Small breeds, big taste: Bemboka’s dwarf tomato project

Patrina Nuske-Small, newly of Bemboka, breeds new varieties of dwarf tomatoes.

Patrina Nuske-Small, newly of Bemboka, breeds new varieties of dwarf tomatoes.

NEW varieties of dwarf tomato are being bred in Bemboka. 

Patrina Nuske-Small is the co-founder of the Dwarf Tomato Project and has been breeding the new tomatoes. 

They are ‘dwarfs’ in plant size only – one new variety she is developing produces fruit that weighs in around half a kilo. 

She named the first eight families she developed after dwarves from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves – inventing a new name for the eighth - and has now bred 27 families and 13 varieties. 

“In every family you might develop four or five different varieties, or just one,” she said. 

A selection of new dwarf tomatoes bred by the Dwarf Tomato Project.

A selection of new dwarf tomatoes bred by the Dwarf Tomato Project.

Texture and taste are the most important things she aims to enhance, and tastes in her plants can include sweet or spicy. 

Some of her personal favourites include the pink Rosella Crimson, purple striped Adelaide Festival and the yellow Banksia Queen. 

“They’re kind of my kids,” she laughed. 

In 2004 Ms Nuske-Small became interested in gardening, and joined online forums discussing gardening techniques before she focused on tomatoes. 

She crossed her first tomatoes, breeding one variety with a different kind, in 2006, which was successful. 

Around that time in one of the online forums, Craig LeHoullier from the US suggested she start breeding tomatoes. 

“I thought that sounded like fun,” Ms Nuske-Small said.

“The aim was to have a wider variety of tomatoes available for people.”

They concentrated on dwarfs, and began a two-hemisphere project – once plants grown in the southern hemisphere season seeded, the seeds were sent to the northern hemisphere to grow in the season there and vice versa, effectively growing the plant strain in two seasons in one year.

“It takes a long time to develop a new variety,” Ms Nuske-Small said. 

“You need to grow it year after year, up to seven or eight generations before it’s always going to give you exactly the same thing each time you save seeds and plant new seeds each year. 

“At that point it’s fully stable, and it’s called open pollinated.”

Due to new quarantine laws, it is not feasible for the two-hemisphere project to continue and now plants are bred in separate hemispheres. 

Ms Nuske-Small expected to continue the project in Australia until 2020. 

“Whatever’s been stabilised by that stage will be the varieties I hope will be maintained by growers in Australia,” she said. 

“As far as I’m concerned it’s for biodiversity.

“Dwarfism is a recessive trait and so it’s not very common, but the way society is today where a lot of people don’t have very big gardens, in cities especially, the challenge is to find something they can grow in a small space. 

“I think they’ll become quite important varieties, and so I want them to be more widely known so they can be available to people in those situations.” 

Ms Nuske-Small will be selling seeds of the varieties she has grown at the Bemboka Market on July 5, or her seeds can be bought online through the Dwarf Tomato Project website. 

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