The tomato exemplifies all the benefits of home-grown food: it’s fresh, tasty and nutritious. And when you have more than you can eat, you can bottle, dry or freeze the surplus for a year-round supply.

Once an agricultural weed in its native South America, the cherry tomato was domesticated in Mexico centuries before gaining worldwide acceptance. Now nurseries sell a wider range of cultivars than they have done in almost 50 years, which means you can find a tantalising diversity of curious cherry tomato cultivars in seed catalogues that are otherwise not available as seedlings or fresh fruit. Saving the seed of non-hybrid cultivars is very easy to do, so you may never need to buy another tomato again.

How to plant

Tomatoes need a frost-free climate and at least six hours of full sunshine each day. A sheltered, well-ventilated position reduces the risk of fungus on leaves. Recently limed, compost-rich soil is important to prevent blossom end rot. Crop rotation and freely draining soil are equally important where tomatoes and related crops, such as potato, capsicum and eggplant, are regularly grown. Dig soil well and mix a handful of blended organic fertiliser into each planting hole. Sow or plant in mounds or ridges 10cm above the soil surface to assist drainage while reducing the risk of attack by soil fungi. Lightly mulch with hay, straw, lucerne or sugarcane about 5cm deep, and cut off foliage touching the ground. The rambling habit of tomatoes means it’s ideal to grow them on lattice. They also look good cascading down from hanging baskets or containers. Cherry tomatoes generally have fewer problems when grown in a climate with low humidity. In cool, temperate or inland climates, sow or plant after the last frost. In northern Australia, sow or plant during the dry season. To avoid fungal problems in the wet tropics, tomatoes can be grown in a container. To save the seed, scoop out the pulp from ripe fruit and allow it to ferment for a day. Strain through a sieve, rinsing with water while pressing out excess pulp. Thinly spread the wet seed over squares of paper towel. Dry well at room temperature, then cut paper towel into sections, each containing three seeds. Sow one section per 10cm pot. The seeds can be stored in an airtight container for up to four years.

Care and maintenance

Once flowering begins, feed plants each fortnight with seaweed or fish emulsion. Water regularly in the morning when it’s cool, and never wet the foliage before sunset as this will encourage mildew. Gently tap flowers early in the morning to help pollination.

Cherry tomatoes aren’t often attacked by fruit fly, but if this occurs, use fruit fly baits. To control caterpillars, spray with horticultural soap (eg Natrasoap).

Colourful cultivars

Most of these cherry tomato cultivars produce heavy crops over an extended period: the small, round Broad Ripple Yellow Currant; Yellow Pear and Baby Red Pear, both named for their shape; the round Yellow Tommy Toe and Red Tommy Toe; the large Sweet Bite; the orange and red-flecked Tigerella, with its lovely tart and refreshing taste.

In the kitchen: Cherry tomatoes

These little bursts of flavour add instant colour and taste to meals. Cherry tomatoes are extremely versatile in the kitchen. They can be used to make a wide range of meals, from salads and salsas to sauces, pizzas and soups. Their sweet juicy flavour makes them a great summer fruit to add to pasta dishes and, tossed among salads, their bright colours add instant visual appeal. Often enjoyed by children, raw cherry tomatoes are a delicious and healthy addition to the school lunch box. When picking tomatoes, snap them off so that part of the stalk remains attached to the fruit, as this will keep them fresh for longer. Slightly coloured fruit will ripen indoors. Fully ripe tomatoes can be kept in the crisper section of the fridge for up to a week, but they have a much fuller flavour when they’re stored in a cool spot out of the fridge. Tomatoes are a rich source of vitamins A and C, and have useful amounts of potassium, manganese and folate. They contain a potent antioxidant, called lycopene, which is thought to help prevent illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.

Use them to make

  • Soups
  • Sauces
  • Salads
  • Pizzas

Did you know?

Tomatoes were originally thought to be poisonous, as they belong to the nightshade family which contains toxic plants.