Nearing tomato time againBy JEFF NORTH,
I missed the brutally cold temperatures last week. To be honest, I’m somewhat glad I wasn’t here, for as painful as it was to endure 30 minutes of praise and another four days, 23 hours, and 30 minutes of what I will need to do in 2018 to be successful, I think the bone-chilling weather would have been just as painful. On second thought, “corporate”, is pretty tough and maybe the mood would have been at least upbeat here.
The pipes froze while I was gone, but thankfully nothing was harmed. Ducks and bucks hit the ground while I was away and near record high temperatures greeted me when I stepped from the tarmac. Though I know we have more chilly spells ahead of us, I immediately began thinking of spring and my garden when the wild yorkies greeted me at the door. As a matter of fact, I turned the soil a few times with my spade as they basked in the sun for a few minutes. Thoughts of sliced tomatoes, with just the right amount of Blue Plate kept entering my gray matter and tantalizing my taste buds. Ahhhhh, tomatoes will take center-stage this week.
Tomatoes are a member of the deadly nightshade family, Solanacea. The name means “wolf peach” and legend has it that the deadly nightshade was used by witches and sorcerers in a potion to turn themselves into werewolves, hence the name wolf peach. The first tomato originated in the South American Andes and its use as a food originated in Mexico. By 500 BC, tomatoes were being cultivated in Mexico and it is accepted that Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes may have been the first to transfer the small yellow fruit to Europe after capturing the Aztec City now known as Mexico City in 1521.
Tomatoes were erroneously thought to be poisonous, although the leaves are, by Europeans who were suspicious of their shiny fruit. They were originally grown only in flower gardens for their beauty in the 1500s in Britain. It wasn’t until the 1820s that tomatoes were part of the average person’s diet.
The earliest reference of tomatoes grown in North America was in 1710 when herbalist William Salmon reported seeing them in what is today, South Carolina. Andrew Livingston is considered to be the father of the modern tomato and is credited with succeeding in upgrading the wild tomato to different varieties and stability, genetically, in the plant. His first breed was called “the Paragon” in 1870.
Colors of this edible fruit vary in color from red, to pink, black, green, purple, etc. Heirloom tomatoes, (heritage tomatoes), are non-hybrid with more color and taste than hybrid tomatoes. Heirlooms are very popular but generally produce fewer fruit due to pollination problems and incidence of disease. The heaviest tomato ever recorded weighed 7 lbs. 12 oz.
Growing tomatoes has been a hobby of mine for many years. Though frustrating at times, it is downright therapeutic to walk in a manicured garden where your efforts reap rewards. Of course there are a multitude of problems that come along with producing homegrown tomatoes. Diseases abound like Fusarium and Verticillium Wilt. Blights, viruses, and nematodes can also present problems. Regarding insects, stink bugs, aphids, and the dreaded hornworm complex can rob you of your labor in a flash. Soils need to be fertile and well drained. Watering is more of an art than a science. When everything comes together though and the baskets overflow with the succulent fruit that makes life worth living, nothing can compare in taste and freshness. Those who claim the hydroponically grown and the greenhouse tomatoes are the best have never had the best. I compare those to a mixture of cardboard and meal. I shudder at the thought of those imposters even being in the conversation. Yes, the wonderful time for spring planting is just around the corner.
You may be wondering what in the world does all of this hoopla around gardening have to do with the outdoors. It just means that it is time to be thinking of other endeavors than sitting in a blind with your favorite shotgun or on a limb with your trusted bow. Once again it is time to put “Outdoors in the Sun” on hold for a few months for the insects and the plow are calling my name. I may be able to work in a few articles along the way if Jimmye and company will allow, but for the most part it will be daylight to dark now with no rest for the weary. The past six months left us in a hurry. I assure you, the next six months will pass just as quickly. I have really enjoyed this past fall and winter. The freezer is full of venison, mallards, and teal but my soul is even richer with the memories made with friends and family. Thank you for allowing us into your homes with our weekly column. I hope you have found it not only informative but entertaining as well. Please give us a call or drop us a note on topics you would like to see in the future. I’m always looking for new material and your help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you again, for I truly do appreciate the opportunity to write for you.
Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it. We’ll see you soon.