Saturday and Sunday, March 21st and 22nd, I planted 73 tomato seeds in five planters. The planters are under lights in my office.
The 73 seeds represent 18 varieties of tomatoes – six varieties I brought back from last year’s garden, and 12 I bought from seed companies this spring. The first seedling emerged on March 26, just five (or four) days after planting. I snapped photos but here it is about 36 hours later and I’m just creating a post.
A lot happens in 36 hours! At last count, 67 seeds had sprouted. My planters have gone from bare to heavily-forested in just a day-and-a-half. I’m very excited to set the seedlings into my garden, but that won’t happen until June (unless the weather forecast is excessively rosy in May).
I love starting my garden indoors under lights!
In about six days, all but six of the tomato seeds I planted in containers have sprouted. Unfortunately, only one out of four Great White seeds is up, so I may do a second planting of that variety. Those leafy things way in the back on the right are cardoon and artichoke plants. I started artichokes about February 10th, and cardoon about March 5th.
For at least four months after harvest, these tomatoes got moved around in our dining room until I noticed they’d started to wrinkle. These are Green Sausage tomatoes—an heirloom paste tomato that remains green when it ripens. It also, apparently, creates a hermetic barrier between its innards and the rest of the universe.
In late January, I ate a fresh homegrown heirloom tomato harvested from my outdoor garden. This is remarkable because by early October of last year, those of my tomato plants that hadn’t been killed by blight had been frozen by an early frost.
Green Sausage, the variety of tomato in question, had proven particularly susceptible to blight and I had pulled four apparently unripe fruits from the desiccated plants in mid-to-late September. These went to the ripening table in the dining room but I wasn’t convinced they’d ripened by the time I folded up the table at season’s end.
So, four Green Sausage tomatoes spent at least four months “ripening” in our dining room. Finally, in mid January, I noticed they had started to wrinkle. They weren’t soft or blemished as a spoiling tomato gets. They were simply wrinkling.
What’s a garden blogger to do? I took pictures, I made video, and I cut open one of those 4+ month old fruits. I was dismayed at what I found. The photos tell the story; the video captures my reaction “live.”
Cut lengthwise, the 4-month-old Green Sausage tomato (an heirloom variety) revealed plenty of juicy flesh. It begged me to taste it; my reaction is in the video.
I wanted this to be a Beet Armyworm, but from what I could find online, Beet Armyworms won’t make it through the winter. So… this is probably a Tomato Fruitworm – more destructive than a Beet Armyworm
My small kitchen garden keeps me on my toes. It’s not enough that certain tasks must happen within a few calendar days each season. There are also diseases such as rust and blight, nutritional issues such as low nitrogen or high acid in the soil, watering challenges having to do with drought or excessive rain or both, weed issues, and insect imbalances—either too few pollinators or too many fruit- and vegetable-eaters.
I recently shared a story of Tobacco Hornworms and a Cardinal. This post isn’t so much a story as it is a “look!” I discovered a tomato pest of which I had known nothing until this past week when I found it in my small kitchen garden.
Pests my Kitchen Garden Doesn’t Need
As you can see in the photo, this worm chewed a hole through the skin of a tomato, then chewed a strip of skin down from the first hole and started on a second, deeper hole. That’s when I caught it in action.
I’ve seen this kind of damage on tomatoes in the past, but had never spotted the culprit. From casual research, I’ve decided this is a Tomato Fruitworm though it eats more like a Beet Armyworm does (from what I read here). Beet Armyworms aren’t supposed to range as far north as I live, so I’ll blame this worm’s behavior on timing: had I not found it when I did, it might have taken residence inside the tomato it was sampling.
I moved the worm into the meadow across the street but I suspect there is at least one other Tomato Fruitworm enjoying my tomato patch. Several fruits on one of my volunteer plants at the opposite end of the garden from this tomato have round holes in their skins. Ugh.
Because I pluck suckers from my tomato plants, the plants tend to grow very tall. I build trellises that support the plants up to about seven feet, and invariably the plants grow three or more feet above them. That last three feet of foliage rarely produces ripe tomatoes though there may be flowers and later green tomatoes before frost kills the plants. Having seven foot plants in July suggests they may pass 11 or 12 feet before the season ends.
I grow a lot of tomato plants in my small kitchen garden. Just over a month ago, I posted about how I’m maintaining this year’s tomato grove and I embedded a video there that shows how to pluck tomato suckers and start young tomato plants on hang string trellises. Find the post at Tomato Plant Maintenance in My Small Kitchen Garden.
