Friday, November 26, 2010

Pot-luck tomatoes


I've been a terrible nursery person. I rant and rave about provenance, about knowing the what, how, who of everything, and now I've blown it. I have two trays of lovely, healthy, sturdy, heirloom tomato plants, without labels! Oh no, the shame and horror of it, I won't be able to raise my head among my nursery friends again.  I've raised these lovely babies, but can't, in good conscience, take a stab in the dark and sell them as one thing when they may well be another. If I had enough cultivated ground I'd plant them here, but 50+ tomato plants already in the ground is enough for me to stake, prune, talk to and harvest, not to mention all the other goodies that are waiting for their spot in the garden. So, if I bring them down to the market on Sunday will anyone be game enough to buy them (at a generous discount of course!) and see what becomes of them? C'mon, take a gamble, tasty tomatoes will come of it whatever happens, but will they be black, cream, pink red or stripey, large, small or plum tomatoes? Only one way to find out!

I also have some lovely labelled tomato plants for those who know what they want, they are looking great, and right now is a perfect time to get them in. The varieties I'll have are:

BLACK ZEBRA   Heirloom. Purple mahogany coloured fruit to 4cm across with green-orange vertical stripes. Dark, firm flesh, with rich, smoky sweet flavour.

BRANDYWINE American Amish heirloom. Large, pink skinned, flattened, globular fruit. Reputed to have the best flavour.

DEBARAO  Small, red, egg shaped fruit with smooth skin to 4cm across and excellent flavour.

LEICESTER JONES  Bred in Tassie 25 years ago. Large pink, ridged fruit. Excellent flavour, good for Tassie conditions.

SNOW WHITE   Ivory fruit ripening to a pale yellow/cream, low acid.

SOLDACKI   Polish heirloom dating prior to 1900. Large, dark pink, flattened fruit with thin skin to 500g. Flesh is firm, deliciously sweet & low in acid.
STUPICE  Czechoslavakian heirloom, cold tolerant, with abundant sweet 2-3inch red fruit. Hardy, delicious and productive. *Our most productive here so far, early and cold tolerant.

THAI PINK EGG  Originating from Thailand & is today the most widely produced tomato in Thailand. Small, pink coloured, 'cherry' type fruit; 3-5cm long, or size of bantam egg. Changes from milky white with slight pink colour when young to darker pink as it matures. Plant 60-90cm. Hardy, disease resistant & resistant to cracking.

Bush variety - GEORGE (I don't know its real name, but George deserves a plant named after him!)
Fat, scrumptious field type, from George the market gardener near Margate, seed scavenged from a sauce tomato. 

And then, tomatillos!!!

Tomatillo, green variety, still ripening in June last year!
Have you ever come across tomatillos? I had a vague notion that they existed, but until growing them last Summer I had no idea of how wonderful they were. They are related to tomatoes, but the fruit are wrapped in a papery husk, or calyx. The variety I grew last year were green when ripe, but I'm also growing a purple variety this year. And they are brilliant, a completely new food for me, that was delicious and moorish from first bite. I guarantee that once you've tried them you'll be wanting some every year. We used them to make a green, lightly spiced sauce that we poached chicken in, and finished with toasted pumpkin seeds (see the recipe here). Raw they make a great salsa and I know that's only the tip of the iceberg. Due to an incident with a brushcutter last season, we went from having four plants to one in seconds, but the survivor yielded at lest 5 kg of fruit! A few market customers have shared their great ideas on how to utilise this wonderful fruit, it seems to be a bit of a club, tomatillo eaters, and the rest of the human species. So come and join the clique. I'll have plants of both green and purple varieties at the market this Sunday, and fruit at the market for your kitchen, when the weather decides it's time.....maybe mid-January? And if we're really in luck the South American culantro will be the new discovery for me this year and we can make a truly authentic salsa, or at least a Tasmanian approximation of one.

Tomatillo seedling, I can't wait!

Pretty flower, pity about the slug damage.


While I was wandering the internet looking for interesting tomatillo facts I read this unintended ad for chemical free farming:
Plants of P. ixocarpa were grown in the greenhouse in 1986 with seeds from a single fruit. Seeds were germinated in petri plates with wet filter paper. The plantlets were transferred to 7.5 cm pots and placed in the greenhouse. When plants reached 4 or 5 leaves (4 weeks), they were transplanted to the field. The field was ploughed twice at 25-30 cm deep, fertilized with 50 kg/ha 15-15-15 (NPK) and covered with black plastic mulch before transplanting. Rows were 120 cm apart with 60 cm between plants. Tomatillo plants were transplanted to the field on June 6, June 25, July 15, and August 1. Insecticide was applied at 15 day intervals. The first harvest was made after 6 weeks and harvesting continued at 10 day intervals for a total of seven harvests during the plant cycle. The estimated yield was 13,450 kg/ha. There was variation between plants in size, leaf shape, fruit size and shape, and yield. Fruit damage by lepidopterous insects was severe, probably reducing the yield by 20 to 30%. No major diseases were observed.

Yuck, that's no way to grow food! Black plastic, fake fertiliser and  pesitcides. Nope, what they needed was diversity. The little critters below are hoverflies whose babies devour pests like aphids, and then grow up to be dainty, efficient, little pollinators. In this picture they are pollinating my rat tailed radishes, for which I am very grateful!


We germinated our seeds in composted pinebark mixed with sand, and grown in a re-used -plastic covered rabbit  hutch, before planting into a garden bed enriched with our compost, a lick of chook poo and mulching with mushroom compost. Our garden is a mix of different things, the bed the tomatillos were in also boasted some lovely Mexican marigolds for herbal teas, Winter and Summer savoury, tuberous chervil, wild rocket and rainbow chard. This diversity helps to prevent the type of infestation the plants in the trial seemed to suffer from. Pests can build up in phenomenal numbers when given a banquet of their favourite foods, with out the presence of other plants and animals that may keep the pests in check. And contact pesticides aren't that effective at killing animals that complete much of their lifecycle safely hidden inside fruit.  But they will kill beneficial creatures like our friends the hoverflies. And besides, who cares about a few caterpillars? (Unless it's half a one sticking out of your bitten salad sanger!) If all things are in balance on your plot you should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labour with minimal out breaks of pests and grub holes, and who would be without butterflies?

So come on down to the Tas Farm Gate this Sunday from 9 til 1 and see what's on offer! Broad beans and strawberries are on my shopping list.

This has nothing to do with food plants, but isn't it delightful! The Sky Lily Herpolirion novae-zelandie is usually found in high country where it forms dense mats covered in these amazing sky-coloured flowers every Spring. Here it is in a pot outside my back door where it makes me smile every morning!! See my friends at Plants of Tasmania Nursery if you fancy one for your place.

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