While more than 3,000 varieties of tomato exist, the few varieties that make up the bulk of those farmed are not planted because of their flavour, texture and colour, but because they're durable and transport well. Just because 2,995 varieties of tomato may be softer-skinned or oddly shaped, they're no more difficult to grow.
This month, rather than looking broadly at a vegetable type, we're zooming in on a specific heirloom variety, the pineapple tomato, available in the Little Veggie Patch Co's new seed range designed to introduce gardeners to fresh possibilities.
Believed to have originated in Kentucky in the US, the beefsteak-style pineapple tomato is a monster - a single fruit can weigh up to a kilo. The flesh is sweet, meaty and low in acidity, with a citrus-like tang (some say like a pineapple) and its marbled golden, red and orange skin is as captivating as its flavour. It's a next-level tomato.
When planting seeds, sow them in individual seed cells, preferably in a mini-greenhouse to protect them from the early spring chill. Place two seeds in each cell to a depth of a centimetre and keep them damp until they germinate, which should take seven to 10 days. Once the sprouted seeds are large enough to handle, cull the weaker one of each pair and let the remaining seedling develop for three to four weeks in the greenhouse, then transplant to the patch.
A hungry feeder and big vine, the pineapple tomato grows to upwards of two metres in height, so adequate soil and infrastructure preparation is vital. Prior to transplanting, integrate plenty of compost and slow-release organic fertiliser into the patch, ensuring it drains well, and erect a substantial growing frame up which the plants can clamber.
If you're planting in pots, use a good-quality organic potting mix and sprinkle slow-release organic fertiliser on the surface. A dash of rock dust is advisable, too - this hit of trace elements will safeguard against blossom-end rot.
Plant seedlings in the sunniest part of the patch 40 to 50 centimetres apart, but eventually thin to 80 to 100 centimetres if they don't all take. Less is always more with tomatoes, especially larger varieties - overcrowding increases the potential for pest or disease problems.
Once planted, mulch to a depth of two to three centimetres with pea straw or lucerne hay, keeping clear of the stems so they can breathe. Water them daily for the first month for in-ground plants, then cut back to three goodsoakings per week, weather dependent. For potted tomatoes, continue to water daily for the plant's lifespan.
One of the biggest problems with growing tomatoes is keeping their growth in check. Pruning the vine and securing it to the trellis is an essential weekly task, and keeping it in order will prepare the plant for a successful push at producing fruit.
After two to three months in the ground you'll begin to notice flowers, which signal the start of fruit. For the pineapple tomato, being such a large fruit, it's a slow process, but an intriguing one. As it reaches full size the ribbed skin begins to colour and then softens - the indicator it's ready. When you pick ripe fruit, be aware the skin is thin and can easily haemorrhage; use scissors or secateurs.
Regular picking and plant maintenance will yield sweet delights until late in the warm season. To prevent the fruit blistering under the hot summer sun, set up a shade cloth. You might also consider netting to prevent birds, rats and possums from feasting on your crop.
If a tomato is one of summer's delights, the sweet taste and more than interesting citrus flavour of the pineapple tomato makes it truly next level.