Tomatoes! Gardening in the Summer holidays

To say that Australian gardeners look forward to the Summer gardening would be an understatement. We quite enjoy growing the Winter vegetables of brassicas and broad beans, but the fact is that Summer is where it’s at in the Southern Australian garden. Our Mediterranean climate means that if we are privileged enough to have some dirt, we can grow almost any Summer vegetable, from climbing beans, to corn, to chillies, potatoes, berries, zucchini, cucumbers, pumpkins, and eggplants. But the King of all of the Summer vegetables is the tomato.

Aussie gardeners have access to both Australian heirloom varieties and international breeds. There are some newer varieties of tomatoes we cannot access from America or Europe due to our strict quarantine laws, but for the most part we are fortunate to be able to plant hundreds of varieties and never have to plant the same tomato twice if we don’t want to.

This year I am trying some new varieties I have not grown before:

  • Rouge de Marmande (red ribbed beefsteak heirloom variety, pictured above foreground);
  • Red Truss (red round F1 hybrid variety, pictured above);
  • Pineapple (yellow ribbed beefsteak variety, not pictured);
  • San Marzano (red pear variety, not pictured);
  • Cherry Black Russian (black or purple cherry variety, not pictured).

The Pineapple and San Marzano I grew from seed, so they are taking longer to reach maturity. The Cherry Black Russian is in a pot and is struggling, I think because I have not had time to feed it as often as I should. The Red Truss is maturing the earliest, but the winner so far for yield is the Rouge de Marmande, proving once again that heirloom varieties can compete for yield and pest resistance with hybrids. The plants are weighed down with fruit and are so heavy that I have to use several stakes to hold up the vines. I estimate several kilograms of fruit per plant at least. Most are still green but each tomato is about the size of a flat tennis ball.

Unfortunately I forgot I had saved seed of Jaune Flamme last year! That was our best producing tomato last year. I will have to make sure I plant it next season.

To prepare the soil for tomatoes, I used homemade compost that has been generously inoculated with aged chicken and pigeon poo, and a mix of blood and bone and mushroom compost. I then add side dressings of compost during the growing season that is spread around the plants under the mulch (I use sugarcane mulch). We water regularly during the hot weather, but in mild weather only about twice a week. We water deeply each section of our garden for about twenty minutes.

Each plant is staked and tied up. I try to recycle my stakes and ties as much as possible. While some people suggest this could cause pests, I have not had any issues. To prevent passing on any soil borne pathogens to next year’s crop, after each growing season, I let my stakes lie out in the hot sunshine for several weeks. This is usually enough to kill any lingering bugs. Then I store them in my garden shed, which is also very hot in the late Summer and Spring weather. If anything nasty survives this seasoning treatment, then I say more power to it. I also try not to plant my tomatoes in the same section of the garden two years in a row. While most gardening experts suggest a three year cycle, they probably have more space than I do. Two years will have to do it.

Personally I believe that good soil preparation and organic gardening methods are the best pest prevention. A friend recently visited and noted the lack of weeds and pests in my garden (I do have a black scale infestation on my lime tree that I am currently battling with eco pest oil, as it is killing the tree). I believe that my garden is well balanced because I do not poison weeds or bugs: this welcomes beneficial insects to the garden that take care of any visiting pests, or at least keeps them in check. Ditto weeds: while I do hand weed, I don’t spend my life doing it. I pull some up as I walk around the garden, and let groundcovers and mulches keep the rest in check.

Occasionally a tomato or an apricot is munched on (we lost a few apricots to bird pecks) but if we refuse to share garden produce with the rosellas, we will cease to see them in the garden. Sometimes they sit on our balcony, looking gorgeous and flapping their wings. I’ll give up an apricot for that.

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