The Glorious Tomato by Angelina Jordan Item Number: article7Lycopersicon esculentum
As rich in history as it is in flavor, there is probably no other garden fruit or vegetable in either category that enjoys so much preference as the tomato. Even those who don’t typically enjoy gardening often find it incredibly easy to grow tomatoes.
Part of the Solanaceae, or nightshade family, tomatoes are warm season plants. These self fruiting plants do not need pollinating or another plant to bear fruit.
History of the Tomato
Versatile in its use, the tomato is often thought of as ordinary, but it actually has a quite a rich history. Originating in South America, tomatoes were grown by the ancient Aztecs and Incas. Later they were introduced to Central America and Mexico, which is where Europeans first tasted them. Pockets filled with tomato seeds traveled back across the Atlantic to the Spain, Portugal and Italy.
Nicknamed by the French "pomme d'amour", or "love apple", tomatoes were believed to be an aphrodisiac. The French migrated into Louisiana in the early 1800’s and used tomatoes to create defining original Creole dishes. As travel increased, tomatoes became widespread and began to appear in other original recipes such as Southern Tomato Pie and New England Clam Chowder.
Although the British welcomed American imports
such as cotton and tobacco, they didn’t have much of an appetite for the tomato
didn’t truly consider it a food. Instead, they believed that it was poisonous.
Surprising, so did most early Americans.
As a plant or botanical species, the tomato is in fact a fruit. This agricultural classification made it exempt from import taxes, which meant that foreign grown tomatoes cost less than those grown in the U.S. To protect the tomato market from being saturated by foreign imports, a growers association filed suit to have the tomato reclassified as a vegetable. According to its 1893 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered that the tomato is a vegetable.
Tomato Growing Zones
Tomatoes can be grown in zones 2 through 10.
Zones 2 – 4: May – June
Zones 5 – 6: April – June
Zones 7 – 8: March - May
Zones 9 – 10: March – May
Fertile soil with a Ph level ranging from 5.8 to 8.0 is best for tomatoes. It should be rich in phosphorus and calcium. Use organic products such as crushed egg shells and oyster shells to add these nutrients naturally. Too much nitrogen can reduce yields.
Seed Depth: ˝ inch deep in soil, easier to begin indoors.
Plant Spacing: 12 inches apart, more if using trellises.
Row Spacing: 4 – 6 feet, depending upon which variety.
Stakes and Cages
Determinate, bush-like, tomatoes stop growing at a certain point. They can be adequately supported with a wire cage.
Indeterminate tomatoes send out rigourus vines that continue to grow. Use stakes or trellises for support. As the plant grows, tie loosely to the stake with twine, cloth, or nylon stockings for extra give.
Put stakes and cages into the ground at planting time or shortly thereafter to avoid damaging growing roots.
Tomatoes are true fans of summer sunshine. They require at least six hours of direct sunlight in order to thrive and produce. Before choosing a definite spot to plant your tomatoes observe it at varying times of the day, particularly if there are trees and/or other larger plants nearby.
Tomatoes require daily watering. Monitor plants carefully to make sure that the ground does not become saturated. Use a spray bottle instead of direct watering of the plant itself and water near ground level.
Aphids – tiny, greenish-black sucking insects that cluster on the underside of leaves. They stunt the entire plant and curl its leaves. Pick them off in clusters or spray with water to remove.
Cutworms – just like the name suggests, cutworms sever the tomato plant and can kill it quickly.
Hornworms – green 3-4 inch caterpillar pests. They eat weak plants as a normal part of nature’s recycling process.
Bacterial Wilt – Bacteria multiplied by high humidity and hot weather enter the plant through its roots, increases internally to deteriorate the plant’s interior while leaves stay green.
Early Blight – The evidence of this disease is small black lesions on the plant, which begin on older foliage and can cover the entire plant. Lesions also appear on the fruits causing them to drop early.
Late Blight – It affects all areas of the plant, causing leaf lesions appearing as dark, wet spots with white mold on the edges.
Leaf Mold – Fungus-born spores develop a velvet-like grayish covering of the lower leaves. Stems, blossoms and fruits can be destroyed.
Buckeye Rot – spread by surface water and rain. Brown-colored spots which are lesions cause the fruit to decay.
Blossom-End Rot – plant disorder caused by a calcium deficiency during early stages. Characterized by water-soaked spots.
Beefsteak – Extra large tomato requiring long growing time, producing rich, hearty fruits.
Cherry – Small, pop-in-your-mouth sized favorites for salads and snacks, shaped like a cherry.
Grape – Very close relative to the cherry tomato, except that it is shaped like a grape.
Roma – Also called Plum or Italian, cylinder-shaped smaller tomatoes with meaty insides for making pastes and/or sauces.
Salad – Average-sized rounder tomatoes used mostly in salads or served fresh, but not for canning due to large number of seeds.
Different varieties of tomatoes have different rates of maturity. Smaller varieties such as cherry and grape tomatoes mature quickly while other larger tomatoes take longer to ripen.
It is the color of the tomato which gages its ripeness. For most varieties, it takes from 55 – 75 days from transplant date for the plant to produce ripe tomatoes. On average, it takes ten days for a tomato to advance from its early green stage to bright red or its other signature color.
If you are going to be away and unable to harvest your tomatoes when they are ripe, pick them before they have fully ripened. Place in a dry, sunny spot for further ripening. Store them in a cool, dark room to prevent over-ripening.
Harvest all tomatoes prior to the first frost. They can be picked individually or by harvesting the entire plant and hanging it upside down in a cool, dark area for more ripening.
The tomato is one of nature’s finest antioxidants and a valuable source of Vitamin C, E, and Lycopene. Lycopene is the pigment responsible for the bright red color. Sure, these benefits can be purchased in supplements but are best-delivered naturally. Each tomato you can or preserve is a single demonstration of your commitment to ensuring your family’s heath.
Cut tomato slices into 1" slices. In hot, arid climates, tomatoes can be dried in the sun for sun-dried tomatoes. If the climate does not permit, dry tomatoes in the oven at 140-150 degrees fahrenheit for 10-24 hours. Tomatoes can be dried in 8-16 hours in a dehydrator. Storing dried tomatoes in vacuum sealed bags will last up to 6 months.
1 bushel will make 18 quarts of canned tomatoes. For safer water bath canning, you may be required to add some lemon juice or citric acid depending on the acidity levels. A higher quality product with a higher nutrition value can be obtained by canning with a pressure canner.
Frozen tomatoes are best for sauces, soups and stews since they become mushy when thawing.