Tomato

Tomatoes

Tomato vine

Genus: Solanum. 

Family: SOLANACEAE.

Common Name: Tomato.

Etymology: Latin ‘Nightshade’.

History: It is believed that the original tomato was native to Peru, in western South America, as its history can be traced back to the Aztecs at around 700AD. The word tomato derives from the Nahuatl word tomatl, meaning swelling fruit so has hardly changed in all that time. The native versions were small, cherry like tomatoes, and were most likely green to yellow rather than the red we know today. It was spread by the Spanish into the Caribbean colonies and cultivated in their homeland around 1540. They appeared in Italian literature in 1544.  Although well accepted in southern Europe it wasn’t so well received by its northern neighbours. A member of the deadly nightshade family, tomatoes were erroneously thought to be poisonous by the Northern Europeans who were suspicious of their bright, shiny fruit. (The leaves are in fact poisonous, although the fruit is not). Another reason they may have been suspicious (wealthy in particular) is that when it was introduced, their plates were being made from pewter which had a high lead content. The acid from the tomato’s caused the lead to leech into their food causing sickness and death, the poor with their humble wooden plates didn’t have the same problem. The blending of cultures in the 1800’s saw the tomato become popular right around the world.

10 Uses of Tomatoes: Tomatoes contain beneficial vitamins and minerals, including potassium, lycopene, and vitamins C, A, and B6. As any antioxidant, lycopene is especially beneficial and consistent ingestion can help ward off various cancers and heart disease. Below is 10 common uses for tomatoes.

  • Grilled.
  • Juice.
  • Odor remover.
  • Pasta sauce.
  • Salads.
  • Salsa sauce.
  • Soup.
  • Sunburn relief.
  • Tomato paste.
  • Tomato sauce.

Basic description:  The plant itself grows 1-3 m in height although having a half woody soft stem tends to sprawl unless supported. It is fast growing annual in temperate zones, perennial in tropical zones.   

Tomato requirements & maintenance: pH 6-6.8 (slightly acid) Tomatoes can be grown successfully in many different climate zones but must be protected from frost and strong winds. They need a sunny, warm spot that receives at least 7 hours of sunlight a day and in a very fertile soil. They grow best with day temperatures ranging from 13C to 27C. Day temperature above 38C, even for a few days, can prevent flowering. They can be grown successfully in the ground, raised garden beds or pots but should not be planted in the same place continuously or pest and disease problems will begin to occur, a four year interval is a good program. Ensure regular watering, a good organic fertilizer and a mulch that breaks down quickly such as Lucerne (which is also nitrogen fixing).

Growing season: Tomatoes are warm season plants so in colder climates they should be planted in spring to summer. Temperate climates late winter to late spring and warm climates all year round. It should be noted that in sub-tropical to tropical climates they are often easier to grow in the cooler dry season when there are less pests and diseases.

Companion plants: 

  • Alliums (covers tomato smell from eating insects).
  • Asparagus (repels tomato nematode).
  • Basil (covers tomato smell from eating insects & flavour companion in cooking).
  • Carrots (attracts beneficial insects, shades out weeds providing living mulch).
  • Coriander (attracts beneficial insects).
  • Marigold (covers tomato smell from eating insects).
  • Mint (covers tomato smell from eating insects).
  • Oregano (covers tomato smell from eating insects).
  • Parsley (attracts beneficial insects).
  • Parsnips (attracts beneficial insects).

Problem Solving without chemicals:

  • Aphid: Small black sap sucking insect 1mm-2mm usually clustering around new growth. Spray with soapy water, White oil, Neem oil or blast off with hose. Introduce predatory insects such as ladybirds, hover-flies and lacewings. Ants will discourage predators so need to be controlled as well.
  • Bacterial wilt: Leaves pale, stunted and blackening of stems. Destroy plant and don’t use the same area for future plants.
  • Blight (early): buy product from reliable source, make sure there is good circulation between plants, spray with organic copper spray if blight appears (sparingly and at times when insects are not around), rotate crops.
  • Blight (late): A species of Phytophthora, which comes from Greek meaning ‘plant destruction, ruin’. Remove and destroy plant, do not mulch.
  • Blossom drop: Temperature too hot or cold.
  • Blossom end rot: Lack of calcium (lime) and irregular watering.
  • Blotchy fruit: Too much heat and too little potash.
  • Fruit fly: In summer flies lay their eggs in small groups just beneath the skin of the fruit, larvae make their way to centre of fruit and destroy it. Fruit will be full of maggots and inedible. Burn and destroy all fruit or seal fruit in plastic bag and leave in the sun for several days. The ‘Cera Trap’ and ‘Eco-Naturalure are new and effective organic fruit fly baits.
  • No fruit: Poor pollination (due to cold weather or you live in China where insects have been wiped out), extreme temperature or virus diseases.
  • Rolling leaves: Excessive de-leafing or large variations in day/night temperature.
  • Scalded fruit: Over exposure to sun from too many old leaves being removed.
  • Split fruit: Over-watering or heavy rain.
  • Spotted wilt virus: Plant suddenly stops growing and becomes yellow/purplish and bunched. Destroy plants.
  • Tomato fruit worm: Release predatory insects, till the soils in off season exposing larvae to cold and predators and handpick and destroy fruitworm eggs and larvae as you find them (little with white eggs on bottom of leaves).
  • Tomato root-knot nematode: Small nematode to .5mm (cannot be seen by human eye because transparent and thin) that lives in light warm soils and causes plant to be slow growing and wilt easily, remove plant and practice crop rotation.
  • Verticillium wilt: Leaves yellow and plant collapses. Do not plant in same area for 3 years.
  • Whitefly: Tiny (3mm) white (nymphs are black) sap sucking insects that look like moths. They congregate on the bottoms of leaves and produce honey dew that black sooty mold grows on.Spray with soapy water, White oil, Neem oil or blast off with hose. Whitefly traps are also useful.
  • Yellowing between veins: Magnesium, nitrogen or potash deficiency.

Growing tomatoes: Tomatoes can be grown easily from seed or seedling from your local nursery. There are a multitude of different varieties and sizes depending on your personal tastes and temperature zones. You are best to talk to your local horticulturalist about varieties that best suit your area and conditions.

References:

  • ‘What Garden, Pest & Disease is That? (Judy McMaugh).
  • Yates Garden Guide.
  •  wikipedia.
  • www.alacartegardening.com.
  • www.tomato-cages.com.
  • homeguides.sfgate.com.
  • northcoastgardening.com.
  • www.wikihow.com.
  • www.mamanatural.com.
About Simon 93 Articles

Simon Schubert is a qualified Horticulturist who enjoys gardening and bush-walking. He has a keen interest in science, the natural world and particularly our environment. He would like to share his experiences and knowledge while learning better practices that will hopefully benefit the future for us all. Please join him on some fun adventures while learning about the life of plants and other interesting facts about our world.

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