blogger Russell Kelly
My dad used to say October was when there was a lot of growth in the
soil. It's funny how you find strength in single sentences like this, years afterwards.
I've learned gardening myself from books and TV. I spent a year
observing things grow and writing down what I saw. Food takes longer to grow
than you think, and it's easily lost.
Now is the time you have to plant what you want to eat for Christmas.
I have just sown oregano, chives, dill, potatoes, carrot, pumpkin and
By December we may also get early tomatoes because we’ve planted the
seeds in the greenhouse. If you have children, plant seeds with them, or with
someone you love. It's important.
Tomatoes and Hobart are strangers and they’ve taken a while to trust
each other. The tomato has travelled a long way to get here, like many of us they've been transplanted in alien soil.
Growing up in the northern suburbs my classmate Peter's dad was a
tremendous tomato grower. He still grows
them I presume, long rows in his suburban back yard, cool green aisles in the
summer. Peter hasn't been back here for twenty years and they don't talk.
In growing tomatoes, my own father followed the advice in ‘Gardening in
Tasmania’ by T.D Raphael. I have his copy still. 'Tomatoes', it advises, 'are
one of the more rewarding crops for Tasmania’s climate, although at times, can
be a challenge for the amateur to cultivate’. I'm glad we don't think that way anymore.
My foster father Ernie had his own methods. He was a terrific gardener and
would plant mostly big cropping, certain varieties, no
fuss and mucking around. Reliable. My foster mum Doreen made the most delicious
relish and chutney – the secret ingredient was Ezi Sauce. Now I know there is a
great variety in the making of such things, and not least because #sweetbaby is
such a terrific cook.
This year we went to the Royal Botanical Gardens tomato sale. Held in
September, it is an institution if you’re new to Hobart. They sell heritage
varieties, old hard-working or nearly-lost cultivars that are difficult to get.
This year we got 11 kinds – $5 a plant. Some have come a long way to get here, some
have been saved from extinction.
This year we chose cultivars with distant names like Cherokee Red, Hungarian
Heart, Arkansas Traveller. Varieties from a different climate, transplanted
into Tasmanian soil, here to live and to belong.
A lot of the first fruit grown was at the Botanical Gardens – despite
the cold. Governor Arthur had convicts
build a wall that could be heated by fire from within to provide a heat sink
and ward off the frosts that kill young plants right up till mid October.
That’s why the number- one rule with growing tomatoes here is: Don’t
Plant Them Before Hobart Show Day. That's today.
From today frost is less likely and the warming sunshine can work its
Five things you need to
successfully grow tomatoes in Hobart:
The seed: there are so many varieties, why not experiment like a real amateur:
regular and potato-leaf, beefsteak, oxheart, tom thumbs, bush and vine; red,
pink, yellow and purple – and striped.
Dad used to dry out the variety that fruited best, flicking the seeds
with his nicotine fingers into a brown
paper bag for the next year. Some made it, some got lost on the concrete.
The soil: As the soil warms up, dig in lots of rotted manure, river sand,
charcoal, fish emulsion and seaweed emulsion. In this, it is Peter Cundall’s
advice from TV I have taken. Like a friend,
the soil is a patient and dependable force.
The water: In Hobart we are fortunate to have such pure, clear and life-full
water, straight from the wilderness and virtually free. It is a gift to be able
to use it.
The stake: Don't skimp on a good stake. A tomato
plant can get too tall and flimsy to hold the weight of its bounty. By the time it's fully grown it’s not
possible to know which is more important – the plant in all its achievement, or
the stake it relied upon. When the time comes to take out the stake,
the plant collapses instantly.
Tending: Make sure you feed the tomato every two weeks – but not too much or
you’ll promote leaf growth but not fruit growth. Water every couple of days but
not too much, or they’ll get blossom end rot. Keep them hungry for experience
and thirsty for life. They say pinch out the lateral branches between the main
branch and the stem, but I don’t really know why you do this, it seems a waste
The harvest: If you’re lucky by Christmas you may have an early tomato. By end of
January you’ll be harvesting bucket-loads. Pick them green and ripen them
indoors or let them ripen on the vine.
The plants are living larders, trusses of deep vermillion fruit, sun
warmed and full of juice and pulp and seed. The plants give back to you.
One last thing: remember who you planted the seeds with and don't eat
the fruit alone. If that's not possible, give away some of what you grow with
pleasure and good grace and best wishes.
Tomatoes are simple and their lessons are simple too.
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