Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dealing with Tomatoes

At this time of year I am picking 15 to 20 litres of tomatoes  a week - that is up to two 10l ice cream containers full. It is probably the main crop in our vegie garden along with the amazingly prolific zucchinis. We turn this glut of red into pasta sauce - a versatile concoction that can be used a myriad of different ways. So far this season we have put aside about 75 jars with the aim being for about a hundred - 2 a week for the next year.

In the garden the tomato vines are trained up pieces of bailer twine. Once the plant is big enough a simple knot is tied around the stem and the twine is stretched up to the roof of the caged garden. The chook wire roof is about 2 metres tall so a simple slip knot through the wire holds it tight but also allows for release if the knot is pulled.

As the plant grows I snip or pinch out all the side shoots and wind the growing tip around the twine. If the plant gets to the top of the twine and tries to head out through the top I cut it down as I can't access the fruit and the aim is to encourage the plant to put its maximum effort into making fruit.

Of the 17 garden beds there are four that are dedicated to tomato plants. Unwisely two of these beds held tomatoes last year and so by last week some of the leaves were wilting and the plants looking past their prime. I applied some organic liquid fertilizer to all the plants - 40ml of concentrate to 9l of water and then applied to the roots with a watering can. This has really helped the plants to start to look healthier and produce more green shoots and flowers.

The varieties that grow best are ones that are small enough to ripen before any insect attack - we are slowly having a problem with fruit fly due to milder conditions and absentee landowners with caged gardens not picked. Tigerella is a wonderful variety - about 75g a fruit with beautiful yellow stripes, San Marzano and Amish Paste are a similar size and hence ideal for picking in large quantities for the pot.  Grosse Lisse fruits grow to about 250g but due to their smooth skin are less prone to attack or rot than the Costoluto Genovese or Granny's Throwing Tomato. For drying Principe Borghese is probably the best with lots of small fruit that can be halved and dried in the sun -  though we never seem to get round to this and those tomatoes we have dried don't seem too popular with most of the family.
My favourite this year is Speckled Roman. It ripens with a much yellower colour but with fascinating stripes. The flavour is excellent and it grows in sufficient quantities to make it a useful plant in a small garden.

A Ripe Speckled Roman Tomato

I've watched plenty of shows where an elderly Italian immigrant is grows infeasible amounts of tomatoes in a small suburban backyard. There is some comment about how the guy is always to be found in summer tending to his plants. I can relate to the pleasure looking after tomatoes can bring - so no matter what tasks fall by the wayside I look forward to being in the vegie patch for many many more years - tying up, pinching out and weeding.

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