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BONNIE'S GARDEN--Love Apples? You mean, tomatoes...

Tomatoes—Solanum lycopersicum—are native to the New World, found in the wild in Central and South America.  In 1519, the explorer Cortez took some seeds back with him to Europe where they were planted as ornamental plants.  People were convinced they were toxic because it was readily apparent that they were related to the Nightshade.  And, of course, the foliage and uncooked green fruits do contain toxic alkaloids.

The first tomatoes introduced were probably yellow because in Spain and Italy tomatoes were called “pomi d’oro” or “yellow apples.”  In France, tomatoes were called “pommes d’amour” or “love apples” as they were convinced they had aphrodisiacal properties.

While the rest of Europe was convinced that tomatoes were toxic, Italy began to experiment with introducing them into their cuisine.  It wasn’t until the early 1800’s that tomatoes made their way back to the New World—North America this time.  They were grown as early as 1781 by Thomas Jefferson in the gardens at Monticello.

In 1897, a young man named William A. Campbell put condensed tomato soup into a can and the rest is history.

Tomatoes are one of the staples of any backyard garden.  To successfully grow tomatoes, you need full, all day long sun—preferably 8 or more hours.  If you only get six hours, go for it.  If you only get five, I’m not going to tell you not to try, what I am going to tell you is to lower your expectations.  If you only get four hours of sun, then learn to love leafy greens because chances are you won’t get much of a tomato harvest.

Tomatoes grow one of two ways.  Some tomatoes are known as “determinate.”  These tomatoes are sold as bush or patio varieties.  They tend to set fruit over a fairly short period of time—usually two to three weeks.  This means you tend to get your harvest over a few days—great if you are planning to freeze or can tomatoes.  Other tomatoes are “indeterminate.”  These tomatoes, technically vines, keep growing over the course of the summer and can top out at six, eight, even ten feet tall so will need to be stakes or trellised. 

Allow enough room between plants so they don’t touch each other.  This way if one gets a disease or insect pest, it won’t necessarily spread from plant to plant.  Unfortunately, tomatoes are prone to a few problems.  One of the most common is blossom-end rot.  This is when the bottom of a tomato gets brown and kind of water-logged looking. This occasionally happens with the first flush of fruit—particularly if we’ve had more rain than usual early in the season.  More often, it is the result of a calcium deficiency in the soil.  Adding crushed eggshells to your soil will help with next season’s tomatoes.  Or you can feed with Tomato-Tone, an organic vegetable garden fertilizer which contains calcium.

If we’ve had a lot of rain early in the season, then tomatoes can get Early Blight which is a fungal disease so applying an organic fungicide may help.  Making sure to water your plants correctly can also help.  Don’t get the foliage wet when you water.  Try to concentrate your water at the base of the plants.  In late summer, after a spell of excessively humid weather, tomatoes can also get Late Blight.  Treat it the same as Early Blight.

Tomatoes are prone to other bacterial and viral diseases, however, for which nothing can be done short of destroying the plant and not planting any other tomato family member there for three years.  This is why it is recommended that you rotate crops every three years.  You can plant cucumbers, squash, beans, carrots, etc. there but just no tomato relatives.

One last thing, if you have always grown a Better Boy or a Big Boy or an Early Girl, then I’m going to challenge you to try a variety this year you’ve never tried before.  There are hundreds of varieties—some so similar to the other than you can hardly tell them apart, but others very different.  Black Krim and Cherokee Purple, for example, are both “purple” tomatoes; however Black Krim has a light salty back note while Cherokee Purple has a rich almost smoky flavor. Shake it up, try something new, and let me know how it works out!

Posted: 4/28/2014 by Bonnie Pega | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: BonniePega, Bonnie'sGarden
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