It’s hard to believe tomatoes were originally yellow. They were marble-sized and grown by tribes in the Andes Mountains.
They became bigger with the Aztecs and eventually ended up in Spain, courtesy of the Conquistadors. Here, the penchant for red tomatoes grew and soon spread throughout France, Italy, North America and Australia. Today, there are thousands of varieties with dozens of shapes, sizes, colours and enticing flavours. Sadly though, how they’re commercially grown and harvested has seen their wonderful flavours disappear.
Tomato breeding history has led to the increased production of new and improved varieties, which are better in taste, texture, disease resistance and productivity. Working at Andersons Seeds Ltd, I attempted to create many in our selection trials, using the ancient breeding method of cross-breeding or hybridising. No hocus pocus magic – just honest science in the quest for quality.
Interestingly, tomato breeding goals have evolved over the years:
1960–70s – yield was most important
1980s – shelf life was the priority
1990s – everyone cared about taste
Present day – the focus is on nutritional quality
Tomatoes are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, including lycopene – a nutrient that increases 500-fold as the fruit ripens and increases even more when tomatoes are cooked.
Grow from seeds or seedlings, although there is greater varietal choice with seeds. Search catalogues and seed racks early for unusual and rare tomatoes.
Get a head start on your summer crop by sowing seeds in late winter. Sow seeds in a tray filled with seed raising mix and place on a warm windowsill inside. Once the chance of last frost has passed, plant in the garden.
Select a sunny spot with well-drained soil and away from tree roots. Improve the soil by applying a dusting of garden lime and a complete organic-based fertiliser, low in nitrogen (7-11), high in phosphorus (2-4), high in potassium (7-11), and trace elements.
To encourage deeper, stronger root growth, plant seedlings deeper than normal. Next to the seedlings, insert a 50cm long, 7cm diameter poly pipe with several 1cm holes drilled along the sides. This allows for a deeper watering and helps avoid surface water splash, which can lead to fungal problems. After planting, water in well and mulch around seedlings with sugarcane, pea straw or lucerne.
For tall-growing varieties, insert a garden stake or similar for support as they grow. Bush types are best kept off the ground with mulch or short stakes.
Most gardeners don’t feed sufficiently to unlock the inherited potential in each variety. To feed well, apply fertiliser at fruit set and repeat every month. Try organic-based fertilisers like eco-aminogro, Harvest or Charlie Carp. A fortnightly dose of seaweed will also help boost plant health.
For the best flavour, harvest fruit when vine ripe and fully coloured.
Low acidity: Yellow Pear, Honey Bee, Pineapple, Yellow Currant or Yellow Grosse Lisse.
Big fruit: Grosse Lisse, Rouge de Marmande, Beefsteak, Black Krim, Hillbilly, Oxheart, and Brandywine.
Medium fruit: Apollo Improved, Roma, Green Zebra, Black Russian, Truss Plum, and San Manzano.
Small fruit: Sweetie, Tiny Tim, Tommy Toe, Sweet Bite, Sweet 100, and One Million. For hanging baskets, choose Tumbling Tom.
Pests and diseases
Aphids, whiteflies and mites can be controlled by spraying with Natrasoap or eco-oil. Planting basil can also help deter whiteflies. If you spot any tomato grubs, treat with Yates Success Ultra. For fruit fly control, sprays and lures work, but must be repeated to be effective, especially after rain. Netting and exclusion bags are also effective against fruit fly.
Blossom end rot, the blackening of the base of the fruit, is not a disease, but a physiological disorder caused by the lack of calcium in the soil. Applying lime to the soil at planting time and regular watering throughout the season will help prevent it from occurring.