1998 is the Year of the Tomato - Indiana Yard and Garden - Purdue Consumer Horticulture

1998 is the Year of the Tomato

Each year, the National Garden Bureau selects a flower and a vegetable to promote, and in 1998 the veggie spotlight will shine on the tomato.

Tomatoes are native to the Americas, in the Andean mountain region of South America. The Aztecs of Central America are thought to be the first people to cultivate, eat and name the plant tomatl or xtomatl. The tomato was brought to North America by colonists as an ornamental plant, and it was not until the 1830s that tomatoes were accepted as food. For hundreds of years, it was thought by Europeans to be poisonous, since botanists had placed it in the nightshade family.

The first F1 hybrid tomato, ‘Big Boy,’ was introduced by the Burpee Seed Company in 1949. Since then, thousands of hybrid tomatoes have been introduced by plant breeders. Modern hybrids bring disease-resistance, cold tolerance, nematode resistance, and general hybrid vigor to America’s most popular garden vegetable. The botanical name for the tomato is Lycopersicon esculentum, which is literally translated to English as “edible wolf peach!”

There are several ways to classify the wide array of tomatoes that are so popular among gardeners today. First, they can be grouped by fruit shape. From small to large, there are cherry, plum, pear, standard, and beefsteak types.

Tomatoes also may be grouped by the amount of time it takes for the plants to mature fruit for harvest. Seed packets will list the expected length of time to maturity in number of days, but in general the cultivars are considered to be early, midseason or late-maturing. Early cultivars take from 55 to 65 days from transplanting to the garden. Midseason is considered to be 66 to 80 days. Late types are those that need more than 80 days.

Tomatoes can be grouped by the plant’s growth habit &emdash; determinate or indeterminate. Determinate plants tend to grow their foliage first, then set flowers that mature into fruit if pollination is successful. All of the fruit tend to ripen on a plant at about the same time. Indeterminate tomatoes start out by growing some foliage, then continue to produce foliage and flowers throughout the gardening season. These plants will tend to have tomato fruit in different stages of maturity at any given time.

More recent developments in tomato breeding have led to a wider array of fruit color. In addition to the standard red ripe color, tomatoes can be creamy white, lime green, pink, yellow, golden, or orange. The pink and yellowish types have mistakenly been referred to as low-acid tomatoes, but in fact these types are just higher in sugar, making them taste less acidic.

There has yet to be any one cultivar of tomato that can be declared as “the best,” since taste is such a personal matter. Gardeners can disagree widely on what they consider to be the top cultivar, so you’ll have to raise an array of cultivars and make your own choice!



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