Notes from the Kitchen Garden: when to plant tomatoes

Joyce Wilkie 2 October 2019 21
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.

What's Your Opinion?

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21 Responses to Notes from the Kitchen Garden: when to plant tomatoes
Vanessa Johnston Vanessa Johnston 5:19 pm 08 Oct 19

One for you Tom Gray

Nik Beauman Nik Beauman 11:31 pm 07 Oct 19

Alan Howe Gary Knox planted a few 2 weeks ago 😎🍅

    Alan Howe Alan Howe 5:57 am 08 Oct 19

    Nik Beauman I’m still holding off.

    Gary Knox Gary Knox 6:37 am 08 Oct 19

    Nik Beauman planted yesterday. A few 1 degree mornings this week. Living on the edge is so exciting.

    Nik Beauman Nik Beauman 7:36 am 08 Oct 19

    Gary Knox I’m impressed! Yep, had to cover mine twice but they made it & will again this week to be sure 🍅 your reward will be early fruit 😊

    Nik Beauman Nik Beauman 7:37 am 08 Oct 19

    Alan Howe oh 🙃 I thought your little coves last year worked a treat?

    Alan Howe Alan Howe 7:47 am 08 Oct 19

    To be honest I just haven't got organised! Last year the plants started well but the high temps and no rain just killed them. Damn it! Today is planting day!

    Gary Knox Gary Knox 6:56 am 09 Oct 19

    Nik Beauman oh oh! Frost in Jerra. My $20 invest could be ruined.

    Alan Howe Alan Howe 7:30 am 09 Oct 19

    Held off till after yesterday’s hailstorm and this morning frost. Later today they get planted.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 8:16 am 09 Oct 19

    Alan Howe Fortunately my tomatoes are protected by 3 litre milk containers.

    Nik Beauman Nik Beauman 8:27 am 09 Oct 19

    Gary Knox you need to dress your tomatoes 😎

    Gary Knox Gary Knox 10:04 am 09 Oct 19

    I might have over reacted. No frost on ground. Only on colourbond roof next door.

    Alan Howe Alan Howe 10:58 am 09 Oct 19

    Half a dozen tomatoes, zucchini, chilli and sage.

Jill Howell Jill Howell 6:10 pm 07 Oct 19

In Canberra it used to be said that you can’t plant tomatoes until you can sit on the ground with a bare bottom and not feel cold.

Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 10:48 pm 06 Oct 19

I planted my tomatoes a week ago. Some years I plant earlier. I have never lost the tomatoes yet, in 20 to 30 years. I usually plant in September. I've always ignored the Melbourne Cup day advice, as it's so late. Cover the tomatoes. I have also eaten my first tomato for this season, but that was from a plant I had growing inside the house. It's covered in green tomatoes.

bigred bigred 10:04 pm 06 Oct 19

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.

Scott Harvey Scott Harvey 12:31 pm 06 Oct 19

Melbourne cup day is the rule of the thumb

    Janet Ilchef Janet Ilchef 4:49 pm 06 Oct 19


    Nate Mooré Nate Mooré 7:00 pm 06 Oct 19

    Scott Harvey I got that advice when I moved here in September, three years ago. We had a frost on Cup day.

    Scott Harvey Scott Harvey 7:01 pm 06 Oct 19

    Nathan Cooper yeah, I've had it happen after then many years ago. Garden shops made a killing because so many people lost their plants.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 12:16 am 08 Oct 19

    Melbourne cup day is too late. I have been planting my tomatoes in September for years. I have never had a problem. Just a matter of covering them.

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