A tale of tomatoes

A tale of tomatoes

I’d like to start by telling a story – a tale of tomatoes in our garden this summer of 2015. It starts with a Seed Savers meeting last year when it was mentioned there were few varieties of tomatoes in the seed bank. Now, I also have been interested in tomato research by Mark Christensen of the Central Tree Crops Trust into lycopene availability. They found orange tomatoes have a different form of lycopene than red ones and it is absorbed from fresh tomatoes whereas red ones need to be cooked for the lycopene to be absorbed. We eat lots of fresh tomatoes so this was interesting information.

Orange, red and black tomato varieties of diverse sizes grown in research experiment 2014-15
Orange, red and black tomato varieties of diverse sizes grown in research experiment 2014-15

So I acquired seed and grew a dozen varieties in our small yard. They are near each other; some under insect mesh nets, some took their chances. It’s amazing how different the outcomes are

  • Some plants grew really well, some grew poorly.
  • Some fruited well, some poorly.
  • Some were early and some only fruiting in April.

Fascinating! Question: what’s going on? Answer: Maybe different varieties ancestors developed in different conditions?

  • hotter/ cooler
  • rain /dry
  • wind / sheltered
  • long summer / short summer (seasons) early / late so day length becomes important
  • latitudes – high / low
  • altitude – high / low
  • unique soil types, etc so different use of minerals in each form

Growing them altogether in our yard – some felt at home and some didn’t. If I’d only planted 1 or 2 and they cropped poorly, I might think it was me or our yard or ‘I can’t grow tomatoes’. Ever felt something like that? So for each of you, if you have a good crop – excellent – conditions in your plot were good for that crop at that time. It’s really useful info for everyone trying to grow this crop. Your insights are helpful. Was the year hotter than normal/ cooler; wetter / drier; windy / calmer? If a crop produced poorly then the conditions do not match the ancestral conditions which it is adapted to. This is also important information. (NB I’d like also to note it doesn’t mean you are a terrible gardener!). Often really excellent feeding can overcome the mismatch of other conditions. So if you really want to grow a variety outside its conditions then feed it really well! This is true for any type of crop – not only tomatoes. Also each season is different each year. Sometimes summer is early and dry; sometimes late and cool. So it’s a great idea to grow a number of varieties and hope at least one will do well that year! If you wish to read the outcome for the varieties we grew this year, read the research here. Best wishes with your experiments too!


Best Winter Lettuce Variety Experiment: June 2014

Best Winter Lettuce Variety Experiment: June 2014

We planted a range of lettuce seedling varieties to see the best options for winter supplies in 2014, Auckland, New Zealand.

lettuce trial - winter 2014
Home garden lettuce trial – winter 2014, Auckland NZ
Lettuce trial - winter 2014 - Lolla rossa good productivity
Lolla rossa foxy: good productivity in our home garden

Best by far is ‘Lolla Rossa Foxy’ with crinkly broad soft leaves grading from bright green to brown edges [back row of garden bed].

The cos [front row, 2nd from right] were a sad second last. Last were red cultivars which rotted through the stems and died before producing edible leaves [they were in the middle of the front row].

lettuce winter trial 2014 - good and poor
lettuce winter trial 2014 – good and poor productivity

Oakleaf lettuce forms are slowly growing. Direct seed sown Oakleaf lettuces are doing better than seedlings transplanted.

All were covered by a plastic poly tunnel and treated equally.

This garden is near the harbour and soil is clayey with bought compost over the top. Garden bed faces north-west, is brand new, raised, and beside a fence.


Different varieties really do provide different outcomes depending on climate and soil. Even if I prefer one type of lettuce, I may have better production from a less favored variety when my favourite dislikes the conditions. I love growing a range to see which do best for us.