Tomatoes – Gardening Tips from the Culinary View

Tomatoes – Gardening Tips from the Culinary View

as recommended by Michael Vidrine

Did You Know…

Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) are native to South America and have been cultivated in South and Central America and much of Mexico since at least 500 BC.  The Spanish brought the tomato to Europe in the 1500’s but it didn’t make it back to North America until the 1700’s.  Botanically the tomato is a fruit (a berry in fact) but culinarily we usually treat it as a vegetable.  As a member of the Solanaceae family, tomatoes are related to potatoes, peppers, eggplant, tobacco, and petunias.

Types of Tomatoes

Tomatoes are generally grouped by their growth and fruiting characteristics.  Indeterminate type tomato plants continue to grow and set fruit over the whole season while determinate plants tend to set most fruit all at once.  Plants can also have very long vines or be more like a bush.  Different varieties produce ripe tomatoes that are red, yellow, green, purple, white or combinations of these colors.   Fruit size can vary from over a pound to just the size of a small grape.  Many modern tomato varieties have been hybridized for disease resistance as well as fast, consistent fruit production.  Lots of gardeners still plant older “heirloom” varieties because they like their flavor.

When to Plant

Where it does not freeze, tomatoes are a perennial plant but, in our area, tomatoes are grown as a warm season annual.  Seeds are started indoors in late winter and the plants set out after the last freeze date in the spring.  For a small garden, plants can be purchased direct from a nursery.  Young plants may still require some frost protection if there is an unexpected cold snap.  Most varieties will do their best with support to keep the vines and fruit off the ground – either caging or staking the plants is common.

Harvest and Storage

Tomatoes are at their best if allowed to fully vine ripen – they will have the maximum sugars and “tomato flavor”.  Full sized green fruit will ripen off the vine (that’s called climacteric) and market fruit are often picked this way so they will ship well. There is a noticeable difference in flavor between green picked and vine ripened.  If there is a freeze expected at the end of the season, pick all mature sized tomatoes, and let then ripen indoors at room temperature. They will still be as good as what you can get at the market and you may have home grown tomatoes until February. Tomatoes should be stored indoors at room temperature – do not refrigerate.  For longer term use, tomatoes can be frozen, canned, juiced and dehydrated.

Michael Vidrine Brazos Valley Gardener, Orchardist, Apiarist and Instructor

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