatoes before planting. Potatoes usually have several ‘eyes’ from which the sprouts grow. ‘Chitting’ the potatoes simply means cutting the potatoes into several pieces, each one with an eye/sprout. Let them dry out for a couple of days, then plant each piece. This way you end up with more potato plants from one bag of seed potatoes.
Cover with soil – but not all the soil you have dug up to create the trenches. Just cover the potatoes and then wait for them to sprout above the soil. Then hill up with soil and let them grow above the hill. Keep hilling them up as they grow. Eventually you will run out of soil and you will have to use straw. Keep doing that until you decide the cost of the straw is not worth it – when your potatoes are roughly the price of a barrel of oil per kilogram, stop.
When the potato vines flower (a pretty blue flower), let the potato vines die down, and bandicoot one plant. This means to dig down the side of one of the plants to check the size of your potatoes. If they look good to go, start digging!