Cooking Tomatoes | Growing Tomatoes | Varieties | Planting | Flowering | Training | Troubles
While the tomato is most closely associated with the cuisine of Italy, it first arrived in Europe to Spain from Mexico, not long after Cortes took control of Mexico in 1523. However, it is perhaps fitting that the earliest documentary mention of the tomato is thought to be an Italian reference to a yellow-skinned form in 1544, hence pomodoro, 'golden apple'. Although tomatoes had been widely cultivated in Mexico before the arrival of the Europeans, there was great suspicion about the tomato when it first arrived in Europe. Botanists of the time knew that many members of the Solanum family are poisonous and they recognised its family features, especially of its flowers.
Tomatoes acquired a reputation as an aphrodisiac and were known as ‘love apples' and ‘pomme d'amour'. This reputation has faded but it was perhaps instrumental in encouraging people to taste the fruit. While mostly used as a ‘vegetable', the tomato is, of course, a fruit and a berry at that. This is more obvious with the small-sized cherry tomatoes that with the usual sizes and the large ‘beef' tomatoes. These latter types are grown for their mealy flesh rather than their juicy seed pulp. A wide variety of fruit shapes is grown, and colours mostly red though yellow and striped too. The tomato plant is a short lived perennial and it is not hardy, though some variety are more tolerant of cool conditions than others.
Tomatoes are an incredibly versatile food, being used both cooked and fresh in myriad ways. The flavour of tomatoes complements many other foods, balanced as it is between acid and sweet flavours. The colour of the fruit is valued in many dishes and the tomato has good nutritional value, being a good source of Vitamins A and C, with some fibre and smaller amounts of many other vitamins and minerals. It contains the valuable anitoxidant, lycopene, the concentration of which is actually increased by cooking although some Vitamin C is lost.
Site and soil: Tomatoes can be grown in a greenhouse or outdoors. Greenhouse tomatoes can be grown in pots or in the open ground. Outdoor tomatoes are successful in most years.
Sowing: Plants can be raised from seeds or purchased. The earliest seeds can be sown in the first weeks of the year for early greenhouse planting, and later planting in April can be made form sowings in February or early March. Choose greenhouse varieties for indoor use. Outdoor varieties are raised from seeds sown in the first half of March to make plants of good size for planting out.
The seed catalogues list a very wide range of varieties to which new kinds are added all the time. Classic varieties include ‘Alicante', ‘Gardener's Delight', the beef variety ‘Marmande' and the cherry tomato ‘Tumbler'.
Transplant the seedling to a small pot, grow on steadily and plant the tomato plant when it is about pencil height into good fertile soil or compost and do not water much until established and growing actively. Outdoors plant in a sheltered sunny spot in early June. Greenhouse plants must be always just moist at the root, never saturated and never dry.
In the greenhouse tomatoes can fail to form on the first flower truss if the plant is too well watered, also the first trusses have a better chance if the plants are gently shaken to release pollen, especially early-sown plants. Outdoor plants will be shaken by air movement.
Greenhouse tomatoes are trained to a single stem, supported by wrapping around a string tied to wires in the roof of the greenhouse, and the side shoots removed continually. Outdoor bush types do not have their side-shoots removed but it is beneficial to tie up the plant to a short stake to assist air movement and ripening.
The tomatoes are picked when they colour and green fruits that are fully formed will ripen off the plant.
Tomatoes have a range of pests and diseases though most of these do not arise. Watch for greenflies and whiteflies in the greenhouse and potato blight outdoors. Tomato wilt caused by root rot diseases can affect tomatoes grown in the same greenhouse soil for some years.