Gerald L. Klingaman
Plant Common Name
Tomato, Wolf Peach
BLTs, grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup and French fries with ketchup, the American diet is full of tomatoes and tomato products. Everyone knows and loves tomatoes. These New World plants were domesticated, cultivated and enjoyed by Native Americans, from North to South America, but did not make it into Europe until the mid 1500s where they were initial grown as ornamentals but were soon accepted as tasty edibles. They became very popular in Italy around the late 1600s.
The garden tomato is a short-lived tender perennial vine that is grown as an annual crop. Its compound leaves are medium green, hairy and have a strong fragrance. Mature vines produce star-shaped yellow flowers in clusters along the branches. Most modern types are self-fertile.
Tomatoes mature when days and nights are warm and can usually be harvested within 50 to 80 days after germination, depending on the cultivar. These juicy fruits are commonly red and round, but color and shape vary. They can also be orange, yellow, purplish or bi-colored and oval, pear-shaped or deeply ribbed. Flesh density and size often decides use. Large, super juicy slicing tomatoes are best for sandwiches or salads, whereas densely fleshed tomatoes with less juice are favored for sauces and cooking. Cherry tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum var. cerasiforme) are much loved by children and great for snacking and salads.
Tomato plants have two growth types, determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes have bushy habits, do not vine and their fruits ripen over a four to six week period. In contrast, indeterminate vines keep going and going and going. They can become very large and fruit and flower freely over a longer period. Indeterminate tomatoes produce more fruit than determinate types but require staking, trellising or cages and more general maintenance.
Tomatoes require full sun and perfectly drained, slightly acid garden loam. The vines root along the stems and should be planted deep for better establishment. They are cold sensitive, so plant after the danger of frost has past. Production and fruit flavor are best when both nights and days are warm. The fruits themselves are cold sensitive and become tough and less flavorful under cool temperatures, so refrain from storing them in the refrigerator if you can. In subtropical locations, tomatoes can be grown as a winter crop—if temperatures remain warm enough.
These veggies are heavy feeders, so it is important to feed and water them regularly for best growth and production. Be sure to choose a fertilizer specifically formulated for tomatoes, and avoid over-watering because too much water can reduce flavor and cause cracking.
Tomatoes are susceptible to a wide range of pests and other problems. There are hundreds of varieties available, many of which are resistant.The following code indicates resistance tomatoes have to a specific pests and diseases:
- V=Verticillium wilt resistance
- F or FF= Fusarium wilt (Fusarium oxysporum) resistance. “F” stands for Race 1 and “FF” Race 2.
- N=Nematode resistance, usually root-knot nematodes
- A=Stem canker (Alternaria alternate) resistance
- T=Tobacco Mosaic Virus resistance
- TSWV=Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus resistance
- St or G=Gray leaf spot disease (Stemphylium) resistance
- BSp=Bacterial Speck disease resistance
Another really common problem is blossom end rot, a fruit defect caused by calcium deficiency. Fruits with end rot have a sunken, rounded black patch at the base. Even moisture and fertilization will control this problem.
There is nothing like a fresh garden grown tomato. Choose varieties best suited to your area of the country and soon you will have lots of ripe, luscious fruit.