About Suburban Tomato

Welcome to my blog.  The idea behind this blog is simple: to provide a record of the joys and pitfalls of kitchen gardening in suburbia.  More specifically it is about trying to grow fabulous vegetables and herb in order to both feed my family from the garden (as much as possible) and cook the most flavoursome dishes I can. 

To give you a bit of background: I live in a northern suburb of Melbourne, Australia.  The climate is ‘temperate’, in theory at least, and frost free (or it has been during the 4 years I have lived here).   I have a 12 square metres set aside for growing veggies plus space for pots. 

The rewards of growing my own veggies so far has been great; my kids understand where what they eat comes from, the produce is fresh, cheap and chemical free and I enjoy the time I spend in the garden.  There are frustrations though, from seeds that don’t germinate and shade from next doors trees, to mice, rats, flying foxes, cabbage white butterflies and powdery mildew.  The things that don’t work can be disheartening and frustrating.  I do believe that most (and hopefully all) of these problems can be overcome and that a lot of the challenge in gardening is looking for different solutions to counteract everything from space limitations to predators and disease. 

This blog aims to address the problems thrown up by kitchen gardening in a suburban backyard by finding the best ways of growing the nicest tasting varieties of everything we like to eat.  This will cover both vegetables and herbs as well as any fruits that my space allows.  I am interested in both the quality and quantity of the vegetables (and herbs) that I am able to produce, as well as the ease with which they grown and finally how they can be prepared.

Why the name?  Tomatoes are pretty much my favourite food and were the initial motivation behind establishing a kitchen garden.  I simply wanted to grow great tasting tomatoes to cook and eat.  Things mushroomed from there to incorporate other vegetables and herbs but I am still looking for that perfect tomato.  It needs to be one that: grows well in partial shade, resists disease, the birds don’t eat, doesn’t fruit all in one go, fruits no matter how hot or cold the summer is and most of all tastes delicious.  In short; the perfect tomato for my part of suburbia.  Impossible?  The thing I love about gardening is that each year brings a new chance to find out.


44 Responses to About Suburban Tomato

  1. Jeanie says:

    Love this! I am motivated to try and grow a tamarillo. I just googled the spelling and have found out that the New Zealand Tree Tomato Promotions Council invented the name tamarillo in the late 60s to add a certain amount of exotic appeal to the “tree tomato”. And I thought it was spanish – o no no no – its maori and spanish. Those crazy kiwis!

    • Liz says:

      This does of course raise a question around pronounciation; are the LL’s intended to be a kind of ee sound as they would be in Spanish? or is a drawn out LL sound followed by a slightly questioning O all in an Ocker drawl OK? Or should the i be prounced as a kind of soft u in true Kiwi fashion? I do hope their web-site gives guidance in these matters.
      In all seriousness though I have enjoyed growing it even if I should have sited it slightly further away from the washing line….. They grow to about 3 metres so you do need a bit of space but provided they are sheltered from the wind they seem pretty trouble free.

  2. Andrea says:

    Hi Liz, we to use to live in the northern suburbs and growing veggies & fruit in Melbourne is easier than out here in Central Victoria. The major problem is the damage from frosts, which can be a threat until mid-November, so no early tomatoe plantings but great for cherry trees.
    Very impressed with your tomatoe seedlings, so far i have had great success with heritage varieties purchased as seeds from Diggers and also very lucky to have an organic veggie farm close by which supplies fruit&veggie boxes to people in and around Daylesford. I purchase my tomatoes seedlings from him and they always grow well, last year my favorite was a little yellow pear one.
    Good luck with your spring plantings!! will look forward to following your journey and your goal for the perfect tomatoe!!!

    • Liz says:

      Thanks Andrea,

      I’ve sown a yellow pear one – in fact I’ve sown about 5 different cherry size tomatoes this year – the kids love them. My parents live up your way and they too tend to have late frosts which I know can be a pain – Melbourne is really very easy in that respect. My daughters favourite food is cherries so she would be more than happy in your climate – a week doesn’t go by without her asking “is it cherry season yet”????

