This years tomato crop is developing

A new tomato crop is developing. I managed to get a few early tomato plants into the ground in September. I cheated and bought a punnet of seedlings. September is long before our own naturally germinated ‘wild’, self sown tomatoes seeds emerge. I bought a punnet of seedlings from the garden centre. In the past, if I got them in the ground in early September, then we might get a ripe tomato in the week between Xmas and new year. The past decade had been unusually hot and drought ridden here up until 2019. The extra heat allowed the tomatoes to establish so early.

This past year however, it has been cooler and wet in comparison, so the season is delayed somewhat. We do have tomatoes climbing up the tomato stakes, the tallest being about one metre high so far. There are even a few small green tomatoes developing now. However, I doubt if there will be a ripe, red tomato for Xmas, never mind in the next 2 to 3 weeks.

I have planted 4 beds so far, around 10 plants in each bed. The earliest ones are all flowering well now, so it promises to be a good crop in the new year when the warmer weather develops. Well, I’m hoping so anyway.  I like to make all the jars of ‘passata’ that will last us all year, as well as all the tomatoes that we will consume in salads and ratatouille dishes over the summer.

Tomatoes need a warm soil temperature and longer daylight hours to thrive. Our own naturally germinating ‘wild’ tomato seeds are just now emerging in among the other beds. So the soil temperature must now be more or less OK. The ‘Diggers Club’ guide tells me that  the soil temp for tomatoes must be above 16oC, but I’ve never bothered to go out side with a temperature probe to test the soil temp to find out. Early September seems about right and the plants grow, albeit quite slowly at first. In years gone by I even started the young tomato seedlings off in late August under a sort of home made ‘cloche’ made by wrapping the industrial sized ‘glad-wrap’ that I used to have in the old kiln factory for delivering kilns, and wrapping this around the old wire mesh frames that we used to cover the garden beds before we built the bird proof enclosure. This early frost and cold night protection worked for the important first month, until the weather warmed more, or until the plants got so tall that they out-grew the height of the temporary cover.

Yesterday I went into the garden after lunch to do a bit of tidying up and weeding. I ended up hammering in tomato stakes and tying up the tallest tomatoes. One thing led to another, then I suddenly realised that the chooks had put them selves into their house and were ready for bed as it was after 6 pm. The afternoon had just slipped away while I was being busy.

Tying up tomatoes is such a great job. The season is still early and there is no hope of seeing a tomato any time soon, but just touching the tomato leaves or even brushing against them gives off such an appetising smell. It makes my mouth water with anticipation. I don’t know what chemical is in the tomato leaves, but it is delicious to smell. So spending a few hours hammering in the wooden stakes and tying up the leaders with lengths of soft cloth is a wonderful experience. It promises so much. There is so much optimism tied up in each of those soft little bows.

My go-to reference about my vegetables and fruit growing info is The Oxford Book of Food Plants. It tells me that Tomatoes, ‘Lycopersicon esculentum’ are a native of the lower Andes, and are valued for their high vitamin content. It is part of the solanum family along with deadly nightshade, datura, petunias, the potato, capsicum, chilli and egg plants. In fact eating green or unripe tomatoes can make you sick. Unripe tomatoes contain a toxic alkaloid called ’tomatine’ which is an insecticide, fungicide and has anti microbial properties which are there to presumably protect it from predators, but are easily broken down by cooking, so it is OK to eat them in chutney. No one I know eats them raw when green.  However, I did see in ‘wikipedia’ that tests have been carried out and you would have to eat more than half a kilo of tomato leaves, where the tomatine is more concentrated, to get a toxic reaction, which wouldn’t be lethal. I love the smell of touching tomato leaves, but I have no inclination to eat them.

It also tells me that it needs a minimum temperature of 55 to 60oF or 12 to 15oC. This is considerably less than that stated by ‘Diggers’ and may explain why I can get away with starting them in a closh in August here. 

The Oxford also tells me that the tomato was originally called ‘pomo-d’oro’ or golden apple, presumably because the earliest varieties brought back from the Americas were a yellow variety? Quite possible? I don’t know. I did read online on a New Zealand web site that only the yellow tomato can be digested properly by humans and that all the red coloured varieties are only digestible by animals!!!  Something to do with different forms of lycopene as I remember. However, I have grown a few different yellow tomatoes and they were universally bland and lacking acid in the flavour profile, so I have avoided them ever since. Not worth the trouble to cultivate. I seem to be able to get all the lycopene that I need from the tasty red ones, but do I need any at all?

Michael Pollan, in ‘Defence of Food’ (p67), advises that red lycopene can be easily digested when cooked in olive oil. Italian cooks have always seemed to have known that. Dr Norman Swan in his book, ’So you want to live Longer’ (p 81). Lycopene reduces oxidative stress in the body from free radicals. “There’s a multi-billion dollar industry which sells this idea in a bottle. – Trouble is that they don’t work.” “you’re on much safer ground betting on what’s on your stove”. He consistently returns to the idea that tomatoes cooked in olive oil are really good for you – as part of a Mediteranian diet, low in meat and high in coloured vegetables and whole grains.

