Tomatoes growing on a vine

The tomato is the most commonly cultivated edible, and it’s easy to understand why.

Red, yellow, green and even purple, tomatoes come in a range of colours, shapes and flavours to satisfy the senses.

And it isn’t just Australia’s favourite, it’s also the world’s most popular fruit.

But while the tomato is botanically a fruit, it is considered a vegetable for culinary purposes.

Tomatoes can be found in pastas, pizzas, curries, risottos, soups, salads and sauces. Without the tomato, many staple dishes would be wiped from the culinary map. Not just versatile and popular, tomatoes are also good for you.

They are rich in vitamins A and C, beta-carotene, potassium and the antioxidant lycopene. They contain no cholesterol and are low in fat and calories and are also a good source of fibre.

Tomato sauce in a pan with a wooden spoon

Tomatoes are a kitchen staple and an essential ingredient for lots of pasta sauces

A wild start

Tomatoes are eaten worldwide but are natives of South America.

The Spanish found tomatoes growing in Mexico around 1550 and introduced the yellow-fruited species to Europe. They were seedy, rough-skinned and sour.

While the Spanish ate them wild, the Italians and English considered tomatoes poisonous because they belonged to the nightshade family.

Tomatoes were grown as ornamentals and used for table decoration until the mid-1800s. They were then bred with smooth skins and round shapes.

Their mild flavour made them acceptable as fruits for the table and tomatoes have been culinary favourites ever since.

Red, yellow and green tomatoes on the vineTomatoes come in a range of colours including yellow, green and purple

Cultivate from seed

Growing from seed gives you a much larger choice of tomatoes, including old-fashioned or heirloom varieties.

The seeds can be sown outdoors all year in the tropics, until November in cool areas and until December in temperate zones.

You can use any small pot or seedling punnet. Jiffy Peat Pots are ideal, as you can plant them in the garden to avoid transplant shock.

To raise seedlings, fill a clean small pot with moist seed-raising mix and make a shallow indentation in the surface about 5mm deep.

Sow the seed in the base and cover with mix. Wrap the pot or punnet in clear plastic to provide warmth and encourage germination.

The plastic has to be removed as soon as the seeds germinate, which will take anywhere from 6-14 days, depending on the temperature.

Position the pot in a warm spot. Keep the seed-raising mix slightly moist, using a spray bottle to mist it with water, and when the seedlings have reached about 75mm high, they are ready to harden off in a sunnier location.

When they’re about 100mm high, transplant them into the garden.