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Bring on Tomato season (and what we’re doing differently this year)

December 4, 2012 | Gardening, Vegetable Gardening | 14 comments | Author:

milkwood tomatoes 08

So we’re into year 2 of community-scale tomato production. Last year the tomato yield was respectable, hailstorms and fruit fly notwithstanding.

This year, we’re trying to hone our technique a little in terms of infrastructure, as well as planning to preserve the harvest while preserving our sanity. milkwood tomatoes 01

This is the first year we’ve raised all our tomatoes from seed, which has been an adventure in itself. Last year, as part of the build up to our first Starting an Organic Market Garden course with Joyce and Mike from Allsun Farm, we bought tomato seedlings from them, which had been lovingly raised in the Allsun Greenhouses.

This year, it was time for our tomatoes to be Milkwood born and bred. However, at this stage, we don’t have a greenhouse to get the seedlings up and happening while there’s still regular frosts.

Believe, me, a decent polyhouse would go a long way on this farm right now. And it’s top of the wishlist for the market garden (well, equal first with the market garden shed). But dollars are dollars and we have to wait till enough of them are available. So. It’s home-made cold frames for us till then.

milkwood tomatoes 02

The tomatoes in cold frames actually went ok, thanks to Michael and Zag’s careful stewardship.

Tomatoes hardening off at the side of the market garden
Tomatoes hardening off at the side of the market garden

After that phase they were hardened off down the side of the market garden, and then, finally in November once the frosts were definitely done, it was time to plant.

The future tomato patch (up the top, where the field peas are)
The future tomato patch (up the top, where the field peas are) – mid October
Climbing tomatoes with trellis
Climbing tomatoes in, with trellis
Jeremy and Damien planting the romas
Jeremy and Damien planting the Romas

milkwood tomatoes 07

milkwood tomatoes 09
Verily yea is the tomato growing season at Milkwood started…

Just as it happened, the week the tomatoes went in I took off to Joyce of Allsun Farm‘s 60th, after which I went to check out Old Mill Road farm in Moruya. Both these folks are growing tomatoes in greenhouses, with great success. – Allsun in a  similar climate to ours, Old Mill Road in a darstardly costal, humid and well watered climate.

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves….

Allsun tomato greenhouse - 18th October
Allsun Farm, 17th October
Old Mill Road greenhouse, 18th October
Old Mill Road Farm, 18th October
Milkwood Farm, 25th October
Milkwood Farm, 25th October

Our tomatoes were started (as in germinated) later in the season than both the other farms above, because we knew we couldn’t plant them out until the frosts had passed. A great illustration of how much a polytunnel can extend the season on crops like tomatoes.

But looking at the upside of what we do, rather than don’t have to work with this season, our tomatoes will come on soon enough. Especially with this crazy hotter than hot weather we’re having. Fingers crossed for ripe cherry tomatoes for Christmas Day…

Michael planted our tomatoes this year in the market garden extension area , after a round of field peas. This is the part of the market garden that gets the most sun. Go, tomatoes, go!

On the harvesting and processing end, we think we might be moving on from mass passata land. Having worked our way through the winter and spring stores of passata, sugo and diced tomatoes, Rose and I have come to a decision. Diced tomatoes are just fine with us.

Last Summer and Autumn was a pretty intense time for preserving at Milkwood. Rose did an incredible job preserving the harvest on top of cooking for courses (with up to 40+ folks on farm for two weeks) but this year we are looking to make things less crazy, and simpler preserving processes are key to that.

The beauty of diced tomatoes is that they are just what they sound like – chop em up and plunk em in the jar. No machines, no boiling large vats of tomato sauce on a hot summer’s day to reduce, no splattered kitchen tomato murder scenes.

Of course you still have to go through the preserving (canning) stage, but that’s inevitable. And diced tomatoes look nice on the shelf, something that’s important in the dead of winter when not much grows, the wind howls and you’re looking at your preserves, trying to devise yet another variation on tomato-based whatever.

After Rose’s experiments last year, I can report that dicing and preserving tomatoes with skin and seeds didn’t have any adverse effect on the flavor. And since these are beyond organic tomatoes we’re talking here, I’d rather have the whole fruit’s goodness in the jar.
Passata. Great, but a multi-stage process, with only one person in the center of it (ie can’t be done by a troupe)
milkwood tomatoes 14
Last year’s diced tomatoes on the make
Viva la Vacola
Viva la Vacola

milkwood tomatoes again2

Looking forward to getting to this stage, hopefully this year without the hail damage. Yay tomatoes!
Looking forward to getting to this stage, hopefully this year without the hail damage. Yay tomatoes!

