Tomatoes -Solanum lycopersicum by Dave Hamilton

Early June is around the time you should be thinking about putting out your tomato plants.   Or for those lucky enough to have heated greenhouses it is the time you will be well into your winter sown crop.

Tomatoes are certainly not one of the easiest crops to grow. I think they are one of the most rewarding especially since most of the supermarkets have decided to sell a choice of either

•  Over-priced “vine” tomatoes

•  Half ripened round reddish balls they call tomatoes, but bear no resemblance what so ever in taste to tomatoes.

The main reason for this tasteless charade of a tomato is that they are picked green to ensure they don’t rot in transit then artificially ripened by having ethylene sprayed on them.   Hence vine tomatoes having much more flavour as they are left to ripen on the vine.

History

The tomato is not technically a vegetable but the fruit of Lycopersicon Lycopersicum or tomato plant. It is often grouped with vegetables because of its use in the kitchen. Its name comes from the Aztec word tomatl simply meaning plump fruit. The true Aztec word for tomato is xitomatl but the Spanish on the introduction of the fruit to Europe corrupted this name losing the suffix and thus creating the Spanish tomate or English tomato.

Tomatoes are highly versatile and are used in thousands of recipes right across Europe, from ketchup to chowder, pizzas to Bloody Mary’s.

It wasn’t always the case though and the tomato was treated with suspicion right across the old-world after its arrival from the Americas. For around 300 years the tomato was only grown as an ornamental plant, herbalists of the time would claim it was responsible for a whole host of ills including diarrhoea and colic. It wasn’t until around 1800 and later that the tomato began to shed it’s image as a poisonous relative of the nightshade family (which it is a member) and become as popular as it is today.

Tomato Nutrition

The tomato contains high amounts of vitamin C and is high in beta-carotene the precursor of vitamin A. Two average sized tomatoes will contain the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C for the average adult. Tomatoes are also high in lycopene another carotenoid (like beta-carotene) which acts as an antioxidant helping to combat free radical damage in the body. As lycopene is fat soluble cooking it with a small amount of fat will make this compound more bio-available. This means that rather than being destroyed lycopene is more useful in foods like ketchup than in raw tomatoes. Lycopene has been proven to lower the risk of cancers, stroke and heart disease.  

Growing Tomatoes

Sowing Time/Planting Time Soil Type Harvest
Heated Greenhouse Jan from seed.

Feb-March and onwards for plant.

Benefit from all purpose/garden compost dug in winter.

Can use peat if necessary but better to find alternatives.

Use rotted comfrey or liquid feed when fruiting

HG – May-June

UG -July onwards

O -July-September

Unheated greenhouse Feb – March from seed. Plant March onwards. UG -July onwards
Outdoors sow seedlings indoors March-April the replant outside May – June O -July-September

Growing Tips

•  Don’t plant near potatoes

•  Pick a sunny spot to grow them preferably against a south facing wall

•  Germinate at 15­­­ ­ o C to 20­­ ­­ o ­­ C (59 – 68 o F)

•  A window-sill, on a table in a bay window, in a heated conservatory under cloches are all good places to germinate seeds this can be done in April – May, June at a push.

•  Harden plants off before planting outside.

•  Chives planted next to tomatoes discourage aphids, yellow flowers such as marigolds also good planted next to tomatoes-

•  Place in a drawer with apples to ripen.

A couple of tomato problems

I woke up this morning to find the yellowing of my tomato plants had worsened. At first I thought this was down to leaf burn after watering carelessly on hot days. As all the tomato plants seem to be effected (about 40 in total) I ruled this out as the odd drop of water may have hit some of the leaves but not by any means all of the 40 plants.   After a bit of research I narrowed it down to two possible causes.

•  The first and most easily remedied is a magnesium deficiency which causes a yellowing of the leaves. The yellowing may turn brown and usually appears between the veins of the leaf. I have fed the plants with a seaweed plant feed which contains magnesium.   Over the next few days I will note the changes in the plants but I fear this is not the cause of the yellowing.

•  The second possible cause is the Tobacco Mosaic Virus. This is characteristic by the yellowing of the leaves and dark streaks appearing on the stems. Smokers handling the plants can cause it and if you smoke you should thoroughly wash your hands before coming into contact with tomato plants.

As you may expect I feel quite bad about this knowing I may have caused the disease of 40 plants and thus forcing me to abandon my entire tomato crop. I will see if the magnesium feed has worked in the next few days but I fear the worse and will have to destroy all my plants. I have been trying to give up smoking for a while now and successfully quit for six months but started again in February. I think seeing entire crop fail has brought it home to me and I shall quit again, hopefully for good

A few days later

It would appear it was a magnesium deficiency all the plants have perked up since feeding them.   I think I was just being a bit like a nervous mother. About sixteen of the plants are at the allotment now and another six in the garden here although I will move before I see the benefit of the garden grown ones.

One week on and I’m still off the cigarettes though, been crawling the walls. I strongly recommend digging and hacking down weeds for anyone trying to quit.  

Cooking tomatoes

I know very few people, if any, that wouldn’t know at least one way to cook a tomato. They are extremely versatile; you can have them grilled for breakfast with a little black pepper, in a salad for lunch then with pasta for your evening meal and as a drink in a Bloody Mary’s at night

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