It’s time to brush off your green thumb and dig onto the soil and plant red, juicy tomatoes! Or if you prefer to get your tomatoes the “easy” way, remember that these juicy, healthy fruits are ready to be planted by Arizona farmers and will be in-season in early May.
This savory – typically red – edible fruit is prepared and consumed in myriad ways and as an ingredient in many dishes, drinks and sauces. A tomato is botanically a fruit but is usually thought of as a vegetable for culinary purposes. This fruit is rich in lycopene and offers many health benefits. When it comes to lycopene the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service has found that tangerine tomatoes surpass red tomatoes in lycopene content. Ounce for ounce, the heirloom tangerine tomatoes were found to be a better source for this powerful antioxidant.
Regardless of whether you love red or tangerine, cherry, plum or any of the other tomato varieties that you can find at the grocery stores and farmers markets in Arizona, you can’t go wrong adding a tomato to your daily diet! Now that tomatoes are in season they are more plentiful than ever.
In the Phoenix area there are two growing seasons: mid-February until the end of May and September until mid-November. For Arizonans who are so inclined, February is the perfect time to start planting your tomatoes. Whether you have a patio garden or access to a larger plot of land, plucking a ripe tomato from the vine to eat as a snack or to toss into a salad, now’s the time to begin planting.
Tomatoes need a well-drained, loamy soil in which to flourish. They grow best in moist soil and when the temperatures remain steadily in the 70 to 80 degree range. They are valuable garden plants because they require relatively little space for large production. Each tomato plant can yield 10 to 15 pounds or more of fruit.
It may seem overwhelming to decide which type of tomato plant to choose. Your best bet is to ask your friends and family which type they prefer and go from there.
Here are a few of the most popular tomato plant types:
- Beefsteak are large tomatoes that when sliced easily cover a sandwich. The whole fruit can sometimes weigh as much as two pounds. The variety is late to ripen so you may want to plant some earlier-to-ripen varieties as well.
- Tangerine tomatoes are full size orange tomatoes with a sweet flavor.
- Plum or paste tomatoes are small pear-shaped fruits with meaty interiors and few seeds. These tomatoes have less juice than standard tomatoes and are a favorite for canning.
- Grape tomatoes are the size that their name indicates. They’re sweeter than most tomatoes and are good for salads and vegetable trays
- Cherry tomatoes vary in size but are the size of a cherry and are a bit more sour in taste. They are good hand-fruits for snacking.
- Pear tomatoes are the shape and size of a pear, are sweet in taste and great in salads.
Once you’ve decided on the type of tomato you want to grow – or buy from the grocery store or farmer’s market – know that stored properly, tomatoes can stay fresh for up to 12 weeks.
If this is the year you want to try your hand at growing tomatoes for yourself, know that you can start them indoors from seeds or buy transplants to grow at home. Seeds should be sown six to eight weeks before the last frost in the area. If you purchase transplants look for plants that are six to 10 inches tall. If you’re growing in a plot of land, set the plants eight to 10 inches apart.
Growing tomatoes in wire cages is a practice that’s gaining in popularity among gardeners because of the ease of use. Cage growing is a method that allows the tomato plant to grow in a more natural manner by keeping the leaves and fruit off the ground – it works on the same principle as staking the plants. Cage-planted tomatoes are less prone to the spread of disease, and they develop a heavy foliage cover. With caged plants it’s best to space about three feet apart to allow for good air circulation.
Keep in mind that it takes 55 to 100 days for the plants to mature. Harvest your tomatoes when they are vine-ripe but still firm. Once they’re mature, be prepared to savor these delicious, healthy fruits.
Benefits of Tomatoes:
- Rich in antioxidants such as Vitamins A and C and beta carotene.
- Diabetes benefit: Because of the chromium in tomatoes, they help diabetics keep blood sugar levels under control
- Vision: The Vitamin A in tomatoes helps improve vision.
- Skin benefits: The lycopene found in tomatoes is also found in over the country facial cleansers and is great for skin care. The best way to use tomatoes for skin care is to peel a bunch of them, and place the tomato skins on your face. Let the inside of the skins rest against your skin for 10 minutes then rinse.
- Heart trouble: The potassium and Vitamin B help lower blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. Because of this they could help prevent stroke or heart attack.
- Cancer: Studies have shown that the lycopene in tomatoes helps lessen the chances of prostate, stomach and colorectal cancers.
- Bones, kidney stones and gallstones: Vitamin K and calcium help strengthen bones. Eating tomatoes without the seeds can help lessen the risk of gall-and kidney-stones.
- Tomato and Strong Bones (beinghealthyhomeandaway.blogspot.com)
- Soil temperature is Important When Planting Tomatoes (giantveggiegardener.com)
- How to Grow Tomatoes at Home (kcet.org)