I Say Tomato, I Said So

Happy Monday to EVERYONE!

I hope you have all had a wonderful weekend.  I did not go out to the garden this morning, but I think Molly and Thea were out there.  I’ll give you an update tomorrow!

Today, I’d like to explore the wonderful world of TOMATOES! 

Tomatoes are some of the most popular garden vegetables in the United States.  Once considered poisonous, tomatoes used to be grown solely for their beauty.  Now tomatoes are some of America’s very favorite garden vegetables.  They are easy to grow and produce quite a bit of fruit per plant.  Fruits picked fresh off the vine are miles better than anything you could find in the supermarket.

There are hundreds of varieties available to the gardener.  They range widely in color, size, shape, plant type, disease resistance, and days to maturity.  Due to the enormous variety, it can sometimes be difficult to choose the best plant for your garden!  At Wild Roots, we have more than two dozen varieties.

We have: Better Boy, Black Prince, Black Triffle, Box Car Willie, Brandy Wine, Burpee Delicious, Burpee Supersteak, Caspian Pink Heirloom, Cherokee Purple, Early Girl Bush, Fantastic, Grapette, Green Zebra, Huskey Red Cherry, Juliet Hybrid, Lemon Boy, Marglobe, Prince Bourgherse Heirloom, Red Pear, Roma, Sungold, Yellow Pear, Yellow Plum, and even more!!

There are two types of tomato plants.  Determinate tomatoes eventually form a flower cluster at terminal growing point, causing the plant to stop getting taller.  This type of plant is more of a tiny bush than a stalky plant.  Those plants that never form a terminal flower cluster are called indeterminate.  The indeterminate plants are generally older varieties, which produce flavorful fruit.  However, indeterminates are later-maturing than determinate.  When first developed, the determinates had problems with early ripening and poor taste, but those issues have been worked out.  They still ripen early, but now they too are tasty.  They are generally easier to control than indeterminates.

In order to give your tomatoes the best chance to produce tasty fruit, it is best to start transplants or seeds inside.  This will save weeks of growing time in the hot summer.  Plant when the soil is warm, and there is no risk of frost.  Late plantings often produce the best quality tomatoes, but one wouldn’t be able to harvest them until fall.

Be sure to give your tomatoes enough space to grow.  This depends completely on what type of tomato you choose.  Indeterminates need climbing space, determinates need ground space.  In ideal conditions (like ours at Wild Roots), your tomatoes will grow like crazy.  Ours have taken over the planters and are already producing fruit.  It won’t be long until we have lots of ripe tomatoes.  At Wild Roots, we planted tomatoes pretty close together, but we are taking a “bonsai” approach.  Under the expert advice of Ann Ziegelmaier (landscape architect to the stars!), we are going to keep our tomatoes well pruned.  The idea is: if we keep the leaves trimmed down, we can get the plant to put more energy into producing fruit.  This means cleaner gardens and more fruit.  The trimming is well underway, and we’ll tell you how it works out.

Another fun thing we have going in the Wild Roots garden is the upside down tomatoes.  The bottom of each high planter has 3 drainage holes.  Each hole has a plant growing out the bottom.  These are determinate varieties.  So far so good on those guys.  Only a very few haven’t survived.  Most of the upside down plants have completely changed the shape of their stems to adapt to their new living conditions.  They are now U-shaped stems, allowing the broad leaves the best chance to get good sunlight.  I love the upside-down tomato idea!  It looks amazing and we are already getting fruit on those!

Back to the point, you can fertilize tomatoes to help them get acclimated to the soil after transplanting.  Keep weeds down around the roots.  Mulch around the plant if you are able to, as it contains moisture and keeps weeds down.  Keep plants thoroughly watered during hot weather.  Plants in pots or planters need watering daily when the weather is hot.

You might want to train your tomatoes on stakes, cages, or trellises.  Keeping your fruit off of the ground is ideal.

When harvesting tomatoes, they should be firm and fully colored.  The highest quality tomatoes are ripened on the vine at 75°F, when the temperature is hotter, the softening is accelerated and the color development is slowed, producing lower quality tomatoes.  During the hottest days of summer, be sure to harvest when the fruit has just started to color, and harvest every day.  Before a frost is expected, you should harvest all green fruits and allow them to mature inside.

Do not store fresh ripe tomatoes in the refrigerator.  The cold environment leaves them tasteless and the flesh become mushy.  Only refrigerate already extra-ripe tomatoes, as it does slow the ripening process.

In order to expedite the ripening process, put tomatoes in a paper bag with the stem end up.  Put several holes in the bag and close the top.  The bag should contain some of the ethylene gas which aids ripening.

I’d like to share some of the nutritional benefits of tomatoes.  We know tomatoes are tasty, especially vine ripened ones, but how are they good for us?  “Nutritionists have always known tomatoes were good for you, now there is research-based information as to why. Tomatoes are packed with vitamin C, potassium, fiber and vitamin A in the form of health promoting beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A…”

Even better, “tomatoes are also a source of lycopene, which is the subject of current promising research on the role of plant chemicals that promote health. Research suggests that lycopene may play a role in the fight against cancer, especially prostate cancer. Like beta-carotene, lycopene is a carotenoid, responsible for the bright red color of the tomato, watermelon, and grapefruit.” Although lycopene is available in all ripe tomatoes, a greater supply is available to the body in cooked tomatoes.

I personally don’t love raw tomatoes, it is a texture thing, but I love the flavor!  Any use of tomato is a good use.  Canned, chopped, sautéed, etc, etc.

Try something new with your garden tomatoes!

Have a Great Day!

Happy Gardening,
Adrienne W.

Here is a fun recipe I found that uses fresh tomatoes and other veggies you can grow in your garden.  This recipe is from CookingLight.com, June 2009.

Roasted Corn, Pepper, and Tomato Chowder

From CookingLight.com

Grilling the vegetables heightens their sweetness, and blue cheese provides a pungent counterpoint in this soup. Substitute crumbled goat cheese or feta, if you prefer.

Yield:  6 servings

3 red bell peppers, halved and seeded
3 ears shucked corn
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, halved, seeded, and peeled (about 4)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups chopped onion (about 2 medium)
3 (14-ounce) cans fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup (1 ounce) crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

1. Prepare grill to medium-high heat.

2. Arrange bell peppers, skin side down, and corn in a single layer on a grill rack; grill 5 minutes, turning corn occasionally. Add tomatoes; grill an additional 5 minutes or until vegetables are slightly charred. Remove from heat; cool 10 minutes. Coarsely chop tomatoes and bell peppers; place in a medium bowl. Cut kernels from ears of corn; add to tomato mixture.

3. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion; cook 7 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomato mixture; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Increase heat to high, and stir in broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Cool 20 minutes.

4. Place one-third of tomato mixture in a blender; process until smooth. Place pureed mixture in a large bowl. Repeat procedure twice with remaining tomato mixture. Wipe pan clean with paper towels. Press tomato mixture through a sieve into pan; discard solids. Place pan over medium heat; cook until thoroughly heated. Stir in salt and black pepper. Ladle about 1 1/2 cups soup into each of 6 bowls; top each serving with 2 teaspoons cheese and 1 teaspoon chives.

CALORIES 155 ; FAT 7.2g (sat 1.7g,mono 3.9g,poly 1.2g); CHOLESTEROL 4mg; CALCIUM 45mg; CARBOHYDRATE 21g; SODIUM 620mg; PROTEIN 5.4g; FIBER 4.4g; IRON 1.1mg

Cooking Light, JUNE 2009

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