Tomatoes: Tips & Trivia From a Clay County Master Gardener℠

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By Eleanor Moyer, Extension Master Gardener

Ripe tomatoes in a pile.

It was 87⁰ at my house the other day, driving my tomatoes to almost cheer out loud! By now you have your plants squarely stowed in the dirt and I bet they look grand. The hot, sunny weather is just what they need. They thrive on heat and water as they are about 90ish% water themselves. While prospects are looking good, there are a few things to do.
-Make sure your tomato vine is well staked. There are many interesting DIY ideas such as a trellis table made from sticks you can explore online.
-Mulch around the plants to keep in heat and moisture and to prevent soil-borne diseases from splashing up.
-Once they reach about three feet cut off the bottom leaves to about a foot up the stem, again to help prevent diseases.
-Keep track of when and how much it rains so you can supplement with irrigation.
Tomatoes require a gallon of water every 5 days. The Master Gardeners invested in a water meter at the Discovery Garden, as just looking at the soil was not an accurate measure. You definitely want to water before the plants are too parched as stress weakens the plant inviting insects and disease.
-Companion plants can do some good keeping pests at bay. Basil and marigolds are two good choices as both attract pollinators and deter even bunnies (except at my house where I have at least a million super rabbits!)
-Perusing the garden daily is another good way to nip problems before they mushroom into disasters. On your walk, you can enhance pollination by gently blowing on the flower clusters.

I have my salt, pepper, white bread, and mayonnaise all ready and have been sleuthing new tomato recipes when I came across some internet ad about tomato skins causing stomach issues. Although my mother insisted that tomatoes be peeled, I never have and here I am, hail and well. Tomatoes are a new world fruit originating in central South America contributing greatly to the diet of the Maya and Aztecs. Seeds were brought to Europe in the early 1500’s where they were considered an exotic ornamental as they were thought to be poisonous. Actually, all the green parts of the plant contain poisonous alkaloids (except of course to tomato hornworms.) Eventually the Spanish and Italians adapted tomatoes to their cuisine. Even though Thomas Jefferson cultivated tomatoes and served them at his dinner parties, it took canning in the late nineteenth century before they took off in America. Joseph Campbell began his fortune on condensed tomato soup.
Now they are one of the most popular garden vegetables in the world.

So, what about the skin? It turns out that tomatoes contain antioxidants-all four major carotenoids: alpha- and beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene. They are high in potassium, folate and vitamins C and K. In fact, a single tomato gives you 40% of your daily requirement for vitamin C. They are low in carbs and high in fiber. Most of this necessary nutrition is found in the skin! So, I guess mother isn’t always right!

For more information about tomatoes (including growing & diseases), visit our website or stop by our office at 25 Riverside Circle, Suite 2, Hayesville, NC. You can also give us a call at (828) 389-6305.