  3. Athrael says:

    How I enjoyed reading about your ginger and chillies! As an asian from Singapore I have had luck with growing chillies too and you are right, they do survive through the winter. Mine dies down a little but comes spring the leaves starts sprouting like crazy. Right now I am deciding if I should plant turmeric. We use lots of it, both roots and leaves in our cooking so do pray that my venture would be a success! Oh and I have this crazy idea of planting a dwarf citrus inside. I just love the smell of the blooms wafting through …. By the way, I am in northern suburbs too!

    • Liz says:

      I have tried turmeric and had some very limited success. I would say I was able to harvest just under double what I planted (and that is probably overstating it), but I do think that I could have got better growth. We will see this year. I haven’t ever harvested the leaves. I’m wondering what dishes you use them for? Citrus blooms are fabulous aren’t they?

      • Athrael says:

        Sorry for replying so late! We went to Perth to visit my husband’s parents, got home, decided to redecorate and finally had time to do everything else I want! before I left for Perth, I had some turmeric rhizomes left in a plastic bag in the cupboard. When we got home, I found most of them had shoots! Excited, I quickly planted them and now they are about 35 cms tall! And that’s over a period of less than a month!

        We use turmeric leaves in fish dishes mainly because it gets rid of the fishy smell some fish has. But fish from temperate waters are usually not fishy. We have this dish where we blend dessicated coconut with lots of herbs and spices and turmeric leaves and we mix it with bite sized fish meat, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. It’s oh so heavenly 🙂

        Also, we use the roots for hives – who knew huh

        • Liz says:

          Wow that is sensational. Mine are about the same height but not really ready to harvest leaves from yet. I love the sound of that fish dish. Now I just need banana leaves……

  4. Anna says:

    Wow! I’ve just discovered your web page and it’s just amazing! I’ve bookmarked it so that I can check it out again and again. My husband and I are both from an Italian back ground where as a kid most of our quarter acre block was taken up with a veggie patch. We have a small garden of our own in our back yard, planting items that we know we’ll eat. And saving money. How lucky I am that I can go out the back door and come back with a bowl full of parsley, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and more.
    Thank you for sharing your gardening adventures with us all.

    • Liz says:

      Hi Anna, Really glad you found me and are enjoying the site. Ahhhh the days when a quarter acre block was the norm – we had a veggie patch on ours when I was little too but I seem to remember it being mostly carrots – I just wish I had a quarter of an acre now (but no such luck) but still it is fabulous to be able to grow things even without that much space.

  5. Lisa Hilli says:

    Great Blog! Was initially looking for some advice on when to harvest borlotti beans as this is my first year growing them. Got some great tips largely due to your blog, even better that you & I live in the same city! I live inner city, so space is at a premium, cherry tomatoes are what grows best for me, this year I had 6 cherry tomato plants pop up out of the garden bed. I also never knew about taking out the lateral growth of tomatoes, best fruit set ever! I’ve got up to almost 20 cherry tomatoes in one fruit set! Looking forward to more harvests and lots of other green thumbs online.

    fellow suburban tomato

    • Liz says:

      Hi Lisa, Thanks for taking the time to visit and leave a comment. How fabulous that cherry tomatoes are doing well for you – mine a being a bit problematic at the moment but I’m hoping that things will improve now that the weather it a bit more consistent. Regarding your borlotti beans – I havest mine just as the pods are being to look slightly dry if I’m harvesting them to eat fresh. If Í wanted to dry them I’d leave them on for longer.

  6. The Shroom says:

    Hey hey! Enjoyale reads with great information (rare to find blogs with ‘how-tos’ and practical info) :)… Do you train your tomatoes or let them go crazy, growing madly on their own? … 🙂 Anyhows, I will be reading your post regularly! Keep it up! 🙂

    • Liz says:

      I train them up stakes and i have also been using a new product called a Tomato ring which is working well. I don’t have enough space to let them go really wild. A friend of mine does though and gets excellent crops.

  7. Jan says:

    I’m loving this site. I’m in Aberfeldie in a renter so growing vegies in pots – which is a new experience. I love growing from seeds I’m getting ready to thin and transplant the seedlings. Can you tell me how close do I baby beetroot and have you planted out snow peas? Have you tried them in a hanging basket? I have used an old jumper as the basket liner and to cover the soil (cutting holes for the plants) – I’m experimenting to see if it keeps the soil cool and moist as I’ve read this is what they like. What are your thoughts?

