Tomato Diary 11

15 Oct: Ripening very nicely, thank you!

The experiment: to grow tomatoes on my balcony during a Sydney winter using seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato. (Although we’re well into spring now.)

There’s not much left to say about the experiment. I think we can all agree it was a success, albeit not a quick one. From seed planting in early May, it’s taken almost seven months for the tomatoes to reach the eating stage (I had five for lunch on Sunday!). So yes, seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato will germinate and the plants will grow in a Sydney winter, but they definitely prefer the spring with its overall warmer temperatures and longer days. (So do I, actually.)

22 Oct: Good enough to eat?

Remember in September, I started to water one pot with milk and to not use chemical fertiliser? That experiment was not a success. The milk didn’t seem to hydrate the plants as well as water, and the pot is significantly heavier. Some digging with a stick revealed that the bottom 3 or 4 inches of soil has turned into a type of semi-solid swamp that released quite an unpleasant smell as I dug around. The liquid oozing from the drainage holes was a sort of thick green. (It’s the pot on the left in the photo below.) My advice: don’t do it!

The powdery mildew problem has not been cured by spraying the leaves with diluted milk, even with the addition of baking soda to the mix (a suggestion from Jude). You can see in the group photo below that these plants have a lot of naked stems! If you’re wondering why they haven’t gained much in height, the answer is that I’m pinching off their tops when they get to the height of the stakes because the plants generally sit on the balcony’s raised bed (visible at left) and there isn’t much vertical room.

22 Oct: Not the healthiest looking tomato plants you’ll ever see! But there are 80-odd tomatoes, the largest the size of a golf ball or small plum.

Interestingly, the star performer of the five plants has been the runt that I retrieved from the rubbish because I felt sorry for it (the small black pot above). It was the first to flower and the first with ripening fruit, and is taller than two of what were apparently the four strongest ones.

I’m keeping a tally of harvested tomatoes, and when this is all over I’ll let you know how many I get.


Pride of Madeira (and bees!)

I love those pink/purple stamens sticking out.

On a visit to the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney a couple of weeks ago, I came across a very large planting of Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans)*. The large flower spikes are at about eye level — and the bees absolutely loved them. I was very glad these were non-aggressive bees!

It’s interesting how the flowers appear in spirals.

Let me at that pollen!

The photo below is a crop of the one above, to zero in on the bee. That “pollen basket” (thanks to Jude for introducing me to that term) is so blue that it looks like an enamelled jewel adorning the bee’s leg.

This bee is kind of cute with its hairy front.

*Don’t be too impressed by my plant knowledge — being a botanic garden, everything has a label. 🙂


Tomato Diary 10

Time to eat one of these babies!

The experiment: to grow tomatoes on my balcony during a Sydney winter using seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato. (Although we’re well into spring now.)

I wasn’t sure if this was ripe enough, but only one way to find out!

It was not quite ripe enough — slightly bitter, and not exactly full of flavour. There are 81 more on the plants, sized from marbles to small plums, so no doubt I’ll eventually get the timing right.

Tune in later for Tomato Diary 11.


Tomato Diary 9

5 October — ripening at last!

The experiment: to grow tomatoes on my balcony during a Sydney winter using seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato. (Although we’re well into spring now.)

Finally! I thought these things would never turn red. However, I haven’t fixed the powdery mildew problem, and leaves continue to die at an alarming pace.

Dying leaves.

Mushrooms are popping up too!

I’d eat these if I knew they weren’t poisonous.

Here’s a larger shot of the header image: the shadows of the plants against my curtains in the bright morning sun.

Tune in later for Tomato Diary 10.


Tomato Diary 8

You can see all the tomatoes coming along — and also see where I’ve picked off all the dying bottom leaves.

The experiment: to grow tomatoes on my balcony during a Sydney winter using seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato. (Although we’re well into spring now.)

Oh dear, things are looking worrying. Last evening it was very windy so I moved the pots to the balcony floor, which meant that this morning I was able to look down on the leaves. Powdery mildew is rampant!

A selection of the leaves I’ve removed in the past few days.

Not happy at all.

So off I went to Google again to see what is suggested. And would you believe it — milk! Diluted 1:4 or 1:5, and sprayed on the leaves weekly. So I have diligently done so. As for the pot that is being “watered” with milk, I can’t say that those two plants look any better or any worse than the three plants getting more conventional fertiliser. It’s the middle pot in the photo of all three pots at the top.

They look good from this angle!

Now the race is on: will any tomato ripen and be edible before all the plants die from the bottom up?

Tune in later for Tomato Diary 9.


Tomato Diary 7

5 Sept: The largest tomato is golf-ball size now.

The experiment: to grow tomatoes on my balcony during a Sydney winter using seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato.

Sadly, we are back to a mix of good and bad news for this update. 😦 As you can see above and below, I have lots of tomatoes coming along.

We’re out of winter and into spring now, and the temperatures are warming up. The sun blasting onto the exposed pails was quickly drying out the soil. Easily fixed, though: I put up some black sunblockers to keep the pails in the shade, and made nifty covers for the soil on top.

