Growing tomatoes in Australia is easy and rewarding. As we continue to explore and try some of the less usual varieties, we’re discovering that they’re a lot more fun than we ever realized. We look at some tomato growing basics – and the varieties you’ll only get if you start growing at home.
Growing Tomatoes in Australia for Year-Round Use
One of the joys of tomato growing is the ease with which the seeds germinate. But tomatoes can’t abide frost, so for many of us, getting an early start means sowing in containers and then transplanting after the danger of frost has passed.
Those of us who live in frost-free areas, and those who sow after the danger of frost has passed, can choose whether we want to start our seeds right where they are to grow, or in containers.
Although tomatoes are typically a summer crop, those living in tropical areas or who have protected indoor spaces, can even grow a successful winter crop. If that doesn’t sound like you, it’s worth growing a summer surplus. Cook them up and freeze them for winter use – supermarket-bought winter tomatoes are almost always expensive.
Big or Small Plants?
It’s not just the size of the fruits that can range from the cute to the gigantic – your choice of tomato varieties will determine the growth habit and some of the care you need to provide. You’ll often hear of determinate versus indeterminate varieties, and lately, dwarf tomatoes are being rediscovered by home gardeners. What’s all that about?
Determinate tomato plants are also known as “bush tomatoes.” That’s in contrast to indeterminate or vining varieties that just seem to keep on growing. Dwarf varieties are determinate, but the plants are smaller and sturdier in their growth than their cousins.
In almost all instances, you still need to stake tomatoes. After all, even the dwarf varieties produce a weighty harvest of fruit, so little extra support is in order. However, vining varieties will need closer attention to staking and tying, and you may want to prune out side shoots to keep them controllable.
Determinate varieties are still pretty vigorous, so those of us with limited garden space, and those who would like to grow our tomatoes in pots, are likely to find the dwarf varieties more suitable.
Big or Small Fruits?
Most people will have noticed that there are cherry tomatoes, mid-sized tomatoes, and big ones. But there’s even more to this size classification than you may have realized. The ones you don’t often see in stores include the super-large Beefsteak tomatoes.
As their name indicates, they’re super-meaty and have a rich flavour. Smaller varieties have earned the beefsteak tag because of meatiness – so do check variety descriptions carefully if you’re looking for the giant ones.
Mid-sized tomatoes are family favourites. If you’re looking to munch down right in the garden, or are catering for a smaller family unit, it’s nice to pick, eat, and not end up with tomato halves taking up space in the refrigerator. Having said that, they’re harder work when you’re making sauces or cooking up tomatoes to freeze since you have to peel more tomatoes to fill the pot.
Cherry tomatoes have always been a favorite for summer salads. They come in a variety of shapes from the classic rounded cherry to oval. They’re also becoming more popular as cooked vegetables. Try cherry tomato halves as a pizza topping or pick whole clusters and put them on the barbeque or under the grill just like that. They’re a taste explosion!
Fabulous Tomato Colours Let You Follow the Rainbow
If there’s one predictable thing about store-bought tomatoes, it’s the colour. You get red, red, and maybe orange-red. If they’re green, they’re probably unripe and will turn red in time. But when you grow tomatoes at home, you can get ripe green tomatoes, golden tomatoes, sunset-orange or gold fruits, and even amazing bright reds, plum colours, and purples so dark they appear black.
Did you think we were kidding? Just check out Indigo Rose Tomatoes and imagine how awesome the sliced fruits with their red flesh and purple-black skins will look. And yes, they taste as good as they look too!
Then there are wonderful varieties with various patterns colouring the outside and even the flesh of the tomato – and one of our favourites: Lucid Gem Tomatoes. These jewels are sunset-yellow to orange, but if left to ripen properly, they develop the purple-black markings that speak of a high anthocyanin concentration. That means extra antioxidants, but when you bite into them, you’ll be thinking of the flavour first – in a word, magnificent! Slice them open, and you’ll find a red heart surrounded by sunrise colours.
Sweet to Savory, Juicy to Meaty
The proof of the tomato is in the eating, and we’ve often remarked on the intense flavour of freshly-picked produce when compared to supply-chain-weary fruits bought in store. But once again, your garden choices will influence the flavours and textures you’ll enjoy. While beefsteaks are meaty with less juice and a savoury flavour, varieties like Lucid Gem are better known for their sweetness.
Unfortunately, individual preferences, growing conditions, the time when they’re picked, and whether they’re allowed to ripen on or off the vine affect taste – so taste-test results tend to be mixed. For example, while some people are willing to rave about Indigo Rose tomatoes for their flavour and texture, others say that the taste is less exceptional than their appearance.
With taste being such an individual criterion, we recommend growing a range of varieties before settling on your favourites. One thing is sure: your tomato taste test will be a fun event. Involve the whole family and see which tomato varieties they prefer above all others.
How to Choose Tomato Varieties to Try
With so many tomato varieties to choose from, choosing the right ones to try may seem like a bit of a toss-up. We recommend that you consider them in terms of your growing conditions, and what you ultimately want to do with your harvest.
First up, consider space. If your garden space is limited, choose dwarf or determinate varieties. If it’s super-small, or you want to grow in pots, dwarfs are the way to go.
Now, Consider what you want to do. While tomatoes are incredibly versatile no matter what variety you choose, what you most like to do with tomatoes could influence your choices.
Those looking to make tomato sauces and pastes, and families with a fondness for sandwiches featuring tomatoes, will prefer the bigger, meatier varieties with fewer seed compartments. If you like eating fresh off the vine or love your tomato-based salads, juicier varieties and smaller fruits with colourful skin and flesh might be more up your alley.
Time to harvest is another consideration. Some varieties crop faster than others. In general, big fruits and those with purple to black colouring take a little longer. Since you’d like to get the most out of your tomato growing season, consider spreading your choices across early and mid to late bearing varieties.
Be sure to try something new. Even the most conservative gardeners are being won over by tomato varieties they’ve never tried before. Exploration is part of the joy of gardening, so if you thought purple tomatoes sounded weird, try them!
Seeds of Plenty Explores the World of Seeds for You
At Seeds of Plenty, we work hard to find the best vegetable varieties for Australian conditions. We’re especially fond of heirloom vegetable varieties, but we’re also open to new ones bred using traditional plant-breeding methods. That’s to say, we avoid controversial GMO crops and do our best to deliver seeds that will give you homegrown wholesomeness – plus a touch of something different to expand your veggie gardening palette. Browse our store and join the adventure!