Tomato

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Tomatoes                                                                                                                                    

Family: Solanaceae   

The word “tomato” was derived from “tomatl” – what it was called in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs.   So, indeed, it is Mexican by origin.

When the tomato was first introduced to Europe – inasmuch as it bore a strong resemblance to them – it became associated with poisonous members of the Solanceae family like henbane, mandrake and deadly nightshade.  (For some fun history on this intriguing vegetable/fruit check out http://www.tomatoesareevil.com/tomato%20history.html.)

Today, there are somewhere between 7,500 to 10,000 tomato varieties.  So if you want to grow one of each think in terms of a very large garden!

They are normally quite easy to grow.  That having been said some basic care and attention is still required.   But, with placement in full sun they should mature in a little more than two and less than three months.

Tomato plants have a large root system, so their ultimate home should be no smaller than a five gallon pot.  They prefer loamy soil – that’s “dirt” composed of sand, silt, and clay in a combination of roughly 40-40-20. 

Sandy loam soil is best for tomatoes. . .  but they’ll grow in almost all types of soil except heavy clay.  It should be fairly loose, well fertilized, with lots of organic material and, absolutely well-draining.  Like lots of our plant pals, tomatoes don’t do well in dry soil.  However, avoid excessively wet, waterlogged soil as well.

If you plant your tomatoes by seed, they should germinate in seven days. But there’s another way!

A rather easy method of tomato propagation material comes via their “suckers” in the leaf nodes.  (That’s where the leaf meets the stems).  They’re called suckers because they suck nutrition from the main plant and it’s best to remove them so your plant can perform to the maximum.

When the tomato suckers are approximately 4 to 6 inches tall you can easily remove and root them creating another tomato plant that will eventually bear more tomatoes. For a continuous harvest, you should root suckers about every two weeks. It’s best to root these in small pots, then transplant to the garden.

Simply remove a three to six-inch tomato sucker by snapping it off. They break off very easily. Then strip all by the top two sets of leaves from the tomato cutting, and bury 2/3 of the stem in sterile potting mix in a small pot. There is really no need to use rooting hormone, as they root very easily.

While insects can be a problem, fungus tends to be the biggest threat to home grown tomato plants and there’s a whole list of wilts, spots and blights that can effectively rain on your tomato plant parade.

Look for yellowing leaves, moldy blotches or dark spots.  Sometimes these problems are on the stems as well as the leaves.  The fungus spores can survive for years in the soil, so if you’ve had a problem with your tomato plants in the past don’t plant in the same area.

If you see any possible symptoms, pick off the leaves immediately and spray the plants with fungicide.  But once it’s spread throughout your plant you probably can’t save it so simply pull it out to keep the infection from spreading.

Aside from fungus problems, you still need to be on the lookout for potato beetles and stink bugs that will chew the leaves off.  Hand-picking can help with a few of them or spraying the plant with the appropriate insecticide will repel these pests.

Now here’s a nifty nugget of gardening knowledge.  The center cardboard of toilet tissue rolls can be used as peat pots. Because they are tall, they cause the tomato roots to grow downward instead of outward, which is a good root structure for the garden, as the roots will be deeper and not need as much watering.

If you are planting from cuttings, for the first watering, water the tomato cuttings with a solution of one teaspoon Epsom salts to a quart of water. This encourages the formation of roots. Those cuttings will wilt but don’t worry, just keep them moist, and they will soon come around.

It will take these cuttings four to six weeks before they are ready to be planted in the ground or you can transfer them to larger pots and plant them outside later.

You can also take tip cuttings from leggy tomato plant limbs but be sure to remove all blooms from the cuttings as they will not root while trying to produce fruit.

Well, that’s a fast overview.  Hopefully it will help you to plant and enjoy some good “home grown tomatoes”!  As to me, tomorrow my pals Rowdy and Linda return from Gringolandia and he’s bringing me some larger variety seeds so there will soon be a new chapter in my tomato scrapbook!

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Though the plant is somewhat battered and beaten, yellow cherry tomatoes seem to love this locale and my plant produces prolifically!

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I also seem to have fairly good luck with some Romas – seeds, like the yellow cherry’s, given to me by neighbors Andy and Laurie.