The tomato – fruit or veg­etable?

Alberta Gardener Magazine - - Contents - By Heather Klein

Is it a fruit or is it a veg­etable? This age-old ques­tion re­gard­ing the tomato ac­tu­ally has an an­swer. It’s both! Sci­en­tif­i­cally, it is clas­si­fied as a fruit (Ly­cop­er­si­con) but nu­tri­tion­ists con­sider it a veg­etable. What­ever you call it, the tomato is cer­tainly one of the favourite plants that we grow in our gar­dens.

We first learned about the tomato through the Aztecs whose name for the tomato trans­lates to “plump thing with navel”. When it was in­tro­duced in Europe, it was largely re­jected as it was not named in the Bi­ble and Euro­peans be­lieved that its non-ed­i­ble parts caused sick­ness and even death.

Toma­toes are the ma­jor di­etary source of ly­copene, which has been linked to many health ben­e­fits in­clud­ing a low­ered risk of heart dis­ease and can­cer. They are also a great source of Vi­ta­min C, potas­sium, fo­late and vi­ta­min K.

In 2001, 600,000 tomato seeds trav­elled to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion and back be­fore be­ing grown in school class­rooms all across Canada as part of To­mato­sphere I, II, III and IV ex­per­i­ments. This project is on­go­ing to­day. Toma­toes have two growth habits: Deter­mi­nate va­ri­eties grow to a cer­tain height and then con­cen­trate on ripen­ing their fruit. They are good for cold cli­mate gar­den­ers who need to har­vest their en­tire crop within a few weeks.

In­de­ter­mi­nate va­ri­eties keep grow­ing taller and taller, set­ting and ripen­ing fruit un­til the frost kills them. Be­cause of their height they re­quire sturdy sup­port like cages, stakes or lad­ders.

Toma­toes are usu­ally started in­doors four to six weeks be­fore the last spring frost and then trans­planted out­side once the soil has warmed up. They should be planted 24 to 30 inches apart in rows at least 36 inches apart. Most toma­toes re­quire caging to keep them off the ground, which helps pro­tect them from dis­ease.

They should be kept moist but not over-watered as er­ratic wa­ter­ing will cause the fruit to split and en­cour­age blos­som ends to rot. They are sus­cep­ti­ble to early blight, blos­som end rot, late blight, tomato mo­saic virus and many more dis­eases. You can com­bat this by ro­tat­ing crops, re­mov­ing dis­eased plants, mulching the base of the plants and caging.

Toma­toes should be har­vested when they are still firm to the touch but “give” a lit­tle. Ripe fruit will pull easily from the vine. Toma­toes in­crease in weight as they ripen, even af­ter har­vest­ing. De­pend­ing on the va­ri­ety, toma­toes take from seven to eight weeks from plant­ing to har­vest for deter­mi­nate va­ri­eties and 10 to 12 weeks for in­de­ter­mi­nate va­ri­eties. They will con­tinue to ripen off the vine if they are stored in a warm place.

Get a jump on the sea­son by plant­ing your tomato seeds in­doors four to six weeks be­fore they need to be planted in the gar­den.

Toma­toes need reg­u­lar care to en­sure a healthy crop.

Heir­loom toma­toes mean you never have to set­tle for the or­di­nary again.

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