I planned to post a second video a week later to demonstrate how to twist a tomato plant together with a hanging string and provide support for the plant. Seems things got away from me. Many of my plants have already grown above the tops of my trellises which are about seven feet tall. I can no longer twist those together with the hanging strings.
On the other hand, I created the promised video a week after I posted the first. It’s embedded below. Please have a look to see how to manage growing tomato plants on a hanging string trellis. Find information about how I assembled my hanging string trellises, at my blog post titled Tomato Supports in Your Small Kitchen Garden.
Maintain a Tomato Plant on a String Trellis
I’m not used to seeing so many tomatoes forming in early July! These may take another month or longer to ripen but they’re off to a great start. Notice the scar in the stem near the bottom-right of the photo. That’s where I removed a sucker from the plant. Also, you can see the string that spirals around the plant’s stem to provide support.
I cram tomato plants into my raised vegetable bed. This year, in a space that is 10 feet by 14 feet, I set 76 tomato plants and wrote about it in June in a post titled Tomato Spacing in My Small Kitchen Garden.
To manage so many plants in such a small space, I borrow methods from blogs (sadly, things I read before it occurred to me to keep track of the sources), Cooperative Extension documents, and Dad.
Hanging String Tomato Trellis
From a blog, I learned the hanging string trellis method—something I’d seen years before in a book about growing vegetables vertically. My trellis resembles the one I saw in a blog only in that strings hang down to support the tomato plants; the structure supporting the strings is my own concoction. I described the trellises in a post titled Tomato Supports in Your Small Kitchen Garden.
By late June I’d built the trellises for my tomatoes and hung strings for most of the plants. The video embedded in this blog post shows how to start a tomato plant on a hanging string trellis and how to pluck suckers to keep the plants growing up instead of out.
Early Blight and Late Blight
From Cooperative Extension I learned more about blight than could possibly be useful to me. The most influential tidbit is that in a test plot using half a dozen organic blight preventatives, only copper-based chemical applications (considered organic) prevented blight on tomato plants. ALL other organic methods of control failed.
Early blight apparently isn’t as nasty as late blight, but the best treatment for both blights is to use preventive measures. In other words, do what you can to prevent your plants from getting sick.
With my plants so crowded, blight is a great concern: If even one plant develops blight, the others are likely to do the same. So, I’m treating my plants with a copper-based fungicide. If it rains, I treat the plants once they’re dry. Without rain, I treat them every two weeks.
Yes, copper can build up in the soil, and that’s a bad thing. So, I use the lowest recommended concentration of fungicide and I expect not to reuse this particular garden space for tomatoes for at least two growing seasons. If my prophylactic blight treatments fail, you’ll be able to hear me crying about it in my blog later this year.
From Dad I learned to pluck suckers. Plucking suckers isn’t necessary to maintain healthy tomato plants. However, if you want to fit a lot of plants into a little space, plucking suckers helps. Training tomato vines up a string (or a stake) is quite easy when there is a single main stem. I wrote about plucking suckers in a post titled Tomatoes: Are You a Sucker Plucker?
Video Demonstration of Tomato Plant Management
I recently captured a video of myself plucking suckers from a tomato plant and then stringing up the plant on a hanging string trellis. This shows how I get a plant started on the trellis once the plant is about 18 inches tall. I’ll create another video in a week or so to demonstrate how I manage a plant when it grows beyond the highest loop of string around its stem. The video is three minutes long:
By the time I planted tomatoes weeks earlier than usual, peas, broccoli, and cauliflower (to the right in the photograph) had a good start in my small kitchen garden and we were already harvesting lettuce (at the top-left in the photo).
I set tomato seedlings in my small kitchen garden starting in mid May this year… fully two weeks earlier than central Pennsylvania’s “last frost date.” Given the lack of winter, some uncomfortably hot weather, and more than 14 consecutive frost-free days leading up to mid-May I felt pretty safe putting in summer vegetables so early.
Tomatoes in Small Planting Beds
I’m frustrated by the lack of gardening space in my yard. The house came with a modest raised garden bed that I doubled in size one season. I also took over the kids’ sandbox for gardening when they stopped using it, and I’ve more than doubled the area it covers. Finally, I maintain several planters on my deck and on the kids’ otherwise unused play set.
I’ve prepped a double row for my tomato seedlings. Holes are one foot apart (from the center of one to the center of the next), and the gap between the rows is a foot wide. After digging the holes and before setting in the seedlings, I filled each hole halfway with compost, sprinkled in crushed egg shells and Epsom salt, and tossed it together with soil.
