Saturday, April 30, 2016

History of the Tomato by Cherie Luke

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The best way to get a delicious tomato is to grow it yourself! And many of us must be doing just that: according to the US Department of Agriculture, 93% of home gardens grow tomatoes, making it the most popular vegetable to grow. With 25,000 varieties to choose from, it’s no wonder we are enamored with our tomato plants.

Tomatoes are native to South and Central America. They didn’t make it to North America until our own famous gardener, Thomas Jefferson, brought them here from Europe. But even with Mr. Jefferson growing tomatoes in his Monticello, VA gardens, they experienced a slow start in America.

Tomatoes belong to the nightshade, Solanaceae (S. lycopericum) family, which is known to have many poisonous members. As a result, they were not recommended for eating. In the 17th century the Italians, calling tomatoes pomodori, “apples of gold”, realized what a versatile vegetable the tomato was. But even with the success of the Italians and Thomas Jefferson, gardeners in the U.S. did not really start growing them in their gardens until a little more than 100 years ago.  Today, growing tomatoes is one of the most discussed topics among gardeners.

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Tomatoes are a warm season vegetable and shouldn’t be transplanted outside until about a week after the average last frost. Soil temperatures should be at least 55 degrees and outside temperatures should be at least 60 degrees during the day and no cooler than 52 degrees at night. Because they are heavy feeders, you may need to amend your soil a month before planting. Plan ahead and get a soil test to identify exactly what’s needed to improve your soil. 

For more information about growing tomatoes in Colorado, see CSU Extension’s Growing Tomatoes and Recognizing Tomato Problems.