The flavours of spring to me are sweet sprouting broccoli, crunchy caulis, baby broad beans, sweet beets, carrots, spring onions and bitey radishes. And greens, so many yummy greens bursting their seams in the garden! The colder the winter, the sweeter the brassica crops and roots taste; one blessing of the frozen finger mornings!
Those first few sunny days in spring bring a sigh of relief don’t they!? Especially after a long, grey and soggy winter like the one we have just had. I always get caught out and think that I can get away without five extra ‘just in case’ layers of clothing when I leave the house, but spring is often still really COLD, and so incredibly variable; the warmth of summer still a few long months off. Many people make the classic rooky error in spring of getting over excited by a sunny day and planting their tomatoes far too early.
I sow my tomato seeds in late July or early August, inside on an electric heat mat. They are in front of a north facing glass door so they get lots of good sunlight through the day. I have them in a mini hot house for a bit of extra heat and moisture retention and the seed punnets are in a drip tray so I don’t make a wet mess on my floor. If you don’t have a heat mat, you can still grow your sensitive seedlings inside on a sunny windowsill or bench, they will just be a bit slower than with the heat mat. I take them off the heat mat and thin them out into individual pots when their first set of ‘true leaves’ grow. I still keep them in drip trays on my lounge room floor by the glass door and tucked in with a little extra ambient heat from the wood fire. When they are big enough, and the average day/night temperature has risen enough, I keep them in a frost and wind protected, sunny spot outside until I have somewhere ready to plant them in the garden. The classic advice round these parts is to plant your tomatoes in the garden after cup weekend (first weekend in November). I’m generally not in any particular rush to get mine in the ground that early. Over the years I’ve learnt from my failures and come to realize that my earlier planted tomatoes (if they have survived the random frosts that we sometimes get in November and even December) usually don’t fruit any earlier or longer than the ones I’ve planted later. So, I’d rather keep the ground productive with my spring crops for longer and plant my tomatoes a little later. For me that’s more like mid to late November. Tomato fruiting and ripening is temperature dependent, for this reason you’re not going to get early ripening tomatoes unless we have the consistently warm weather to make it happen. In order to produce the pigments that change the skin from green to red (or yellow, orange, pink or black depending on the varieties you’re growing), the temperature needs to be between 20°C and 29°C. If it is too cold, too hot or the temperature varies significantly between day and night, then the fruit simply stops ripening, they hit pause. This is why we sometimes have ‘Green Tomato Years’ when they just refuse to ripen and everyone ends up making enough green tomato chutney to last the next twenty years. Who knew tomatoes where so dang fussy!! Tomatoes aren’t the only thing I treat with TLC and raise inside on heat beds. Cucumbers, zucchini, capsicum, chili, melons, eggplant, basil, pumpkin…. It gets pretty crowded on my lounge room floor in spring! Basically I try and get a head start with any of the frost sensitive, fruiting, summer crops because they need a long season to reach full maturity and I prefer to grow my seedlings from seed I’ve either saved myself or that comes from an organic, heirloom company that I trust.