How Does Your Garden Grow?

Tomato time

By Suzanne Larsen
Posted 8/16/19

Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable?

In 1883, the United States Congress passed the Tariff Act, a piece of legislation requiring a 10 percent tax on imported vegetables in response to the …

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How Does Your Garden Grow?

Tomato time

Posted

Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable?

In 1883, the United States Congress passed the Tariff Act, a piece of legislation requiring a 10 percent tax on imported vegetables in response to the growing international trade. A tomato importer named John Nix decided to challenge the law on the botanical grounds that a tomato was in fact technically a fruit, not a vegetable, and should therefore be exempt from this tax.

The case was argued before the Supreme Court in 1893 and Justice Horace Gray wrote, “Botanically speaking, tomatoes are fruits of a vine as are cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas and are grown in gardens and can be eaten either cooked or raw like potatoes, carrots and many other vegetables. Usually these vegetables are served at dinner with fish or meats and constitute the main part of the meal unlike fruits that are eaten generally as dessert.”

That settled the matter, kind of.

Tomatoes have a very important benefit: They have an antioxidant that protects cells from cancer. This antioxidant is called lycopene. Homegrown tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene and numerous studies have confirmed that people who consume increased amounts of tomato products experience marked reductions in cancer risk. A study done at the University of California in 1995 ranked the tomato as the single-most important fruit or vegetable of Western diets in terms of overall vitamins and minerals.

Some tomato plants can grow 6 feet tall and others stay smaller. It depends upon which type of tomatoes you grow: determinate or indeterminate. Determinate varieties are bred to be compact in height and can be grown in containers. Determinate plants stop growing when fruit sets and ripen their entire crop at around the same time. These types are great if you are making salsa or canning tomatoes. An example of a determinate tomato plant is the Roma tomato.

Indeterminate tomatoes, or vining tomatoes, continue to bloom, set new fruit and ripen throughout the growing season until frost. Near the end of the season, removing new flowers and immature fruit can help speed ripening of mature fruit. Indeterminate plants can reach heights of up to 10 feet, but 6 feet is the norm.

These plants are not for containers because they need caging and staking for support. If you use cages, the fruit stays cleaner and you do not have to tie up the plants. The yields are large. Examples of indeterminate tomatoes are Big Boy, Better Boy, Beef Master, most “cherry” types, Early Girl and most heirloom varieties.

In my own garden I plant a mix of both determinate and indeterminate. This gives you a nice mix of varieties but it all depends on the plants you prefer to grow.

Garden tomatoes do have a downside: They spoil you! After eating them almost every day from July well into September, it is difficult to face those expensive clusters in the supermarket. Sometimes right from the garden there are very few pleasures equal to a fresh Sweet 100 cherry tomato picked from the vine. We tomato lovers want tender skin, plenty of juice and that touch of sweetness that comes from being ripened by the summer sun.

Tomato lovers get pulled into tomato land every year, we plant too many tomato varieties and yet we admit, “What a sweet place to be.”

(Suzanne Larsen of Cody is a master gardener.)

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