Ann Graham of Burroloo Well Hydroponics is enjoying a bumper season of tomatoes this year, and the 500 odd plants in her hydroponics growing tunnel are laden with ripening fruit, pungent with the aroma of summer.
According to Ann, the key to a good tasting tomato is vine ripening, and she picks her fruit when they are red – and says they are best eaten when bright red but still very firm. Her sentiments are echoed by Maggie Edmonds, from Maggies Place in the Swan Valley, “Many tomatoes sold these
days are completely tasteless. Often, the varieties bred are just for ease of travel – i.e. do not bruise easily – and for long shelf life. Burroloo Well’s actually smell like tomatoes picked from your garden and they taste delicious.”
The reason for this is that the majority of supermarket tomatoes are picked green. They’re ripened by exposing them to ethylene gas, which imitates some of the changes that occur during ripening, like the development of the red colour, but because the sugars and flavour compounds are fed to the fruit from the vine itself, the taste is compromised.
Ann and her family has been growing a winter crop of hydroponic tomatoes for 12 years now, starting off with three plastic-covered growing tunnels which maintain an ideal growing environment, keeping the temperature a balmy 25-30 degrees.
Studies have shown that hydroponic produce tastes no different from that which is grown to the ripe stage in soil, but the benefits of easier pest control, protection for plants and efficient consumption of nutrients and water means higher production and better quality.
The main problems affecting Ann’s crop are usually Powdery Mildew and red spider mite, and she’s not sure if it’s because of all the wonderful rainwater they’ve benefitted from this season, but neither have affected her prolific crop.
A Bindoon resident for over 45 years, Ann is perhaps best known in the area for her volunteer work with Chittering Landcare, and Chittering Wildlife Carers, and can generally be spotted at local events sporting a joey. In her spare time she also operates a family farmstay accommodation business on the nearly 700 acre property.
More recently Ann has scaled back production to running a single tunnel, a quantity of plants she can manage on her own. With tomato prices at the Canning Vales markets now down around $2 per kilo, there is little incentive to make the trip, and all of Ann’s tomatoes are sold locally.
You’d certainly be hard pressed to buy a tomato with less food miles! And the flavour? Well that’s just something you ought to try for yourself.