Grown in Tasmania: interview with Owen and Emma Kate of TomBoys

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This interview came about due to a question from a reader on our blog a few months ago – where can we source local tomatoes!?  I did some searching and got in contact with TomBoys, a grower in Bridgewater.  We got talking about their product which led to me popping across the river to check it out for myself..

Quick! Who are you and what do you do?

We are TomBoys: tomato growers based in Bridgewater. We’ve been growing tomatoes in Tassie since 2006 and are slowly increasing our stockists and retail venues around Hobart, to provide the market with fresh, local and tasty toms.

That was quick, you are good at this.  Tell me a bit more?

Sure, we are a family run business, growing in greenhouses using sustainable methods.  When we bought the property, the greenhouses needed a lot of maintenance.  We actually only use 1 of the 3 greenhouses here for all the tomatoes because it’s such a big job to fix them up and plant them out.  In the future we hope to expand and diversify the business, but for now it’s mainly toms.  We pick from November to Juneish and employ around 10 locals on a casual basis to cater for the really busy times.

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Nice one.  You mentioned sustainable practices, care to elaborate a bit on that?

Well there are some inputs that are unavoidable, we do save some seed but find the strike rate (number of seeds undergoing germination) variable and there is always the possibility that over generations the breed will lose characteristics over time.  We recycle our water and fertilizers which go through a UV filtration system.  Much better than chemically treating everything or letting it go to waste that’s for sure!  We recycle our grow bags (coconut husk by-product, highly recommended) for up to 4 years as well, we recycle a lot actually. We don’t use pesticides or fungicides pre-emptively.  Sure if there was a major bug problem we’d have to consider it, but there are better ways to keep the crop healthy.  One of our ongoing pests is the Greenhouse Whitefly, we are certain to encounter this every year.  We combat this with a biological control called Encarsia Formosa, a tiny wasp that targets the Whitefly – this means we don’t need to apply any chemical solutions.

We would probably be certifiable as fully organic if we didn’t use mineral based fertilizers, but that would complicate things as tomatoes are a hungry crop and we don’t want to sacrifice our quality.  When we have to heat the houses (rarely) we have a boiler that burns foreshore driftwood and offcuts from a local mill.  Our summer cooling is greatly assisted by our riverfront location; generally the breeze coming across the water helps to keep our temperature in check.

The fact that we only stock locally also reduces the crops carbon footprint by keeping our food miles low.  Crops are picked in the morning and delivered that afternoon and we never ever gas ripen: what you see is what it is with us.

Okay. That was impressive.  Why tomatoes?

We ask ourselves the same question sometimes!  We kind of dove right in without doing the research and learnt as we went along.  Luckily nothing went wrong with those early crops and we’ve now built up the experience, our product is getting better and better every year.  Perhaps next time we’ll plan it a bit more carefully, but we do love growing tomatoes!

Where can I buy your tomatoes?

We stock various grocers around Hobart, most of the big name gourmet ones as well as smaller neighbourhood options, ask them and they’ll tell you if they are currently stocking us!  We have our own little road-side stall which we love, we sell our toms and produce from the garden or other Tassie growers (lettuce, cucumber, herbs, potatoes etc.) at the end of Wallace Street in Bridgewater.  We really want to expand and have a presence at farmers markets such as the New Norfolk Farmers Market.  We’re also happy to deal directly with restaurants and the public.

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What should backyard growers do with their summer glut of tomatoes?

Eat them! Pickle them, chutney them, sauce them.  Make a basic sauce with just some onion and herbs, maybe red wine and a bay leaf and bottle that, you can use that as a base for soups, bolognaise, chili con carne, veggie roasts, sauces…..  Eat with grilled cheese, use with seafood, cook rice in it, toss pasta through it, add to mash potato, shepherd pie, serve with quiche.  You can make just about anything with it.

Milkshakes?

tomato milkshake

Never say never!

Fair enough.  Thanks for your time

No worries.  Take some tomatoes with you when you go..

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TomBoy farm is located on Wallace Street, Bridgewater, Their phone number is 0408107950.

Spending a few hours on a Sunday morning checking out TomBoys farm in Bridgewater was great, good to see passionate growers willing to work hard to get results.  The pickers started at 7, but I certainly didn’t get there pre 9:30!  Nevertheless they left me a token row so I could satisfy my need to get amongst it all, I love the smell of tomato plants: spicy, savoury and fresh.  You’ll see the orangey-red colour in my picture of the bucket of toms? That even colour means the tomato has taken what it needs from the vine, only requiring time to develop its full colour and flavour.  After picking, the tomatoes are passed through a bubbly water system to wash, graded by weight by a machine, then graded for quality by eye before being packed away.  All this happens not 20 meters from where the vines grow!  Packed boxes are transported by truck to various grocers around Hobart that afternoon, such a short/ minimal processing required food chain.

Grocers determine at what point the tomatoes hit the shelves – in the box the colour deepens within hours to a deep red, due to the fruits release of Ethylene, a plant hormone that promotes ripening (benefits of a MSc in Food Science and Technology: nerdy facts!).  Texturally, given they were picked that very day grocers are able to store the toms until required- just like fruit in a fruit bowl.

I ended up taking 20kg of sauce tomatoes with me..  And a few things from the TomBoys road-side stall, including a young Bay tree.  Side note: does anyone know if native wildlife will nibble down Bay trees like they have been my kaffir limes? Anyway –  I’ll share success, failures, results and recipes with you in the next blog!

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3 thoughts on “Grown in Tasmania: interview with Owen and Emma Kate of TomBoys

  1. HI Andrew, I’ve got a bay leaf tree at home which has not been nibbled by native wildlife or our dog (which is no mean feat since our dog eats everything and anything). They grow very fast too in a sunny spot

  2. Hey – I’ve been carting literally hundreds of Fowlers bottling jars around with me for years while I worked in different states. I’ve finally given the itinerancy up. A plan for years has been to start bottling my own tomatoes and to give up buying tinned ones. Do you know if the tomatoes these guys do are suitable for bottling? I was attempting to create a crop of Romas to bottle, but the wallabies have put paid to that idea for this year.

    • Hi Phil, I’m pretty sure you can bottle any tomato but I guess some you may have to cook down more to bring out the flavour once you un-bottle. Sally Wise books are usually a great place to start with bottling advice too. Pen

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