Tomatoes

Lycopersicon esculentum

Tomatoes are the most grown vegetable of them all in the home garden.  They are easy plants to grow, and provide good yields for the amount of space they use.  They are rich in many beneficial substances, and as such, make a good addition to the healthful garden (See Medicinal Properties Below)

Most tomato plants will survive and produce fruit even in sub-standard soils and conditions, but to achieve the biggest fruits and best health for the plants, careful soil preparation is a must.  Dig the bed and add compost, and manure, before sowing the seed or planting the seedlings, and you will be rewarded with a bumper crop of good-looking and good tasting fruits.

Most tomatoes require a long growing season, so start seeds in flats eight weeks before the last frost date.  Alternatively you can just buy seedlings from a local source, but be sure to plant them after the last frost.  Choose healthy-looking plants with strong stems and green leaves.  If a surprise frost does come along after they are in the ground, use a cover of some sort to protect them.

Common problems with growing tomatoes include split skins (due to uneven watering - a good soil should help here), and skin imperfections (due to temperature variations).  Try to protect the plants from excessive wind and heat if possible.  Skin imperfections do not affect the taste of the tomato.

Other tomato problems include blossom end rot, where the bottom of the fruit turns brown and leathery.  This is caused by moisture fluctuation and calcium deficiencies (back to good soil). Blight is another common problem, where the leaves turn brown and the stems turn black. This happens during unusually wet summers or can be caused by planting the plants in the same place for consecutive years.  Do rotate your crops yearly.  Holes in the fruit may indicate tomato hornworms. - these are huge caterpillars with voracious appetites that can devour a plant very quickly.  Hand pick these and move them far away if you find them.

For the best taste, ripen tomatoes on the vine.  When ready, they will pull easily from the vine.  Ripen green tomatoes at the end of the season by putting them next to bananas or apples, which contain properties that will help the tomato to turn red more quickly.

Medicinal Properties:  Tomatoes contain calcium and vitamin C, to name just two of their beneficial properties.  A study done recently found that people in Northern Italy who ate 7 or more servings of raw tomato per week had up to 60% less chance of developing colon, rectal, or stomach cancers compared to individuals who ate two servings or less.  There are also indications that tomatoes may play a role in prevention of heart disease, high cholesterol, and fatty deposits in the arteries, and that as little as two glasses of tomato juice per day can be very beneficial in preventing these problems.