Tomatoes were not always as well-loved as they are today; for a time they were considered poison. They were grown as a conversation piece in a garden, but not for eating. Oh the waste!! What a fantastic fruit. I’ve been reading The Tomato Handbook by Jennifer Bennett, so much of the information in this post can be attributed to her. Historical information, that sort of thing.
I learned that the Latin scientific name, Lycopersicon esculentum, can be translated literally as ‘wolf peach edible’. Apples were called wolf peaches in the time when they were thought to be poisonous, because they are in the same family as deadly nightshade and other poisonous plants. One of these is called monkshood, which they sometimes called wolfsbane because it was so deadly it killed even the strongest and most vilified predator they knew. So that’s where the ‘wolf’ handle came from. It’s pretty obvious that the shape would give it the ‘peach’ portion of the name. And ‘edible’ is to reassure people that tomatoes are, in fact, not going to kill them. Contrary to everything they had been taught.
And the name ‘love apples’? Well, apparently tomatoes were thought to be an aphrodisiac. Hm…. well, I do have a hubby who cooks a mean pasta sauce… but is it the tomatoes that turn me on, or the fact that he’s cooking supper? Hard to tell. Jury’s still out on that one.
So, what about the useful information for today’s gardens?
Well, there are some basic qualities you should be aware of when you’re picking out love apples for your edible garden.
1. Hybrid vs. Open Pollinated
If you grow open pollinated tomato plants, you will be able to save the seeds and rest assured that you will get daughter plants that are like their parent. The tomato will breed with itself to produce the same kind of tomato. If you grow a hybrid, though, you will likely not get the same type of daughter plant from the seeds you may collect from the fruit. This is because a hybrid is a cross between two specific kinds of tomato in order to produce a tomato with exacting qualities. The genetics are a jumble, so you don’t know what you’ll get when you plant the seeds. There are many good qualities to recommend hybrid tomatoes. AND being hybrid does NOT mean the tomato is GMO. You can make your own hybrid with two varieties in your backyard if you want. However, if you want reliable seeds for saving you’ll want to make sure you’re growing open pollinated tomatoes.
2. Determinate vs. Indeterminate
Generally speaking, indeterminate tomatoes grow on the large, gangly plants that keep producing tomatoes a few at a time all throughout the summer until frost kills them. They need to be staked, and sometimes pruned. They are used in greenhouse production because they can be strung on twine and grow to 20 feet tall, and keep producing tomatoes. Determinate tomato plants tend to be small and bushy and compact. They flower and produce all their fruit at once, and then they’re done. They don’t need pruning; in fact, you should not prune them because they need all their leaves for energy production. What type you get will depend on how much room you have in your garden, and how you want your plants to grow. Do you want to stake them? Do you want them to ripen all at once? That’s a great quality in a paste tomato used for preserving sauce, but maybe not so much for a salad tomato. Or, maybe you want both. Totally up to you. There are lots of good varieties on both sides.
3. Disease resistance
If you’re looking through catalogues you’ll often see letters in the descriptions of tomato plants, that stand for various diseases that those tomatoes have bred resistance to. This is another useful thing to consider, especially if you have a part-shade garden. Most diseases can grab hold more easily when tomatoes are grown in more damp conditions. So, if you have a less-than-ideal garden situation, consider the tomatoes with more letters after their name.
4. Days to Maturity
You might want to grow a few different kinds of tomatoes, but you don’t want them all ripe at once. Take a look at the days to maturity, and choose varieties that have longer and shorter seasons so it spreads out the harvest a bit.
Best of luck with your tomatoes! Do you have any favourite varieties already? Have you found some new ones this year that you’re going to try? I’d love to hear about them, and it would be great to share with other readers too. Thanks!