2 October 2019

Notes from the Kitchen Garden: when to plant tomatoes

| Joyce Wilkie
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Homegrown tomatoes.

Juicy, ripe homegrown tomatoes are a luscious summer treat. Photo: Joyce Wilkie.

The great tomato sprint is about to begin! These summer superstars are the hallmark of backyard vegetable growing.

Sun-ripened, thin-skinned, juicy fruits with just the right balance of sweet, salty and sour will never be found in greengrocer shops, much less supermarkets. They’re rare and only available for a short time at farmers markets. So we just have to grow them ourselves. The question is, when is the best time to plant?

Tomatoes are a South American perennial (a plant that lives for more than two years) but they die if they freeze. In the ACT and south-eastern NSW, we can expect light frosts into November and a final killing frost by Anzac Day. Five tomato-growing months are never enough!

If, like me, you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse then the tomato growing season can be extended but for most people, the rule of thumb is to get your tomato plants into the ground on Melbourne Cup Day. That means sowing seeds now or buying tomato seedlings later this month.

I know seedlings are already available in shops and you will be tempted, but if you buy them please keep an eye on the overnight forecast and make sure they are tucked in at night and don’t freeze.

An early start can give early picking but to truly extend your season carefully feed and tend your plants all summer. If your plants do freeze, dig them out and replant.

Two great things about growing tomatoes from seed are the overwhelming choice offered by seed companies and the speed of germination.

Placed in a warm spot like a north-facing window sill or on top of your water heater, tomatoes should be up in less than 10 days. As soon as the little loops push out of the potting mix move them to a sunny position. In no time they will have doubled in size and at 6 or 7 leaves they can be transplanted into the garden or a large outdoor pot.

Tomatoes love warm, rich, well-fertilised soil, consistent watering and mulch. Place a banana peel into the planting hole for added potassium and always plant tomatoes deep, burying most of their stem. Stand back and watch them race for the sky.

Don’t want to grow from seed? Over 20 great varieties of tomato seedlings will be available at the Merici College Plant sale on Saturday, 19 October from 8:00 am until sold out.

What I’m Picking:

  • Asparagus
  • Baby green garlic
  • Broadbeans
  • Chinese greens
  • English spinach
  • Parsley
  • Peas
  • Rhubarb
  • Salad greens
  • Silverbeet
  • Spring onions

Seeds I’m Planting:

  • Basil
  • Beetroot
  • Celeriac
  • Celery
  • Coriander
  • English Spinach
  • Endive
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce–Cos, Salad Bowl
  • Mesclun Salad Mix
  • Parsley
  • Potatoes
  • Radish
  • Rocket
  • Silverbeet
  • Spring Onions
  • Tomatoes

Joyce Wilkie has farmed vegetables and free-range poultry at Allsun Farm, Gundaroo for decades. Educating people about where their food comes from and teaching them how to grow it is her abiding passion.

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I planted 4 plants in a raised exposed bed today and will most likely be planting two different varieties every weekend until Melbourne Cup day. I expect I will be harvesting until early June (last year got to 29 June). Yes, the climate has changed that much around here.

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