because guess what she was pointing at --
from I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato
written and illustrated by Lauren Child
accessed on YouTube 6/4/23
Several years ago, my husband built me a raised bed. I planned a garden full of tomatoes, cucumbers, green and wax beans, bell peppers, and a couple of exotic eggplants. I prepped my soil and lined up all my little seedlings, fresh from the local garden shop.
A little while into my new project, my neighbor, the caretaker for our county fairgrounds, came over to borrow my husband’s riding mower. He wanted to clip the pasture he kept for his goat and mule.
When I saw him walking over, I reveled in my new-found pride in finally joining the ranks of real gardeners. “Well,” he said in a serious tone. “I see you’re putting in one of those ‘instant gardens!’”
Of course, all the plants in his garden were sprouted from his own seeds that he collected year over year and started indoors. I was not jealous. My feelings were not hurt in the least. I was doing the best I could with what I had. He knew that and was complimenting me in his own way, I’m sure.
According to GAIN, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, tomatoes are the most popular vegetable in the world. In 2017, 17% of all vegetables produced in the world were tomatoes, 182 million tons!
Only corn has been cultivated longer than tomatoes. While both are indigenous to the Americas, corn is native to southern Mexico. It was domesticated 9,000 or 10,000 years ago.
The wild tomatoes that thrived in ancient Peru were domesticated about 7,000 years ago. The Incas cultivated them for culinary use in the 1400s. Conquistadors brought tomatoes back to Europe and by the mid 1500s, tomatoes were used in recipes from England and Spain to France and Italy. When the British and others came here to establish the colonies, they brought tomatoes back to the “New World.” By the mid 1800s, through that circuitous route, the tomato was accepted into American cuisine.
Botanically tomatoes are classified as fruit, the edible part of a plant developed from a flower, along with accessory tissues, as the peach, mulberry, or banana [or tomato]. (Dictionary.com)
Although tomatoes are botanically a berry, a kind of fruit, they are considered vegetables because of the way they are used and because of their savory flavor.
The first formal classification of the tomato, Solanum lycopersicum, took into account its similarity to the poisonous nightshade family. Other nightshades include white potatoes, eggplant, and bell peppers. Nightshades contain atropine and scopolamine that are lethal in high doses. As the vegetables ripen, though, the amounts of these chemicals lessen to nontoxic levels. So enjoy your vegetables, but compost the leaves and stems!
According to Craig LeHoullier, the biggest problem for home gardeners is the long, windy vine. It can grow to over 8 feet and branch out in many directions. Heavy tomatoes can break the stems preventing nutrients from reaching them. Wrestling the vines into cages is only somewhat effective. Over 15 years ago LeHoullier started the Dwarf Tomato Project. You can find their homepage here. Their goal “is to create delicious tomatoes of all flavour and size variations on compact, easy-to-maintain dwarf tomato plants.”
LeHoullier cross-pollinated dwarf tomato varieties with heirlooms. After eight crosses, he asked for volunteers around the world to continue the crossings. He was on the lookout for taste, color, and size that would equal the heirloom varieties, but would be more compact, more manageable. Instead of payment, anyone who discovered a new hybrid variety would have naming rights.
By 2019, his group designated over 100 new dwarf tomatoes in various colors, sizes, shapes, and tastes as OSSI varieties. OSSI stands for Open Source Seed Initiative. Seeds bought from the OSSI may be used in any way the purchaser desires. The buyers pledge not to restrict others’ use by obtaining patents or other restrictions on the original seeds or of any of their derivatives. Seeds from the Dwarf Tomato Project are available from Victory Seed Company. Click on the link and you’ll find a beautiful photo along with a helpful description of each variety.
My husband and I disagree about our favorite kind of tomato. He likes the big, smooth, round ones. I like the dainty grape varieties. So we grow both. Our plants are growing nicely. More flowers are appearing daily. Bees and other pollinators are visiting. I’m anticipating a juicy crop.
By the way, LeHoullier says tomatoes are best if picked when they are half-ripe. They’ll last longer and taste just as good. Bananas and apples give off ethylene, a natural gas, that helps tomatoes ripen. Put your half-ripe tomato in a paper bag or cardboard box with an apple or banana to quicken the ripening process.
I’m still learning about soil conditions, water quantity, sunshine requirements, and of course the ever-present pests and helpers.
All these years later, my raised beds nurture mostly flowers and herbs. I surround my tomatoes with marigolds, not because they help the tomato plants. I just like the bright yellow among all the lush green foliage.
I’m listening to the audiobook edition of Redefining Realness by Janet Mock. Read by the author, it’s a story of self-discovery and self-acceptance. Growing up poor, multiracial, and trans at the end of the 20th century, was anything but easy for young Charles Mock. By sharing challenges, vulnerabilities, and triumphs through her own eyes, Ms. Mock has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be human, in all our varieties.
-—Be curious! (and bon appétit!)