The Wonderful Tomato Plant

Beefsteak Tomatoes
This article is about tomatoes, something I grow in several
varieties and my wife prepares for storage by canning to have over the winter
You may know that the tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable;
considered a vegetable used in salads, sliced for sandwiches, and used to make
sauce for pasta dishes – thanks to the Italians and the Chinese. The Italians
developed wonderful sauces, once they discovered the use of tomatoes, to go along with the Chinese invention of noodles
back when Marco Polo was exploring
and obtaining cultural knowledge from the east, particularly China. The
Italians not only developed sauces to go with those noodles, but made a variety
of shapes and sizes from the pasta dough that we can find in grocery stores

The tomato, Lycopersicum esculentum (or Solanum Lycopersicum) is a species of nightshade
plant, once considered poisonous in Europe, until the Spanish brought it from
South America where it originated. In colonial America, Thomas Jefferson was one of the first to recognize the tomato
as an edible and nutritious fruit, after trying some in Paris, France and
bringing back seeds to America. Even in classification,
it is confusing, described as an herb, shrub, et cetera. Tomatoes are grown in
several of the Sun Belt states, but the major commercially
producing states are Florida and California

According to Wikipedia:
One species, Solanum
lycopersicum, was transported to Mexico, where it was grown and consumed
Mesoamerican civilizations. The exact date of
domestication is not known. The first domesticated tomato may have been a
little yellow fruit, similar in size to a
, grown by the Aztecs of Central Mexico.[4] The
word “tomato” comes from the
Nahuatl word
tomatl, literally “the
swelling fruit
“.[5]  Spanish explorer Cortés may have been the first to
transfer the small yellow tomato to Europe after he captured the Aztec city of
Tenochtítlan, now Mexico City, in 1521, although
Christopher Columbus, a
Genoese working for the Spanish monarchy, may have taken them back as early as
1493. The earliest discussion of the tomato in European literature appeared in
written in 1544 by
Pietro Andrea Mattioli, an
Italian physician and botanist, who named it pomo d’oro, or “golden apple
Aztecs and other peoples in the region used the fruit in their cooking;
it was cultivated in southern Mexico and probably other areas by 500 BC. The
people are thought to have believed that those who witnessed the ingestion of
tomato seeds were blessed with powers of
divination.[7] The
large, lumpy tomato, a mutation from a smoother, smaller fruit, originated in
Mesoamerica, and may be the direct ancestor of some modern cultivated tomatoes
.[3]  After the Spanish colonization of the
, the Spanish distributed the tomato throughout their colonies in the Caribbean.
They also took it to the
from where it spread to
and then the entire Asian continent. The Spanish also brought the
tomato to Europe. It grew easily in
Mediterranean climates, and
cultivation began in the 1540s. It was probably eaten shortly after it was
introduced, and was certainly being used as food by the early 17th century in
Spain. The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in
Naples in
1692, though the author had apparently obtained these recipes from Spanish
In certain areas of Italy, such as Florence, however, the fruit was used solely
as a tabletop decoration before it was incorporated into the local cuisine in
the late 17th or early 18th century
Grown as an annual, the tomato is a actually a perennial. If
you live in warm climates or have a green house, you could grow tomatoes all
year long – and the plants can be cultivated to grow quite tall, depending upon
the type – from three to ten feet. An indeterminate plant, it bears fruit until
the fall of the year when colder weather kills the plant. Recommended soil pH
is 6.0 to 7.0 and tomato plants require a minimum of 1-2 inches of water per
Over time, the tomato plant has changed from its original
wild state; today there are many varieties. There are hybrids that are more
resistant to disease: beefsteak, cherry, grape, plum, currant, and more.
Traditionally red, there is a hybrid variety, which is yellow and less acidic
for those who are sensitive to acidic foods.
This year I have tried an Italian species called San Marzano that was developed by John Gerard, a Herbalist who published the book entitled Herbal in 1597.  It was Gerard who wrote that the tomato plant
was poisonous because of the low levels of tomatine.
Early Girl tomatoes have deeply
growing roots so moisture is retained and this type is popular for use as
slicing tomatoes and canning because of their size. Beefsteak tomatoes can be 4
inches or more in diameter and cherry tomatoes are about the size of cherries,
thus their name. Grape tomatoes are smaller versions of plum and Roma tomatoes
shaped like the namesake.
Roma Tomatoes
Roma tomatoes are excellent for making thick sauces
and tomato paste. Plum tomatoes have a lower water content as well and are pasty.
Along with zucchini, the tomato is the most popular garden
Caring for tomato plants in order to get the most and best
fruit, one must prune as it grows, keeping lower plants away from the ground –
keeping in mind that when fruit grows it gets heavy and vine/branches sag. In
addition, one prunes to allow more sunlight into the plant as well as good air
circulation, which will prevent problems with disease. Hybrid variety tomato
plants purchased at garden centers are grown to resist disease.
Tomato and Green Peppers in Raised Beds
Spreading your plants when planting is important, for the
tomato plant bushes as it grows the guideline being 18-24 inches as a minimum
or if growing them as perennial plants up to three feet apart. Add fertilizer,
but only on soil to prevent plant burning. I like to use Miracle Grow (garden & vegetable