    • Liz says:

      Really appreciate your feedback! Pots are great but they can be challenging can’t they? For baby beetroot I would try planting a minimum of 10cm apart. I haven’t tried them that close, but you might get away with it. 15cm might be better if you’ve got the space. I do grow snow peas but have never tried them in a hanging basket, I think its sounds like a fun idea. The jumper idea is really novel – love it, I imagine it would help retain moisture like a mulch. The only thing would be that it might also draw moisture out of the soil like a sponge but as long as its moist that shouldn’t be an issue. I really want to know how you go with this.

  8. Kirsten says:

    This website is great! We’re in the south western suburbs of Melbourne and are starting a veggie patch for the first time ever. We’ve just set up our green house out the back and are starting to sow seeds. I have a question in regards to tomatoes, I really want to grow them, I am tired of the tasteless, rotting tomatoes we see in the shops, however my husband is concerned due to the amount of space they take up (we are part of the growing trend in melbourne of having very small backyards!) and I was wondering if you have any advice on a particular type that wont take up much space?

    • Liz says:

      Hi Kirsten and welcome. Fabulous that you are starting a veggie patch. Tomatoes needn’t take up too much space – If you stake them well and prune them a little you can keep them relatively compact. Rouge de Marmande is a great variety for Melbourne – the plants don’t get too tall (although you will still neeed to stake them) and they bear pretty heavily so you should get maximum value for the space you are using. Try and give them as much sun as possible (I know this can be difficult in small gardens – it is in mine) and hopefully they will be one of your most productive plants per square metre. Another option is something like Tiny Tim – a cherry tomato which grows on a really small bush – you wont get heaps and heaps of tomatoes but you should get quite a few and it can be grown in a medium sized pot very successfully. I wrote a post aboth a month of so a go about the best summer plants in terms of Value for space – you can find it here: http://suburbantomato.com/2012/03/vsr/. Now some of the rankings may change once I take autumn harvests into account, but I would definitely say that growing tomatoes is worth doing if you can possibly squeeze them in.

  9. Glenn Finlay says:

    Hi Liz,
    Great to have found your post! We are in Gippsland and I will be planting tomatoes this weekend. Thank you for the blogg and the advice I have good feeling about this years tomatoes! Regards. Glen

    • Liz says:

      Lovely to hear from you, I really appreciate the feedback. Good luck with your tomatoes – I too am hoping its a good, or better yet great year.

  10. Sandie Anne says:


    I just found your website! I wondered if you know anything about late blight. The tomatoes that I saved for ripening almost all got hit by late blight. This is new to me. Any advice?


    • Liz says:

      Hi Sandie,

      Sorry its taken me a few days to respond. The simplest answer I have is not alot. My understanding is that once you get it you kind of have to salvage what you can as there isn’t much else you can do. I will try posting your query and see if anyone else has some answers.

  11. John Cotterell says:

    After seeing the pics of your tomatoes and the list of produce you have had, or still have, I thought you must have 5 acres somewhere but it’s 12 square metres in the suburbs. That is absolutely astonishing and a credit to your ingenuity. I would greatly appreciate a clue as to how you do it.

    For example what groups of plants are you growing now and how much space do they use would be very interesting?

    • Liz says:

      To be fair I’ve added a bed or two so its probably more like 20 now plus a lot of pots. One thing I do is grow a little bit of many things rather than lots of one or two things (tomatoes excepted). The tomato bed this year is about 4 square metres. I have a potato bed which is 2 square metres. All my capsicums, citrus, blueberries etc are in pots as are many of the herbs. I have 3 square metre bed of beans, eggplants and Kale. Then I have a large bed, about 8 square metres. which currently has quite bit of spare space after I pulled the garlic and beetroot. It has cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkin, lettuce, more beetroot and some broccoli, coriander and kale that I want to save seed from. I think the biggest thing in getting the most out of the space is succession seed sowing, growing things on in small pots before planting out into gaps as they appear in the beds. I am conscious that I really need to rest my beds more than I do though.

