You say tomatoes…

Freezing fingers, icy cheeks, sun-warmed backs, and the scent of wattle in the air. Spring is coming, and we are busily getting ready for it. Our baby seedlings which we’ve nursed like attentive new mothers through the depths of winter are starting to grow and flourish, and so too are the weeds.

Weeds are just useful (often edible and medicinal) plants growing were we don’t really want them, right?! After much shovel-leaning deliberation, we have come to consider the profusion of winter ‘weeds’ growing in our yet-to-be-cultivated garden beds as a proxy green manure crop. No, not weed devils, a green nightmare, or the bane of our existence, but our friends! We didn’t really intend to grow them but they have actually done a sterling job of holding the soil together, providing habitat to soil life, and storing nutrients in their leaves and roots. Their days, however, ARE numbered!

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We have begun the massive task of digging our weedy green manure back into the beds, adding compost, and mulching them in preparation for a grand crop of summer tomatoes. What has spurred this flurry of activity? Well, a few weeks back we had an inspiring conversation with John Reid from Red Beard Bakery in Trentham. Every year in summer he and his crew bottle up masses of locally grown tomatoes into sauces, chutneys, and passata. These products they use over the non-tomatoey months at the bakery. At the heart of their business is an amazing ethic of care for where the food they serve comes from. This extends from the grain that is grown and ground locally to bake their bread to the dried fruit that is also grown locally that sweetens their fruit loaf. Supporting local growers and sourcing local produce is what they are about, and we have been lucky enough to be commissioned to grow 1/3 of the ton of tomatoes that John needs to supply his bottling mission.

For us this opportunity is amazing as it offers us the assurance that the crop we grow will be sold at a predetermined and reasonable price, and the risk is shared between us (the growers) and John (the buyer). It means we can start to predict how much space we need to dedicate to any particular crop, and it also helps us plan financially.

So, in preparation for our 333 kg (give or take a few) of tomatoes, we have started to prepare the beds where they will grow. We have begun to dig in our weedy green manure crop, and we have also been preparing and planting an intentional green manure crop to be dug-in in a few weeks before we plant out our tomatoes. The seeds are happily sprouting and feeding our soil as the days slowly warm and the soil is still moist.

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We have also been wrapping our heads around how we can possibly raise up the 200+ seedlings that we will need in time for spring transplanting. A solution to this was found over a cuppa around a kitchen table in Newstead. Richard and Chris are seasoned backyard growers with a hot house and a love of heirloom varieties of vegetables. They have agreed to raise the tomato seedlings for us ready for transplanting and are teaching us a thing or two as they do about their methods. So, stay tuned on our journey from green dream to red riot!

Richard & Chris - and our seeds!
Richard & Chris – and our seeds!

Cheers, Sas & Mel
Gung Hoe Growers

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