I have read elsewhere that all domesticated tomato varieties today are descended from the red-fruited wild tomato, Solanum Pimpinellifolium. Perhaps named after  the scarlet pimpernel?  One of the other early names for tomato, besides ‘love-apple’ and ‘golden-apple’ was ‘wolf peach’. Which accounts for the latinised name ‘lycopersicon’ used by Linnaeus to describe them in 1753, and still in use today. Tomatoes first appeared in Europe in around 1535 on the return of the Spanish conquistadors from Peru, It took over 150 years for the tomato to be integrated into everyday cuisine, starting in Italy,  then slowly spreading across Europe. It’s acceptance was rather slow.

John Ray, The English Botanist, son of a village blacksmith, went on to study at Cambridge, Trinity College, He became the college Steward. He travelled widely in England and Europe, and while in Italy in the 1660s he wrote. ‘The Italians cook tomatoes with marrows, peppers, salt and olive oil’. Perhaps the first ever reference to ratatouille?

Norman Swan would approve.

Sometimes I’d rather not know

Some time ago I watched a TV program about Rock Stein floating down a canal in France on a barge. 

I must say, I was rather taken by all the visits to small gardens and little farms in the south of France where so much food is still produced by families.

We’ve lost that, if we ever had it. When I was young, just starting out after leaving Art School, I spent 2 or 3 years traveling around, mostly in NSW, building kilns for potters groups. I saw a lot of the country. I was working mostly on farms, for farmers wives. (They were the potters). Those farms out in the west of NSW were huge. Often 4,000 or 5,000 acres, run by a father and son and the two wives. Broad acre farming using huge machines. Mega 4 wheel drive tractors as tall as a house with tyres taller than me and ploughs and combines so wide that they had needed to install double wide gates to get them in and out of the paddocks. They had an arrangement to fold-up the outrigger arms, so that they could just fit through the extra wide double gates. The harvesters were even bigger. When traveling from farm to farm block on the narrow country roads, they took the reaping head off and towed it behind them like a long trailer.

I loved working on those farms and meeting and working with those straight forward, down to earth people. For a short time I even considered being a farmer. However, at that time I would have needed quite a few million dollars to buy into such a farm. That completely put the thought out of my mind. I would have had to inherit a farm like that. No one could afford to buy one. With long working hours and poor returns, it just wan’t feasible. I was unable to raise a $10,000 loan from the bank as a home loan to buy a few acres. They wouldn’t even lend me a cent. Nothing, zilch. I had to go to the fringe market, and then I could only raise $5,000, but at a premium interest rate of 23%. Can you believe that! The off market interest rate was 23%! Extortion, but that was the reality in 1976. People today are concerned about 6% interest. 10 years later in the 80’s we bought the vacant block of land next door and had to pay 17.5% interest for that. Such is life.

Back to Rick Stein and his French holiday on the barge. I really enjoyed watching that show. It re-kindled all those thoughts of French food and landscape. Janine and I were very lucky to get a few jobs in Europe a decade ago, before Covid. We worked in Switzerland, Germany, The UK and of course France. They were wonderful experiences. I loved the people that we met and got to work for and with, the different foods that we were introduced to and the different landscapes that we drove through. We really loved our time there, so this short TV series of 8 or 10 shows traveling across the South was enjoyable entertainment. I even tried my hand a making the prune tart that he demonstrated in one of the episodes.


We have a load of squash and zucchinis coming on at the moment, so we have to think of ways to enjoy them every few days. This time around I decided to do a zucchini bake with tomato passata, garlic, olive oil and a sprinkling of cheese on top. 20 mins in the oven at 180. I suppose that I should have used Parmigarno cheese, but I don’t have any at the moment, but there is some ubiquitous Cheddar in the fridge, so that is what I use, with loads of fresh picked basil leaves.

It went down a treat with our guest, almost nothing left. It was this image that made me think of Rick Stein. How his director/producer, the late David Pritchard, used to take a shot of the knives and forks being dropped onto the empty plate at the end of a meal. Well, this is my Pritchard shot. 

I got interested in Pritchard and Steins working arrangements after seeing a short one show doco of the behind the scenes filming and interviews made by another crew who were on the barge at the same time. Apparently it wasn’t all plain sailing and bonhomie. In fact quite the opposite. 

“A condensed look at Rick Stein’s journey from Bordeaux to Marseille during the making of ‘Rick Stein’s French Odyssey’ including his favorite dishes along the route and behind-the-scenes DV footage of the highlights and the trials and tribulations of such an undertaking.”

I decided to read both of their auto biographies.

Having read both books, I didn’t think that much of either of them as people. Wish I hadn’t read them actually. I rather preferred the illusion and the romance.

I looked out the window and there are 17 wood ducks relaxing on the lawn. Peaceful and tranquil. A lovely idyll. 

