An Orange Cherry tomato plant, grown from seed sown on 12 August, and already flowering and busting to be planted out on October 26.
My patch of mostly Roma tomatoes, grown from seed sown on August 13 and planted out on October 29.
Have you planted your tomato plants yet? Labour Weekend/late October is the traditonal time for putting frost-sensitive veges into the open ground in New Zealand, but although I had my home-grown plants ready to go in on Labour Day I delayed planting until after the big southerly blow we had on October 25. Cold winds aren't as bad as frost for tomatoes, but they sure don't get them off to a good start.
Tomatoes are no longer considered exotic plants in New Zealand, so it is interesting to look at their remarkable back history, which starts with the wild ancestors on the west coast of South America, moves on to breeding up to the modern form in Mexico, and from there to the rest of the world from the sixteenth century onwards.
With tomatoes now available all year round in supermarkets, why bother growing your own? There are lots of reasons, but the three that make most sense to me are that the supermarket ones are flavourless (a result of being bred for colour and size, not flavour, and then picked too soon), they are covered in pesticides (especially the imported ones), and they are boring to look at, being all a uniform size and red.
Over the years I have grown green, yellow, pink, orange, purple and striped tomatoes, as well as red ones. I have grown tomatoes shaped like pears, cherries, ribbed pumpkins, and cylinders. Every year I try to grow one or two new varieties, to see if they do better for me than previous choices. I am easily seduced by names like Black from Tula, Brandywine Pink, Cherokee Purple, Riesentraube, San Marzano and Tigerella. This year I am trialling Scotland Yellow and Orange Cherry. I have by no means exhausted the huge variety of this wonderful plant, and every year I have to sit on my hands rather than order too many packets of seed, because I can't grow them all.
I grow most of my tomatoes in the open ground, but I have had a 'Sweet 100' and 'Kakanui Girl' in planter bags in the glasshouse since late August. They are flowering well already, and we will be eating fresh tomatoes from them in November. With any luck the cherry tomatoes in the open ground will be pickable in December, while the main crop will start in January and go through to March. Most of my open ground tomatoes are the Italian bottling and paste varieties Roma and San Marzano, as I like to bottle my own tomato puree with herbs for use in cooking the rest of the year.
Growing tomatoes is pretty easy. They dislike heavy, soggy soils and moisture on their foliage generally, so plant them in a well-drained, sunny spot and water their root area, not their leaves. Each one needs a tall stout stake or other form of support, and you need to keep tying up the plant and pinching out the laterals (those little leaves between a big leaf and the main steam, which will make another stalk if you let them) as often as needed. Seaweed-based fertilisers and any others rich in potassium are good once fruit starts to set, but tomatoes do not need heavy feeding.