Authors talk about tomatoes!

Actually we gossip online about all sorts of things, but around Halloween is traditionally outdoor tomato planting time in New Zealand, so here we go. This is our front porch in January. Some years it’s a fight to get inside.

Gracie O’Neil was discovered lurking amongst the greenery chewing when she came to visit. Kendra Delugar asked about growing them last year – and absolutely outdid us! She used half a wine barrel, and she lives further north so she was always going to get hers to ripen faster. Toni Kenyon and Shirley Wine are good keen gardeners, too. Now Kristina O’Grady is asking how we get such a crop, so in case you want to try, here’s what we do.

Start with a big container (or in our case, two of them.) Buy bags of good new potting mix and compost, and don’t expect last year’s will be so obliging if you try to re-use it. Philip buys half vegie mix and half Zoodoo – which is a Wellington compost speciality containing well-rotted and odour-free dung from the city zoo. Yup – there’s a little bit of lion and monkey and giraffe and meerkat in every Pearson tomato! Select your plants a few weeks early and keep them sheltered – repotting them into something a little bigger if they start to look silly. We’ve grown cherry tomatoes called Sweet 100 for several years now.

OK, get them into their permanent position. Big pot, good mix, stake and tie for support, and nip out most of the laterals – the little shoots that grow from where the main leaves join the stem. Each of those will make another tall stem if you let it. You don’t need a hundred tall stems – four or five is fine. I see we haven’t nipped ours out yet. Two in a pot here.

Water often if they’re in a hot position, and add some liquid fertiliser to the water when the fruit starts to show colour. Once they’re ripening full-tilt you’ll wonder what to do with all the extras. Straight into plastic bags in the freezer. They set hard like marbles and are great to throw into casseroles and sauces for months to come.

And when your plants are done? I take over the pots for something pretty through winter. These are primula obconica, but polyanthus or primroses do well too – and yes, we’ve painted the front door. In fact the obconicas were still doing so well that I’ve planted them out into shady pieces of the garden so the man could have his pots, wash them out, and start again with new mix. No rest for the wicked.