Cheryl McGaffin’s interest in heirloom tomatoes has always been there, and she has also grown natural crosses from her own tomatoes. But her passion really took off when she had more space.
“I tend to grow differently," Cheryl explains. “It’s a wilder garden and I encourage a lot of different plants and flowers and herbs to seed. That helps with disease and pest control.”
Cheryl uses innovative techniques such as home ferments and 'dry farming' but it all starts with the soil.
All Cheryl’s tomatoes are grown from seed and she makes her own seed-raising mix from an old recipe that includes propagating sand, coir, compost, worm castings, rock dust, a handful of decomposed manure and a handful of vermiculite. Bed preparation takes time, starting in late autumn.
“We spread lots of our horse manure over the surface and then we spread compost over that and then green manure is sown into the compost. I try to use as many different species as I can: cereal, winter flowers like calendula and lots of brassicas, broadbeans, legumes, mustards and vetch. And old seed stock, anything that’s out of date but suitable I just throw in as well.”
When the green manure is up and growing she sprays it with her home-produced ferment (you'll find more about how she makes and uses her ferment in our September/October 2021 issue). She believes the ferment strengthens plants and aids disease resistance, especially fungal disease.
Cheryl is a no-till gardener, so doesn’t dig in the green manure crop. When it’s 60–100cm high she’ll slash or crimp it. Crimping involves dragging a steel picket over the green manure, breaking the stems near the ground. Then a thick layer of lucerne hay is spread over the top. Tomatoes are planted into pockets six weeks later. Cheryl says this seems like a lot of preparation but it means she doesn’t have to feed again, they have all they need.
“If your soil is already very biologically active then anything you add makes no difference to your plants.”
Cheryl says her ‘dry farming’ technique is based on what they do in the Napa Valley in California. It requires minimal watering because it’s a very deeply mulched system.
“You don’t need to water much, the tomato roots just get down and go. It’s meant to give you the best flavour ever because of minimal water.”
To learn more about Cheryl and her amazing tomatoes you'll find Penny's story in our September/October 2021 issue (OG 128) – purchase a copy today and have it delivered!
By: Penny Woodward
First published: September 2021