Know Your Tomato

Did you know that banana peels and eggshells help to make your tomatoes grow?

When buried in the bottom of a planter or spread around the roots of your tomato plants as you transplant them into the greenhouse, fresh banana peels act as slow-release fertilizer providing potassium and trace elements.

The peels should be cut up in little chunks and the soil needs to be appropriately warm.

Tomato plants like a warm soil temperature. According to new information I’ve obtained from Alberta’s Research Station, the ideal “root soil temperature” for tomatoes has increased from 15°C to 18-21°C.

Soil temperatures of around 10 to 12° are marginal and can cause a number of problems which can include less-than-ideal flower and consequently fruit production, poor root growth, and slow or minimal uptake by the roots of nutrients.

In other words, if the feet of the plants are cold (the “feet” being the roots) the plant is not a happy camper.

One trick to accomplish warmer root soil temperature is not to plant your tomato plants too deep.

Instead, lay the root ball on its side in a rectangular hole dug to a depth of at least six inches. Because tomato plants grow roots from buried sections of the stem, by laying the root ball and part of the stem (with the lower leaves removed) on its side, the roots will be warmer plus produce more roots making for a sturdier plant.

Never, ever, take the first cluster of flowers off the plant as this will stunt subsequent fruit production.

Save your eggshells! Then every week or two, crush eggshells, add warm water, and water your tomato plants with this mixture in addition to your regular watering program. Use about six eggshells per litre of water; the extra calcium aids growth of leaf tips and blossom ends and helps to prevent blossom end rot.

This mixture, incidentally, also helps with the growth of geraniums.

Tomatoes, or Lycopersicon esculentum, are native to equatorial South America where the temperature is seldom below 10°C and the wild fruit is able to survive year round.

When the plant was brought to Europe in the 16th century, the Europeans were reluctant to eat the fruit as the plant is related to the botanical family “Solanaceae” such as mandrake and the nightshade; the fruit was considered unwholesome food.

It was Italian cuisine that first used tomatoes in its spaghetti, pizza and minestrone.

In North America, tomatoes were not consumed until Robert Gibbon Johnson ate ripe tomatoes on the steps of the courthouse in Salem, New Jersey, in 1820. He consumed several tomatoes in front of a crowd of people … and survived!

Today, the tomato is the #1 garden vegetable grown and according to the National Garden Bureau of the United States, the most valuable of garden vegetables when both “space efficiency and market value are taken into consideration.”

Whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable was decided by U.S. Supreme Court in 1883, when Associate Justice Horace Gray had to decide whether tomatoes should be taxed as fruits or vegetables.

He declared, in part, “Botanically speaking, tomatoes are a fruit of the vine, just as cucumbers, squashes, beans and peas. But in the language of the people, whether sellers or consumers of provisions, all these are vegetables which are grown in kitchen gardens and which, whether eaten cooked or raw, are, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips turnips … usually served at dinner … and not like fruits generally, as desserts.”

So, I guess, tomatoes are now classified as a vegetable although I would not be surprised that there was a higher tax on vegetables than on fruit.

Whether you consider the tomato a fruit or vegetable, the important thing is that the tomato is popular as well as nutritious. Studies have shown that as a tomato ripens, its starch content, hardness and acidity decrease while its pigment( redness), Vitamin C content, and soluble sugars rise — a good reason to let it mature fully on the vine.

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