Sept 5: Keeping cool!

However, here’s the bad news: the lower leaves are yellowing again. You can see it in the photo above. I shall try fertilising twice a week rather than once, and see if that helps. However, in true experiment fashion, I’m going to try something different for this pot (you may have noticed the yellow straw on the right, there to remind me that this is the experimental pot). I read that tomato plant problems are often caused by lack of calcium in the soil. Well, what has lots of calcium?

Calcium and B vitamins — not just for mammals!

Yes, milk! And sure enough, various gardening websites told me that “watering” tomatoes with a 50-50 water/milk mix is a “thing”. However, once plants go on the milk diet they can’t be given standard fertiliser because the chemicals break down the good bacteria in the milk. So we’ll see what happens!

Tune in later for Tomato Diary 8.


Tomato Diary 6

First tomato! 19 August

The experiment: to grow tomatoes on my balcony during a Sydney winter using seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato.

The news is good for this update! I have not one but TWO tomatoes. Granted, not very big, but definitely coming along.

Tomato number two is to the right of the ‘large’ one and up a bit.

After the yellowing leaves reported in the last update, it was time for action. I bought some 10L pails for $2 each in my supermarket to use as pots (I added drainage holes), and extracted the two sets of two plants from their existing pots (maybe 3L in size), then very carefully prised apart the roots. I then planted two in each of two 10L pails, as far as apart in the pail as I could. The smallest plant moved into one of the now-vacant 3L pots; I would have thrown it out, as I did with another one the same size, but this plant was farthest along with flowers so I figured it deserved a chance. It’s the one showing tomatoes in the photos.

8 August: two in a new pail, two in an old pot. Once again, I buried the lowest set of leaves in the soil in order to get more roots, so the repotted two don’t look as tall as you’d expect.

Here are two shots of all five on the balcony. I’m a bit worried about how tall they’ll grow! They’re getting full sun now from sunrise (about 6.30am now) until the point where the sun is too far west to hit my balcony, roughly 1.30pm. So seven hours of direct sunshine. They’re also getting weekly fertiliser now.

19 August, basking in the morning sun.

19 August, basking in the morning sun.

Tune in later for Tomato Diary 7.


Tomato Diary 5

The good news: Flowers are opening!

The experiment: to grow tomatoes on my balcony during a Sydney winter using seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato.

There’s good news and there’s bad news for this update. The plants are 25-38cm (10-15 inches) high and, as you can see above, the flowers are starting to open. However, as you can see below, not all is well with the plants.

The top of the plants look great, the bottoms look unhappy.

A closer view of those yellowing leaves at the base.

Not as bad with these two, but you can see it.

Something I read online suggests the plants aren’t getting enough nutrients from the soil. My parents (successful tomato growers) suggest the pots are too small — each plant should have its own 5-gallon (18L) pot. I have neither the room nor the soil for such huge containers, plus that would mean putting them on the balcony floor where they’d get much less direct sunlight. The tomato experiment may well hit the wall here!

Tune in later for Tomato Diary 6.


Tomato Diary 4

21 July: The crop is flourishing! I’ve rested a blue 6in/15cm ruler in the left-most pot for scale.

The experiment: to grow tomatoes during a Sydney winter using seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato.

Since the last instalment of Tomato Diary, a veritable forest has sprung into being on my balcony. But the real reason for an update is — ta da! — flowers! (Well, buds.) On all six plants. This is marvellous, but rather worrying regarding possible quantity.

21 July: Flowers at last, about the size of caraway seeds.

23 July: Hairy little devils, aren’t they?

Admission: The eagle-eyed reader will have noticed references to six plants, not eight as in the last post. The two smallest ones (which I fished out of the discard pile and potted) certainly grew, but never caught up in size to the others. So it was back into the rubbish with them. I should probably get rid of four more plants, because I could be looking at a LOT of tomatoes.

Tune in later for Tomato Diary 5.


An architectural perspective

Macquarie Bank interior, Martin Place, Sydney.

These two photos are of the central atrium of the Macquarie Bank building in Sydney. It is, in rather florid terms, “centred around a striking inter-connecting feature staircase built within a new 8mx8m void penetration over seven floors.” (source) Void penetration, eh? Let’s skip over that one. The $100 million-plus refurbishment took just over two years, ending in September 2014. (source) I visited in September 2019 as part of Sydney Open, when various buildings open to the public.

There were, as you’d imagine, various signs warning you not to lean over the rail or hold your camera over. My camera was safely strapped around my neck and has a nifty fold-out swivel viewscreen, so (after checking that no one in a fluorescent vest was watching!) I was able to extend the camera over the ‘void’, compose the photos and snap. One of the fluro vest wearers did spot me lurking and told me very severely not to lean over the rail; I assured her that I would not. I didn’t add that there was no need to lean, as the deed had already been accomplished. hehehe

I would not want to sit at one of those desks at ground level. Who knows what might fall on you?

July is Squares Month, and the theme is Perspective. I’ve gone for another geometric interpretation.