>> More posts about growing great vegetables

We run courses in Organic Market Gardening skills at the beginner and masterclass levels, as well as Serious Backyard Veggies for backyard producers who want to grow bucketloads.

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  • bleneraida December 4, 2012 at 7:31 am | Reply

    Reblogged this on Camille Delcour.

  • Healthy Harvest Kitchen Gardens December 4, 2012 at 9:20 am | Reply


    Yes it sucks not having a green house. I have had one for the last 2 years and don’t this year. It makes life much harder.
    I heard a tip a few years back about getting a poly tunnel.
    Drive around older farming areas in Sydney and you will see numerous old poly tunnels with no covers. All the old Italian and Greek market gardeners that have retired just leave them in their gardens. Just knock on the door and offer to buy the frames. All you need to do then is replace the plastic. You may want to take some kind of translation aid.
    Also what’s that tomato sqisher in the photo called and where would I get one from?

    1. milkwoodkirsten December 4, 2012 at 10:13 am | Reply

      Yes we’ve thought about doing that A LOT. Hmm. Might be time. The tomato squisher was purchased after much research from Bake and Brew – see this post for details, and also in the comments of the post for cool leads on hand cranked ones

  • Geoff Capper December 4, 2012 at 11:29 am | Reply

    Hi guys,

    Can you tell us what you’ve done about fruit fly in the past, and what you’re planning this year?


    1. milkwoodkirsten December 4, 2012 at 11:40 am | Reply

      Last year was the first year EVER we’ve had fruit fly at the farm, so we’re still learning too.

      we’ll be putting out pheromone strips this season to assess fruit fly load, then decide on action based on that. Allsun Farm recommends piss traps, which work better for them apparently than commercial traps:

  • Penny December 4, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Reply

    Hi, looking great. A question – “what tubing/black stuff have you used on the mesh ends? I’ve used corks in one situation and hose around corrugated tank edges. Thanks Penny

    1. milkwoodkirsten December 4, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Reply

      Penny it’s off cuts of irrigation tape:)

  • Jim December 4, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Reply

    I use fruit fly netting for protection against fruit fly and birds.
    See my garden here
    It is available from NetPro at Stanthorpe.
    It is great not to be chewing through half a grub!!

  • Kate December 4, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Reply

    I’m going to ferment my tomatoes this year! Apparently its a lovely (and enriched) tomato sauce and can be strained to tomato paste. Mmmm.

  • Joanne Gamage December 4, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Reply

    Yes, we have always preserved tomatoes with skin and seeds, much easier, more flavoursome, better as pizza toppings, more caramelisation, have never worked out the need for removing. plus much goodness in the skin/seeds lost when sieved out. Love your blog JoG

  • Joakim Odlander December 4, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Reply

    I’m trying a few new types this year, second year at this and planted out about 30 small plants I’d raised from seed in blocks. Next morning half were snipped off at the ground so I took some single use plastic cups from work and cut off the ends and used them as a collar and it seems to have done the trick.

  • mastic December 6, 2012 at 7:54 am | Reply

    I guess we can use some organic insecticide to keep away flies.

  • Sean Williams December 6, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Reply

    Wow you have come a long way from where you have started and you have really accomplished it. Recently I have started indoor growing even I have planted tomatoes and getting results very soon, hopefully. :)…But had some problems with soil pH initially but this video helped me out. If anybody having some issues with pH check it out.

  • David Trees May 4, 2013 at 7:37 pm | Reply

    I noticed that Allsun Farm and Fraser @ Old Mill Road use Poly Tunnels for their “Tommy” crops.

    HELP… Where does one get Poly Tunnels from in Oz. I’ve search gumtree and ebay and google oz… nothing. Maybe they’re not called Poly Tunnels.

    I could very easily bring a couple back in the container with us when we come in October. They seem to be quite cheap here.

    I am trying to do a cost comparison to be 100% sure… Any help finding someone who supplies these is greatly received. I have found only one supplier on and they don’t offer prices online.

    Fruit Flies.. My mum told me FF were a real pain this year in NSW. I’ve been thinking about that. There is a Poly Tunnel here that can use plastic in winter to extend the growing season and shade cloth in summer to protect from intense heat. Do you think this might work in Oz?


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