  12. Sue says:

    Have you tried growing garlic from seeds? I have been told that its a two year process. the first year you get a clove and the 2nd year you get the bulb. My concern is that i have the cloves, pulled them up and now don’t know what to do? do I replant them? I assume so but when ?

    • Liz says:

      Hi Sue, I haven’t grown it from seed personally (too impatient) but I would have thought you would plant the cloves in about April (when garlic is normally sown in Melbourne). I would make sure the outer skin is properly dry and store them in a cool dry place until then.

  13. Ros says:

    Just found your blog and it’s great as I have just embarked on my own veggie patches this summer. Trying to follow you though but cannot find anything I can do it via on your blog??

    • Liz says:

      Hi Ros, If you register you can get RSS feeds or if you click on the RSS feeds link you can add it there to Google reader etc without registering. I think that will also allow an email subscription. I am trying to make that bit a little more user friendly at the moment.

      • Liz says:

        I have just added a Subscribe icon to the top right hand side of the site.

        • Ros says:

          Thanks Liz. I subscribed via email and really enjoyed reading about all your recent harvests. We have recently relandscaped our gardens and apart from various veg patches, we also have fruit trees. Looking forward to my own fruit in a couple of years… Your blog is great especially because I also live in the north of Melbourne which means our weather is the same. Loving the rain today!!

  14. Ros says:

    Hi Liz
    Do you have a Facebook page for suburban tomato? Mine is http://www.facebook.com/rosblogger
    Also I planted some late season black Russians. They took a long time to seed but now they are thriving. Lots and lots of flowers. Will I get tomatoes you think now that the weather will get cooler?

  15. Jennifer says:

    Just found your blog and am looking forward to following along! I am also a tomato-loving suburban gardener, though I’m in Cleveland, Ohio in the US. I’m amazed (and envious) at how much your backyard garden produces, and always looking for ideas of what I can grow in my relatively limited space!

    • Liz says:

      I tend to grow a few plants of a large number of crops so I suspect that it looks like the garden produces more than it actually does. Having said that I do have a great climate for growing a wide range of things and that helps a great deal.

  16. Pei Pei says:

    Just found your blog and am loving your write ups and photos. I live in Melbourne too, in a sixth floor apartment. I have been trying without much success to grow edible plants on my balcony. I found your site because my chillies are looking very sorry over winter. Thanks for the information that you have posted. Looking forward to your other posts.

    • Liz says:

      Thanks Pei Pei. Give your chillies until mid to late Spring to recover, mine always look pretty ordinary until then but usually start putting on new growth. Not all varieties survive our winters though. I reckon the secret with growing things in pots is not overcrowding the plants – it is very easy to use too small a container for too large a plant.

  17. Sharon Bailey says:

    Hi there

    Have just discovered your blog and having a wonderful time reading all the posts.

    I live north of Adelaide and love vegie gardening although it can be challenge with our summers, rats, rabbits, pests, etc, etc!

    Thanks for a great site, will be returning regularly to check out new posts.


  18. Marcus says:

    Hi there! Really enjoyed reading through your blog.
    Would love to know more about your finger lime!
    I am currently growing some myself in the western suburbs of Melbourne and my first flowers are starting to develop!


  19. Jodie says:

    Hi, I am really enjoying your site and hope that now the weather is improving you may be more inspired by your garden and share with us more on your blog. I too would love to hear more about your finger lime. I bought one last year from Diggers. It hasn’t changed very much and I am nit sure what I should be doing with it.
    Thanks, and look forward to reading more soon.

    • Liz says:

      Thanks Jodie,

      I have just planted my finger lime out into the garden after having it in the pot for a number of years. So far it seems to have preferred the pot – it’s lost a lot of leaves but it may be that it dried out while I was on holiday. They aren’t particularly fast growing in my experience. In a pot it seemed happy to adapt to the size of pot and didn’t seem to worried by its roots getting quite pot bound. I got mine from my mum & dad so I’m not sure how old it was before it fruited.
      If you have any specific questions let me know and I will try and answer them.

  20. Jane Holroyd says:

    Ooooh, lovely Liz! What a great photographer you are. Great blog, I am inspired. Look forward to a post about your dinner! Jane

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