FRUIT BY ANY OTHER NAME

IN SPITE OF ITS LONG HIS­TORY, THE TOMATO IS A TEN­DER PLANT PRONE TO FUN­GUS THAT STARVES IT OF WA­TER

The Weekend Post - Cairns Eye - - Front Page -

To­ma­toes are not veg­etable but fruit. How of­ten have you heard this one in a Triv­ial Pur­suit game or quiz? The tomato is a fruit of a plant that is used as a veg­etable. It’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween who is do­ing the talk­ing – a cook or a botanist or a hor­ti­cul­tur­ist.

There are some other botan­i­cal gym­nas­tics to con­sider about how the fruit orig­i­nates and most fruit sup­ports seeds in the flesh. But this is an un­nec­es­sary bit of trivia that prob­a­bly would win you a game while bor­ing the other con­tes­tants.

The tomato hails from the Aztec era and grad­u­ated in peas­ant cui­sine, while the rul­ing classes got sick eat­ing it. Noth­ing to do with its grow­ing con­di­tions; the acid con­tam­i­nated their more ad­vanced and stylish lead con­tain­ers and leached poi­sons – while the work­ing class, eat­ing from wooden ves­sels, were okay.

To­ma­toes were also un­der­stood to be one of the first fruits grown hy­dro­pon­i­cally on Lake Tit­i­caca by the In­cas on large float­ing plat­forms with com­post and soils.

Tomato (solanum ly­cop­er­sicum) is a mem­ber of the solanaceae fam­ily – the same as pota­toes, petu­nias, bella donna, at­ropa (deadly night­shade) and datura. Per­haps the most in­fa­mous – apart from the toxic night­shades – is to­bacco (nico­tiana).

After their ini­tial dis­tri­bu­tion around the world, there are few cul­tures that don’t use the two best-known mem­bers of the solanums in a kitchen – tomato and potato.

To­ma­toes are ten­der plants and suf­fer quickly from fusar­ium wilt. This fun­gus makes its way through soil via wa­ter splashes and drib­bles, rain wash and hose flood­ing. Fusar­ium shows up quickly as what ap­pears to be a se­ri­ous wilt, no mat­ter how of­ten you wa­ter the plant. The fun­gus blocks the wa­ter-car­ry­ing ves­sels in the plumb­ing of the plant and it ef­fec­tively dies of thirst.

Be­cause this fun­gus stays in the soil for a long time, don’t re­plant in the same spot. Plant­ing beans or a legume that can fix ni­tro­gen in the soil and help detox­ify the me­dia seems to have an ef­fect. If you are grow­ing in a large pot, tip the pot into the bin (ad­mit­tedly it might be­come some­one else’s prob­lem, but is likely to die out with the heat that gen­er­ates as the soil com­posts on it­self).

So a tomato is a ven­er­a­ble fruit or veg­etable how­ever you see it. Smaller cherry, olive and tim thumb va­ri­eties will of­ten grow across the wet sea­son and into the dry. Bul­locks heart and black rus­sians va­ri­eties have limited lives from May to No­vem­ber and those gourmet types in the shops are a hard solid green when picked and gassed to a nice red for your en­joy­ment.

Look for a packet or sup­plier of heir­looms that has been turn­ing out tasty to­ma­toes for decades. It’s worth the ef­fort to get a firm tomato that can be cut with a rea­son­ably sharp knife and tastes just like the ones grandad used to grow. Use plenty of sea­sol or sim­i­lar prod­uct for reg­u­lar feed­ing. These also have anti-fun­gus qual­i­ties.

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