I make a coffee and eat a slice of tart, then I bake some rock cakes, and everything is all right and life is back to normal.

Sunday, Our Day of Rest :)

It’s Sunday, the day of rest. So I’m taking my rest in the vegetable garden doing a little bit of weeding and planting out some seedlings that I bought yesterday.

I usually prefer to grow nearly everything from seed, often from our own self saved seeds, but when we came home from our little break away down the coast, I found that the lettuce seeds that I had planted a few weeks before had mostly all dried up and shriveled in my absence from lack of water and too many hot dry days.

I gave in and bought a punnet of seedlings. I don’t like to buy seedlings unless there is a very good reason. In this case it is because we will run out of lettuces for our salads in a month or so if we don’t have a follow-on crop coming along. So I planted out the seedlings and sprinkled out a few more seeds alongside to come up in the same bed and take over the spaces as the seedling crop is harvested as sunlight and space allows the the new seeds to flourish in the same spot.

I often do a mixed planting of lettuce and radishes for the same reason, as radishes are such a quick crop, they mature and are removed as the growing lettuces need more space and light.

I also spent an hour plucking out small emerging grass seeds from the leek bed, the carrot bed and the beetroot bed. All these three beds were planted out at the same time about a month or so ago. But the grass seeds germinate so quickly and grow so much faster that if I don’t get down on my hands and knees this weekend and pluck the little buggers out now, with my finger tips, they will out grow and crowd out the vegetables. Pulling them out later, when they are bigger, isn’t an option, pulling them when they are larger and more established with a larger root system will disturb the soil and lift out the tiny, fragile vegetables seedlings in-between them. It’s a job that just has to be done NOW. So it’s done, early on, before the sun gets too hot. I also whipper-snippered the edges and mowed the centre of all the paths. I feel proud of my effort when it’s all done. It’s looking good and loved, well cared for and productive. A great way to begin summer.

We spent a bit of time before lunch picking blue berries and young berries. We will have the blue berries with our yoghurt for breakfast and I make a agreeable fruit tart with the youngberries.

I remove the blind-baking beans along with their crushed baking paper, and fill the pastry casing with the fruit mixture, then 20 mins or so in the oven @ 180oC. See recipe previously published here; <;

We now have our breakfast berries picked and in the fridge, our dinner of zucchinis and squash picked, and now desert is taken care of. Time for a little afternoon nap.

There are still loads of weeds germinating in the paths in-between the rows of veggies, but they can be dealt with using a hoe at a later date. That’s a job for another day.

Tiny basil seeds just germinating.

Small parsley seeds germinating and just showing their first leaves. Sown in-between a few purchased early seedlings.

We have new plantings of Sweet basil seeds, coriander seeds and curly parsley on their way. They all need to be precisely finger tip weeded to allow them to thrive. Just a bit of TLC goes a long way. We all need it to thrive. Even me.

A few days down the coast

During the past week Monday to Thursday, we drove down the coast to visit a few friends that we hadn’t seen for a few years. We haven’t seen a lot of people for the last 3 years, while we have had out heads down and our butts up rebuilding everything since the fire. We are gradually getting to the end of the building phase now, and we are also getting to the end of the fitting out phase as well, but there are always things that need to be done. I suppose that there always will be.

Our few days away are a chance to relax. It may seem strange, but it’s only when I’m away and can’t possibly do anything that needs doing around our pottery, house and garden, that I am forced to admit that there is nothing that I can do and I might as well just zone out. Talk, eat, drink and sleep are our only possibilities. Actually, I tell a lie. While we were visiting my old PhD supervisor, who has become now, a very good friend, We went for a walk around his new acreage and I couldn’t help but stop every few yards to pull out weeds all along the path. It’s just a habit. Denis said that I’m welcome to come back at any time at this rate! We would of course be welcome back anyway of course! Then, later when we were walking around the national Park at Mimosa Rocks with our friends Janna and Yuri, We were occupied all along the walking track picking up fallen logs and sticks that had dropped across the path, clearing the way as we went. Always busy.

We were given access to a lovely little beach house called ‘The Box House’ down in Tanja. <;

Our friend Liz owns it as a weekender and is about to put it on the market as an ‘airbnb’ for the Xmas season. We were very lucky to be allowed to stay there and enjoy the tranquility for a few days white it was vacant. Thank you Liz!

We caught up with people that we hadn’t had time to see for a few years, walked along the deserted beaches, walked in the National Pack, had lunches and dinners with our potter friends. Went to bed early with the sun and rose again with it and the dawn chorus. A very lovely time to relax and do almost nothing for those few days. If I’m not at home, I can’t do any mowing, weeding or pruning. If Im not in the pottery shed, I can’t be mixing up clay bodies and glazes. All those seemingly important jobs just have to wait and take their turn until I come back.

Walking along that beach was so much more important for a few days.

When we got home, there were heaps of things to pick from the garden. Zucchinis, squash, beans, strawberries, youngberries and basil are all in profusion