Gardening: Fall for the love apple

By Meg Liptrot

Campari is a vibrant gourmet variety with the most intense juicy and flavoursome fruit. Photo / Supplied
Campari is a vibrant gourmet variety with the most intense juicy and flavoursome fruit. Photo / Supplied

Get ready, folks. Tomatoes are traditionally planted around Labour Weekend (October 22-23). Planting around this time will ensure the soil is warm enough and the danger of frosts has passed.

Our neighbour , a keen fisherwoman and tomato enthusiast, tells me that five years ago she buried fish carcasses and bones from a catch in her small 1m x 3m vege plot. She assures me that this, plus a bag of store compost she buys each year, is the only food her tomato plants have ever received. She swears by the grafted tomato as they are more productive, even if you have to pay a little more, but has tried ungrafted tomatoes of the same varieties with good results, too. Her top picks are 'Moneymaker' and 'Beefsteak'.

On our side of the fence, we have even less vege garden space, so I'm enthused by the less well known heirloom varieties of tomato. My favourites so far are 'Black Krim', which is rich, meaty and very large. As the name suggests, it has quite dark pulp and a burgundy/red exterior. One slice of 'Black Krim' will conveniently cover an entire segment of pizza. 'Tigerella' is a curious variety I grew a couple of years back.

The tomato has green stripes when young, then green with orange stripes, and finally red with orange. A fun tomato to have in the garden, particularly for the kids, and it is a good quality medium-sized tomato, with juicy pulp. Another great variety is 'Sweet 100' - a very productive FI hybrid cherry tomato which will keep producing right through to autumn, if left to ramble. Cherry tomatoes are best unstaked in my opinion, as this gives the best chance for a copious and continuous supply of burst-in-your -mouth treats - ideal tossed into a leafy salad. No need for cutting these little beauties.

A productive and very easy crop to grow, tomatoes prefer full sun and rich loamy soil. They dislike shade and wet feet. Our neighbour's trick with burying fish bones under her tomatoes makes sense, as these plants have a high phosphate requirement, which is present in bone dust. Another way to increase phosphate in the garden is to grow a green crop of barley grass and dig this in one month prior to planting the tomatoes. Green barley increases the uptake of phosphorus in the crop grown immediately afterwards, according to organics guru, Peter Bennett.

The primary task when growing staked tomatoes is to methodically "de-lateral" the vine. This means you snap off the side shoots growing from the main vine. I also remove the leaves closest to the soil to encourage airflow, which is essential for avoiding fungal diseases in humid climates. If your soil is good and your plant vigorous, two main stems can be grown from the same plant for even more fruit.

Save some seeds
Tomato seed is easy to save. Just squash a ripe tomato, put the seedy pulp in a sieve and wash out the flesh and juice, then spread the seed on a paper towel to dry. Store in an airtight plastic envelope in a cool, dry place until next year. If you are saving tomato seed it is best to save from a non-hybrid tomato to get true-to-type seed.

History of the tomato
Originating from the arid west coast of South America, early tomato species still grow on the dry banks of rivers that flow west between the Peruvian Andes and the Pacific.

Nine species of wild tomato are found in Ecuador and Peru. A 10th species, Lycopersicon cheesmanii, is found on the Galapagos Islands. It has the unusual ability to utilise salt water; to germinate

Mexican Indians were the first to cultivate and improve the early tomato. Called the "Tomatl" by the Aztecs, they were introduced in the 16th century to the Old World most likely via Spanish ships on the silver route from the Gulf of Mexico to Seville, Spain.

Known as the "Love Apple", it was grown for many centuries for ornamental purposes, rather than for eating. US founding father Thomas Jefferson called them "Tomatas" and grew them in his Virginia garden for eating. And in 1820, in New Jersey, an eccentric tomato enthusiast, Robert Johnson, ate a basketful of tomatoes in public, attended by a large crowd who expected him to die. He survived, of course, and the tomato was quickly taken up by the masses.

See kingsseeds.co.nz for an impressive range of tomato seed, including heirloom varieties.

- NZ Herald

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