They’re finally here, they said. Bumper crop, they cried. What a great season, they promised. There’s been loads and loads of tomatoes around lately, a cool January and warm March saw to that and because it’s a late season, we’ll be seeing them at the markets for a few more weeks.
But the reality for many farmers is that it’s been too little too late. This tomato season has been hard for some, so grab the sweet toms while you still can, host a belated sauce day, get the sugo simmering on the stove, whack them in a tart, slide them in a sandwich and enjoy fresh tomatoes for a few more weeks.
Here, we chat to three farmers who sell at the Melbourne Farmers Markets who’ve had a erratic season with their tomatoes, but are still full of tips, ideas and favourites.
Was it a particularly big tomato crop this year? Or just all at once and a bit later so we’re still seeing them everywhere?
No, not for us…it has actually been our worst tomato season in 10 years. I don’t think anyone has had a great tomato season due to the generally miserable and cold spring, which is why everyone’s are so late and it seems like they’re all at once. As far as we know, all yields are down.
It didn’t stop raining up here in Glenlyon from last June through October. Spring was even more of a liability than usual (we are 700m above sea level…), mostly an extension of winter & summer night time temperatures didn’t reach reliable 10 deg+ averages until Feb really.
Tomatoes like all ‘nightshades’ or solanacaea plants (e.g. eggplants, capsicum, zucchini, potatoes) need consistent warm night time temps to grow, fruit, ripen and flourish…so, from usually having toms in full swing by February, we have only just picked cherry toms over the last couple of weeks, about 15kg of other heirloom & field tomatoes last week (with little more likely now) compared with over 2 tonne last summer.
No it has been a challenging season, tomatoes rely on heat units (cumulative days of certain temperatures) to grow, set and ripen fruit. So with the changeable weather this summer we have had split sets with some green and some red at the same time, we are also running very late, so we will have later season fruit than usual which is unusual.
For us the tomatoes have been trickier to grow than last year. We had to change plan and planted them in a different area of the farm to that which we had originally planned. Looking around it seems that, generally, tomatoes came on late this season, perhaps as the weather was so warm early in March and so cool in January.
How much longer do you think we’ll see tomatoes at the Farmers Markets ?
AOF: Perhaps a couple of weeks? Victoria is a diverse place, so it really depends where the farm is situated climate-wise, what weather events they get in coming days/weeks (e.g. frost, night temps?) and how big their plantings were to start with.
GF: We would usually be finishing up at the start of April but the way things are going we might be going until the end of April which I suppose shouldn’t surprise us as we sowed two weeks late due to the wet winter.
What types of tomatoes do you grow?
AO: Lots of heirlooms such as Green Zebra, Black & Purple Russians, Hillbilly, Rouge de Marmande, our own Glenlyon Golds & Oranges, Tigerella & others, including mixed colour cherry tomatoes, Thai Pink Eggs and Yellow Pear ‘tear drop’ tomatoes. Plus Grosse Lisse & Roma for red field tomatoes.
GF: Ours are a form of roma, great for sauce making and roasting but also delicious in salads and sandwiches.
DWF: We grow several heirloom kinds, from black cherries to orange flame. Several colours in the mix: green, red and yellow.
What types of tomatoes would you recommend to a first-time tomato grower?
AO: Cherry tomatoes are very forgiving & more resilient to weather variables, Tommy Toe are great for red cherries. For an heirloom, Rouge de Marmande are pretty reliable & wonderfully flavoured & versatile.
GF: Haha depends where you are situated but I reckon cherry tomatoes around the house as they’re a tasty little snack.
DWF: A first timer should try a cherry tomato; the roots are vigorous and they can do well against disease and produce a lot.
What’s your favourite type of tomato and how do you like to eat/cook/enjoy them?
AO: It’s hard to choose but for a few years now we have favoured Green Zebra & the Glenyon Golds for their unique savoury kind of flavour. We do cook with them but mostly we like salads of them with good quality olive oil, salt and pepper, and sometimes Kalamata or Ligurian olives!
GF: I like ours in sauce and toasted sandwiches 🙂
DWF: One of my favourite tomatoes is Palmwood, in my opinion the best for saucing.