Feature

The trick to tomatoes

Green Lifestyle magazine

The taste of freshly picked, home-grown tomatoes is unbeatable. Kirsten Bradley from Milkwood Permaculture shared her top tips for getting a good crop this season.

tomato-story

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Like many wanna-be tomato ninjas, I started in my foray into stewarding a tomato plant from seed to harvest with random, somewhat feral tiny tomatoes - you know, the ones that germinate from your compost regardless of whether you cultivate them or not, and bear a harvest all by themselves, just to surprise you.

I then graduated to yellow pear tomatoes. Similar in hardiness to the feral tiny tomatoes, yellow pears grew everywhere from seed that I sprinkled into patches of compost in a no-dig garden bed, and produced a delicious harvest despite my rather tepid attentions.

Soon after this, I tasted my first Black Russian tomato, freshly picked and warm from the sun. This tomato was an inspiration. It tasted incredible. And that settled it - it was time to grow tomatoes, for real.

Since then, we’ve grown Romas (great for passata), Red Pears (amazing bulbous things) San Mazarno and cherry tomatoes, all with great success.

The thing to remember with tomato seedlings is that they need lots of nutrients and a warm place to get going, so are generally best started off in small pots - toilet rolls are a great idea.

We sow our tomato seeds in a mix of two parts compost, one part worm castings, half part coco peat and half part sand in small pots and seedling trays, and plant them out when they’re looking sturdy, with at least three sets of leaves.

When planting tomatoes out into the garden from their pots, we add lots of compost and some rock dust, and off they go! The best place I find to grow them is in the sunniest part of the garden with good airflow - either in no-dig garden beds or in big pots. The smaller varieties of tomatoes are very tolerant of experimental growing vessels, so if you’re going to get creative, give yellow pear tomatoes a try. If you’re growing climbers, be sure to stake them or provide a trellis for them to climb.

After learning the basics and keeping lots of nutrients up to the tomatoes as they grew (worm juice, comfrey tea, liquid seaweed), for the first time last summer we were awash in tomatoes of all kinds, and it was a beautiful thing. We ate them fresh, we dried them in slices and we made many, many jars of passata, which we were still eating in the depth of winter.

A simple art that results in many meals of delight and summer in a bottle for cold winter nights, is an art worth learning.

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Kirsten Bradley owns and runs Milkwood Permaculture with her partner Nick Ritar, inspiring and educataing through their workshops and internships. www.milkwoodpermaculture.com.au