As far as Sarah O’Neil is concerned, summer only means one thing...
If I was only allowed to use one word to describe summer, I would be spoilt for choice. I could choose: holiday, beach, swimming, Christmas, cicadas, hot, pohutukawa, sunscreen, jandals, BBQs, parties, sunsets, camping or even fishing.
But I am a gardener so while all these words evoke all that it wonderful about a season of basking in the heat of the sun, festivities and frivolities, and relaxing and unwinding; for me there is without any doubt one single word that encapsulates summer and that is: TOMATO.
There is something about the strange smell the plant gives off – the scent of anticipation. Soon there will be tomatoes ripening within the branches – that have been kissed by the warmth of the sun.
Then the moment arrives at the height of summer with the picking of that first tomato. It is such a magic moment. Weeks have been spent watching it turn from a yellow flower to a small green button, expanding day by day and then developing a rosy red glow. That first tomato shouldn’t be gobbled down greedily, it should be savoured. The flavour and the textures should dwell on the palate… this isn’t any old tomato – it is the first of the season – the first of summer. And you grew it and it is special.
This pleasure is something that can be enjoyed by anyone, whether you have an acre or a grassless courtyard. While they can be grown simply by digging a hole in the ground and popping it in, these days this isn’t an option open to everyone. But all is not lost – they make excellent container plants and they have even been known to grow by hanging upside down in a special planter designed for the task. Whatever your space there is a tomato for you.
That first tomato is only the beginning of the harvest, it is soon joined by a second and an third and then a red avalanche of more tomatoes that you feel you can keep up with. These ones can be gobbled up greedily one after another, letting the juice run down your arm as you reach for the recipe books looking for ways to use them up - relishes, sauces, salsas and even jams? This allows you to enjoy tomatoey goodness in the middle of winter. Or you could share the load and take some to work or to your neighbours and show off just a little: “Why yes – I grew them. Aren’t they great?”
There is heaps of time, so head on down to your nearest garden centre and pick up a tomato plant or two and maybe even a basil plant, because I can assure you that tomato, basil, mozzarella and splash of extra virgin olive oil is a deliciously simple salad made all the better for having the freshest tomatoes and basil that have been just picked and chopped and are still warm from the sun. Yum - I can’t wait!
Money Maker – A time honoured (1897) heavy cropper. Tasty and disease resistant.
Sweet 100 –long trusses bear up to 100 small sweet tomatoes, full of flavour.
Russian Red - reliable heavy cropper. Tall grower for a wide range of climates.
Roma – flavoursome low acid, pear shape tomato. Great for sauces.
Beefsteak – large juicy fruit. One slice fills a burger! Perfect for soups and sauces.
Grosse Lisse – medium to large fruit is full of flavour. A tall grower.
Golden Pear Drop – cute little yellow, pear shaped fruit, great for salads.
Dew Drop Cluster – Sweet small to medium sweet fruit. Pick singly or as a truss.
Early Girl – Heavy cropper with dark red fruit that matures early.
New this year, the ‘Tomaccio’ is not just another cherry tomato, although its high Brix (sugar) level means it’s delicious eaten fresh. As well as being sweeter, it has firmer flesh, so it’s excellent for drying. Simply place full trusses in the oven on a low heat to make sweet ‘raisin’ tomatoes. Ideal as a lunchbox treat, they can be soaked in oil to plump up into a juicy pre-dinner snack or frozen for later use. Prolific fruiting means loads of surplus fruit to preserve as sweet tomato ‘raisins’.
To grow beautiful tomatoes you will need…
If you don’t have enough space in the garden to grow tomatoes, try them in containers instead. For best resluts plant in large containers and water and feed often.
As your tomatoes grow they need training to get the best yields and reduce disease problems…
Tall varieties that produce fruit continuously over many weeks are best trained on stakes or wires to encourage manageable upright growth. Remove the little side shoots (called laterals) that appear between each leaf and the main stem. Do this every few days as the plant grows, lightly tying the new top growth to the stake with flexible ties (old nylon stockings cut in strips are ideal). Guard against disease entry by removing laterals only on a dry sunny day.
When the plant has reached the desired height or has a dozen or so good trusses of fruit, remove the growing tip at the top of the plant. This diverts energy back into the developing fruit. Although the plant needs its foliage to make energy for growing fruit, removing lower leaves helps promote air circulation.
Dwarf varieties yield one main crop all at once. They’ll produce more fruit without pruning, but foliage that becomes diseased or overcrowded should be removed. Protect the fruit from contact with the soil by planting through weed mat or mulching with straw. Alternatively, grow them in containers.
To spray or not to spray? The decision is yours. In warm humid conditions tomatoes invite a range of of diseases and your garden centre can help you choose a remedy. However, you can at least cut down on spraying by giving them the best soil, water and feeding for strong vigorous growth and by taking some preventative measures:
ripening truss of tomatoes