Tomato – Know, Sow, Grow, Feast, 2018

This new book by Penny Woodward, Janice Sutton and Karen Sutherland makes a major contribution to providing tomato-lovers with all you need to know to choose the right varieties of this wonderful fruit, to grow them and to use them.

A request by Margot White of the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens to Penny to write a book about tomatoes for the 200th anniversary of the gardens was the initiator of this book. Margot and Friends of the gardens collected and grew tomatoes from all over the world with assistance of tomato groups and breeders. The resulting collaboration between her and the three knowledgeable authors has yielded a book replete with information and hundreds of beautiful photographs of all types of tomato, with a special emphasis on heirloom varieties – and the book covers 223 of them!  Photos also illustrate every section of the text from sowing, planting, the different varieties to pests and growing problems.  And the photos accompanying the many recipes will inspire you to try different ways of tempting your palate.

If you wish to choose heirloom tomatoes to grow, you could choose them on the basis of their benefits to health, their appearance, your local climate characteristics or what recipes they are best suited for. There are red, pink, yellow, orange, white, green, purple and brown, blue/black or striped, blushing or swirls.

For some, particular health benefits may dictate choice – the higher dietary intakes of the chemical that gives tomatoes their red colour, lycopene, is associated with reduced risk of prostate cancer and cardioivascular health. The yellow colour of yellow tomatoes is partly a result of their lutein content and is known to help slow development of cataracts and macular degeneration and may be important in maintaining cognitive function as we age. Lutein is also present in orange and green tomatoes as well as some other yellow or green vegetables.

And then you might choose varieties because they are particularly suitable for certain culinary uses.

The different heirloom varieties are all described in terms of their appearance, flavor, history and sellers of seed (some shown in the image on the right) . There is also a handy guide to varieties suited to particular climates, withstanding disease or to the growing space you have available.

The section on growing tomatoes covers soil preparation, sowing, transplanting, spacing, pruning, grafting and water and fertilizer needs. The authors have provided an extract for SGA from pages 19 – 21 on liquid feeds. Here Karen Sutherland lists a range of options – some of them might surprise you! Those suitable for vegans are shown as V:

“Liquid feeds provide an immediate benefit to your plants and are useful as an adjunct during rapid growth stages, or when flowers and fruits are forming, to more slowly released nutrients already in your soil. They also improve soil microbial activity, helping plants take up nutrients more successfully. It’s best practice to water soil before and after applying any fertiliser, including strong liquid feeds. If making homemade liquid feeds in a plastic rubbish bin or bucket, ensure your container has a close-fitting lid to avoid mosquitoes. As a general rule, all homemade liquid feeds should be diluted to the colour of weak tea before using.

Worm tea – Also called worm wee and worm leachate, this is made from the liquid that drains out of the bottom of worm farms and will reflect the quality and make-up of what is fed to the worms. Dark brown in colour when it first emerges, once diluted it is safe to use on plants and highly beneficial.

Compost tea – Mix compost, water and molasses, and then aerate with an aquarium bubbler for three days. Due to the bubbler, the container holding this mixture does not require a lid. Put the compost inside an old pillowcase to avoid blocking the bubbler. The aeration multiplies natural microorganisms in the compost, resulting in a liquid that supplies nutrients and also improves soil microbial activity. Use ½–1 part compost to 4 parts water and a teaspoon of molasses per 4L of tea. V

Liquid seaweed – Although not a complete fertiliser, as it’s low in nitrogen and phosphorous, liquid seaweed contains valuable trace elements (iodine and potassium) as well as growth stimulants. It’s a great tonic to encourage plant growth and thicken plant cell walls, giving plants greater resistance to the extremes of heat and cold now so common in our altered climate. Use every two weeks and at transplanting to help with transplant shock. V

Fish emulsion – Generally contains a NPK ration of 5-2-2. Can be applied fortnightly and mixed with seaweed solution. Check labels for appropriate rates, and apply when soil is moist so that nutrients are accessible to plants.

Homemade weed teas – These can be made from the weeds you clear from your own garden. Fill your container loosely with freshly pulled out weeds, and cover with water and a lid. After three days, most nutrients will have gone into the water and the weed tea can be used. Strain the liquid into a watering-can, and use diluted to fertilise tomatoes weekly. This allows the nutrients in the weeds to be retained on-site and used in the garden more quickly than if the weeds were added to compost. It also allows the nutrients in perennial weeds to be used rather than lost to green bins. Rotted weeds can be added to your compost after using the tea, although perennial weeds may need an additional soaking to ensure they are rotted and can’t regrow. V

Specific weed teas – Some weeds have particular qualities that are worth introducing to your garden. The best plants for weed tea are those that have a long taproot and can seek out nutrients from deep in the soil. In permaculture, these plants are known as ‘dynamic accumulators’, as they store nutrients mined from the subsoil in their leaves; these nutrients can be made available to other plants through decomposition. Plants considered to be dynamic accumulators are comfrey, dandelion, nettle and plantain. V

Homemade manure teas – This enables the use of manures that would otherwise be problematic due to the weed seeds they contain, such as horse manure. If the tea is well made, the nutrients from the manure are retained, the weed seeds rot and the residue can be added safely to your compost. Tie the manure inside an old pillowcase to make a giant manure tea bag, and steep it in your container of water. After around three days, remove the manure to your compost and use a watering-can to distribute the manure tea on your garden bed, avoiding leaves.

Molasses – It’s not used for feeding plants directly, but because it promotes good microbial activity in the soil. This helps plants take up nutrients so they become healthier, stronger and more resistant to pests and diseases. Mix 100ml of molasses with a small amount of hot water to dissolve it, then stir the mixture into 10L of water and sprinkle it liberally over the soil. Use it once or twice per season only. V

Milk – Use it undiluted on the soil before planting, or added to compost to improve microbial activity, or utilise it as a foliar feed in the ratio of 1 part milk to 5 parts water. Studies on using milk to feed the soil are relatively new, but they show that approximately 1ml/m2 milk applied to soil improves crop yields and that raw milk may be the most effective. Certainly any milk past its use-by date in your fridge is better on your garden than down the sink. Skim milk is as effective as whole milk, and cheese-making by-products such as whey are also beneficial.

Banana skin tea – Lina Siciliano has come up with a novel liquid feed. Knowing that banana skins contain a lot of potassium, she reasoned that they could be made into a fertiliser by soaking them in water. She puts 20 skins into an old orange or onion bag, places the bag into her 10L watering-can, fills it with water and covers the opening. After 10 days, she uses the liquid straight (as long as it’s the colour of weak tea) or diluted, either weekly or fortnightly. Lina finds that her tomato plants flower better and grow tastier fruits when she uses this feed. V”

The extensive “Feast” section will delight both gardeners and cooks. It covers storage and preparation methods, how the varieties differ in flavor and texture, preserving methods and recipes for fresh tomatoes. As well as recipes for tomato sauce, pickles and sun-dried tomatoes, there is an excitingly large range of dishes where tomatoes are included with fish or other ingredients.  The soups such as Creamy Roasted Tomato + Squash, Bush Tomato or Tomato and Cherry Gaspacho sound delectable.  And you can even read how to make Bloody Mary and Tomato + Basil icecream!