Early June is around the time you should be thinking about putting out your tomato plants. Or for those lucky enough to have heated greenhouses it is the time you will be well into your winter sown crop.
Tomatoes are certainly not one of the easiest crops to grow. I think they are one of the most rewarding especially since most of the supermarkets have decided to sell a choice of either
o Over-priced "vine" tomatoes
o Half ripened round reddish balls they call tomatoes, but bear no resemblance what so ever in taste to tomatoes.
The main reason for this tasteless charade of a tomato is that they are picked green to ensure they don't rot in transit then artificially ripened by having ethylene sprayed on them. Hence vine tomatoes having much more flavour as they are left to ripen on the vine.
The tomato is not technically a vegetable but the fruit of Lycopersicon Lycopersicum or tomato plant. It is often grouped with vegetables because of its use in the kitchen. Its name comes from the Aztec word tomatl simply meaning plump fruit. The true Aztec word for tomato is xitomatl but the Spanish on the introduction of the fruit to Europe corrupted this name losing the suffix and thus creating the Spanish tomate or English tomato.
Tomatoes are highly versatile and are used in thousands of recipes right across Europe, from ketchup to chowder, pizzas to Bloody Mary's.
It wasn't always the case though and the tomato was treated with suspicion right across the old-world after its arrival from the Americas. For around 300 years the tomato was only grown as an ornamental plant, herbalists of the time would claim it was responsible for a whole host of ills including diarrhoea and colic. It wasn't until around 1800 and later that the tomato began to shed it's image as a poisonous relative of the nightshade family (which it is a member) and become as popular as it is today.
The tomato contains high amounts of vitamin C and is high in beta-carotene the precursor of vitamin A. Two average sized tomatoes will contain the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C for the average adult. Tomatoes are also high in lycopene another carotenoid (like beta-carotene) which acts as an antioxidant helping to combat free radical damage in the body. As lycopene is fat soluble cooking it with a small amount of fat will make this compound more bio-available. This means that rather than being destroyed lycopene is more useful in foods like ketchup than in raw tomatoes. Lycopene has been proven to lower the risk of cancers, stroke and heart disease.
o Don't plant near potatoes
o Pick a sunny spot to grow them preferably against a south facing wall
o Germinate at 15 C to 20 C (59 - 68 o F)
o A window-sill, on a table in a bay window, in a heated conservatory under cloches are all good places to germinate seeds this can be done in April - May, June at a push.
o Harden plants off before planting outside.
o Chives planted next to tomatoes discourage aphids, yellow flowers such as marigolds also good planted next to tomatoes.
o Place in a drawer with apples to ripen.
I know very few people, if any, that wouldn't know at least one way to cook a tomato. They are extremely versatile; you can have them grilled for breakfast with a little black pepper, in a salad for lunch then with pasta for your evening meal and as a drink in a Bloody Mary's at night. You could also try tomato soup.