mix). Soil laced with organic material is best and use a compost to retain
moisture and prevent weeds. The compost I used is cedar chips, first used this
year as a test. I found that I have fewer problems with insects using cedar
chips and they do not affect the tomato plant. As all garden planting, you
should rotate every year or two years at the most. Rotate tomato plants with
bell pepper plants or any pepper plant because it works best. I grow oregano
plants with the tomato plants, which complement each other. The oregano is
supposed to keep certain insects away because of the fragrance. Other herbs I
grow are in a separate area.Next year I am growing garlic with tomato plants – it is supposed to be best for warding off insects and disease like late blight – and vampires.While not proven scientifically, folklore states that companion plants also add flavor to the tomatoes.
Remove suckers to promote growth upward, which will appear
even as you keep branches from growing too low to the ground. I use the plastic
stacks that have plastic braces to create a tri-corner four-foot tall tomato
support. You can also string polyester netting (soft) across a bed for the
tomato to grow and gain support as it gets heavy with fruit. I have used both
methods this year. The following photos are this year’s garden. I
am adding fencing that will keep out the critters, like rabbits that destroyed
my Swiss Chard and even made a nest in one of my raised beds!
I purchase tomato plants as potted plants at the garden
store (Wal-Mart has nice selections). Always examine plants thoroughly to make sure they are healthy wherever you purchase them – no yellowed leaves, for example.
If you have a greenhouse or means to grow from seeds early, provide enough room
for the seedlings to branch out – too close will inhibit their growth. When the
first leaves appear move them after two weeks into 4” pots or similar medium.
Tomato seedlings, like full-grown plants require strong, direct sunlight. If
growing under grow lights, 14-18 hours is not too long. Place the young plants
only a couple of inches from grow lights. Provide a breeze by aiming a fan
toward the plants, use a fan for 5-10 minutes twice per day. Tomato plants love
heat, using clear plastic to protect from late frost will also be too hot for
weed seeds and keep weeds down. Of course, if you are growing from a raised as
I do, weeding is not a chore, especially when you use clean processed soil. A
weed seedling will appear occasionally and it is quite easy to pull out in my
loose, loamy soil.
Tomato plants in pots are a good way to get a head start
when planting in the garden. Bury them deeper than they come in the pot – all the
way up to the lower leaves.  Tomatoes develop
roots all along their stems.
When using the mulch, if you mulch early in the season,
place plastic on top to keep the ground warm. There is a plastic much available
that retains heat for plants like tomatoes and peppers.
When the plants are three feet tall, remove the leaves from
the bottom foot of the stem – however, I do this early so I do not have
branches drooping and hanging on the ground, ruining the lower tomatoes.
Keeping them off the ground prevents problems with soil pathogens that splash
on them. Compost
prevents fungus diseases. Remember to remove the suckers that
develop in the crotch of the joint of two branches. Don’t cut back leafing
branches too much for they photosynthesize to create sugars that make tomatoes
taste so good.
You must water regularly. You cannot make up for not
watering for a week because that will lead to blossom end rot and cracking of
the fruit.
Determinate plants
(usually they are marked so on potted plants bought) tend to set and ripen
fruit all at one time. Indeterminate
type tomatoes set fruit earlier by pinching off the tips of the main stems in
early summer.
See Also:
Enemies of
Tomato Plants
PESTS: Cutworms
(moth larvae), hornworms, and whiteflies. Use pesticides carefully or spray
with concentrated solution of cayenne pepper (strained) and spray thoroughly on
(use resistant plants), destroy diseased plants; Blight (destroy). Reduce
disease by keeping plant off ground. Best to prune lower branches up from 8-12
inches. Most tomato plants grow tall, so you will still have a good yield.
When purchasing plants at garden stores on the plant tag
there are codes that identify the plant’s resistance or tolerance as follows:
V = verticullium
F = fusarium wilt
N = nematode
T = tobacco
A = alternaria
stem canker
S = stemphylum
(gray leaf spot)
Tomato Plants on Soft Net
Beefsteak Tomato on Stake Support
Plant Rotation: Green Peppers
Herb Raised Garden
Garden Fencing from Old Cabin Lumber

Next year I may replace the log raised beds with cinder blocks, less maintenance and longer lasting, as well as it won’t attract wood ants. The fencing will also serve as a mini-snow fence in winter to prevent the north wind from blowing snow that drifts onto the driveway. All materials except deck screws were scrounged, including the front picket fence section from someone who was to have it hauled to the dump. The picket fence is in the front facing the road for looks. The fence will keep critters out of garden, including deer and turkey. If I ever am able to purchase a greenhouse kit, it will be built in the garden with fencing still in place and surrounded by raised outdoor garden beds.

The nice thing about raised garden beds is they can be built from various materials: brick, cinder block, hardwood lumber (like that which I scrounged from an old cabin), or treated lumber. They can be built in various sizes and shapes to accommodate individual garden planning. Raised beds can also be used around the foundation of a house, containing your flower beds. Our satellite dish is mounted on a pole, so I dressed it up by building a raised garden bed around it and a rose vine to cover the pole.

Raised Bed with vine and Bleeding Heart Plants