Farmer's Weekly (South Africa)

– Growing tomatoes (Part 1) – Syringa berries are highly toxic


Tomatoes are an important part of our diet, as well as being highly nutritious. Bill Kerr tells us more about this versatile fruit, and the varieties that are most suitable for growing at home.

Tomatoes contain lycopene, a potent antioxidan­t that lowers the risk of chronic diseases. It is associated with the red colour of tomatoes, watermelon­s, strawberri­es and other fruit. Lycopene is not destroyed by cooking; on the contrary, cooking enhances its bio-availabili­ty.

Unfortunat­ely, most commercial tomatoes in South Africa carry the mutant rin gene. This more than doubles the shelf life, but cuts the lycopene content by more than half and reduces the eating quality for the consumer. Many markets overseas refuse to purchase these varieties because of their poor taste.

This is where the advantage of home-grown tomatoes comes in. Because home gardeners don’t send their fruit to the market, they needn’t worry about firmness and extra-long shelf life. Instead, they simply pick the tomatoes when they are ripe, and get the full benefit of their nutrition and flavour.


Interestin­gly, ancestral tomatoes had green rings or shoulders around the stalk. These areas would ripen to an unsightly yellow colour, giving a blotchy appearance.

When a mutant gene that produced a uniform colour was discovered, it was welcomed with open arms. The downside was that it compromise­d the flavour to a certain extent. Green-shouldered varieties, such as Red Khaki, are still available and make good eating.

The mutant rin gene was the next discovery to be made. This produces orange-yellow fruit, and when fruit with this gene is crossed with a convention­al red variety, the result is an intermedia­te type. The fruit ripens to a lighter orange-red colour and tends to have a long shelf life and good firmness, but a watery taste. (‘Rin’ stands for ‘ripening inhibitor’.)

More recent firm, redfruited cultivars have a far longer shelf life than older varieties. Hopefully, they will replace the current waterytast­ing varieties in time.

By contrast, delicious and nutritious home-grown tomatoes are available right now.


The choice of variety is very important. Most home gardens are infested with eelworm, which can even prevent susceptibl­e cultivars from producing. So unless you are sure that your soil is eelworm-free, choose a variety with a resistant gene. Very tasty heirloom varieties such as Brandywine and Oxheart are highly susceptibl­e to pests and disease, and usually fail.

Hotstuff (from Mayford) has excellent eelworm resistance, high yield, good taste and good health benefits. San Monica (Starke Ayres) is an easy-togrow, small-fruited, mini plum tomato with good taste.

I prefer indetermin­ate (tallgrowin­g) varieties for home use; they are easy to manage and bear over a long period, offering convenienc­e. More about these next week.


 ?? BILL KERR ?? ABOVE:An advantage of home-grown tomatoes is that they can be vine-ripened.
BILL KERR ABOVE:An advantage of home-grown tomatoes is that they can be vine-ripened.

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