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One of Cheryl McGaffin's heirloom tomato varieties.

Practical solutions for growing success

Cheryl McGaffin grows a wide range of heirloom tomatoes on her property on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. She shared her top growing tips with our horticultural expert, Penny Woodward.

All Cheryl McGaffin’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 (you’ll find more information about how she prepares the soil in OG 128).

Cheryl has learnt how to achieve harvesting success with heirloom tomatoes over many years of experience and these are her top tips for beginners:

  •  Incorporate as much organic content as possible into beds.
  •  Grow from seed to minimise any disease problems.
  •  Use a very good commercial seed-raising mix, or make your own.
  •  Don’t plant too early, stressed plants won’t thrive. 
  •  Plant seeds into coir or shredded-wood pots, and plant out deeply, pot and all.
  •  Leave at least a metre between plants. This will give them the space to grow better, bigger, and produce more.
  •  Water with drip irrigation. 
  •  Mulch after planting with a thick layer, in-between rows as well as around plants.
  •  Slow feed. If needed, use only certified organic slow-release fertilisers.
  •  Monitor your plants every day. If you see any disease, “Just nip it off”.
  •  Harvest when the first blush of colour appears and ripen inside.


Harvesting tomatoes at Daniel's Run Kirsten Bresciani

Tomatoes for saucing and bottling

Also in OG 128, a guide to growing tomatoes that are best for bottling by one of our regular contributors, Helen McKerral. First step is to grow the right variety for the task.

Helen explains that preserving tomato varieties contain less water and fewer seeds, but any tomato can be preserved. Cherry tomatoes are finicky with tiny seeds – Helen prefers roasting them with garlic, chilli, anchovies and olive oil to freeze for instant pasta sauce. 

Traditionally, determinate varieties (that grow to a certain size and supposedly fruit all at once) are preferred over indeterminate varieties that keep fruiting through the season. However, home gardens aren’t glasshouses, so harvests of determinate and semi-determinate varieties often spread over weeks – which is fine if processing in small batches. Also, you can pick semi-ripe tomatoes and ripen them indoors if needed.

More important is to choose varieties that suit your microclimate. ‘Amish Paste’ is outstanding for sauce but matures too late in my cool, southerly aspect garden. In our Spring 2022 issue (OG 136), Helen talks about the ‘Black Russian’ variety which is a favourite of hers because of its flavour.

Here’s a table with suggestions for the best varieties to grow for saucing and bottling.

OG 128 saucing tomatoes


You can read both these feature articles in full in our Spring 2021 issue (OG 128), available in a digital version and some print copies still left. Just click on cover below to see how to get a copy.

OG 128 cover