If you click the photo to zoom in, you can make out egg shells in the holes and also spot freshly-planted and watered tomato seedlings to the right of the prepared holes.
With all that, my vegetables don’t fit. To plant with the spacing recommended by seed retailers, gardening books, and the USDA, I’d need more than double the planting beds I already have. So, I “plant intensively.”
The vast, inverted, underground tree that is a tomato plant’s root system will spread through the soil evading impenetrable objects. What difference can it make if some of those objects happen to be roots from other tomato plants? Sure, the roots will compete for water and nutrients, so key to success with intensive planting is to provide adequate amounts of both.
How Close to Space Tomato Plants?
For the past several seasons, I’ve left just twelve inches from one tomato plant to the next within rows, and I’ve created rows in pairs twelve inches apart. From one pair of rows to another I leave a 30 inch wide gap which is just shy of comfortable for working among the plants once they reach the tops of the trellises (about seven feet).
- Growing tomato plants so close together simplifies maintenance.
- I can reach past plants near a walking corridor to tend plants in the “back rows” (less moving about).
- I use far less mulch per plant.
- Water and fertilizer for any one plant benefits several.
- It’s short work to apply antifungal powder or solution.
- The walls of plants provide shade that reduces the occurrence of green shoulders on ripening fruit.
- Trellising requires far fewer materials.
The downside of spacing tomato plants so closely is that diseases and insects can pass among them easily. Wider spacing can buy you time to protect unaffected plants if you discover problems with any plants.
The photos tell the story of this spring’s planting effort. There are six rows, each of which holds 12, 13, or 14 plants for a total of 76. Varieties include Black Krim, Beefsteak, Nebraska Wedding, White Queen, Nyagous, Valencia, Noonglow, Manyel, Cream Sausage, Jonatta Banana, and the unidentified paste variety I’ve grown for many seasons.
I’ve written several posts about growing tomatoes over the years. Here’s a list of articles and links to them:
- How to Plant Tomatoes in Raised Beds
- Tomato Planting Tips
- Upside Down Tomatoes: Why, Oh Why?
- Tomatoes: Are You a Sucker-Plucker?
- Tomato Supports in Your Small Kitchen Garden
- The Vine Ripened Tomato Lie
- Tomato Controversy at Your Small Kitchen Garden
- Small Kitchen Garden Tomato Salad
- Canning Tomatoes from Your Small Kitchen Garden
I don’t think this is natural… and it’s even a little creepy. In real life, corn seeds dry out on the cob; get eaten by rodents, birds, and deer; and end up back in (or on) the soil before they sprout. Even if you don’t treat corn right, it wants to grow; it wants to make its own corn seeds.
The whole point of being a mature vegetable is to make more vegetables. Once you’re all grown up, you have only to spread your seeds so they can take root and produce new plants. As a vegetable seed, you do everything you know how to do to succeed; to grow into a mature plant so you can spread seeds.
To illustrate my point, the photo to the right shows an ear of sweet corn which, when I husked it, simply looked too old to cook and serve at a meal. Instead, I set the ear—along with husks from the night’s meal—into a compost bucket and set it on the deck rail. Then I kind of overlooked that compost bucket for a week or two. When I finally got around to dumping it, I found that the corn on the cob was growing.
I had not treated these corn seeds well. I hadn’t dried them. I hadn’t removed them from the cob. I hadn’t stored them in a moisture-free environment. I hadn’t planted them in well-nourished soil. I hadn’t kept them uniformly moist. Still, they did their best in the environment they had available.
I won’t make a habit of sprouting seeds in dishrags for my small kitchen garden. This was a complete fluke and it will never happen again (maybe).
A Tomato Seed Shows Pluck
Poor housekeeping in my kitchen should further make my point: I prepared a tomato salad during the summer, and used a Handi-Wipe towel to clean up the counter. When I finished, I rinsed out the towel and tossed it against the backsplash of the sink.
Apparently, I didn’t use the towel for a few days, but when next I picked it up, I found it had a passenger: a young tomato sprout had emerged from among the towel’s fibers. This was not the tomato seed’s natural environment, but still it managed to set out on its mission to grow up and produce seeds of its own.
Starting Vegetable Plants is Easy
Why am I telling you about my horrible housekeeping? To emphasize just how easy it is to start a garden: when you follow instructions in a “how to plant vegetables” article, you’re pampering seeds with an ideal environment; you’re bound to succeed! So… try it! Even if you mess up in extreme ways, your seeds will try very hard to make you successful.
Do you have examples of seeds sprouting—or vegetable plants succeeding—in unlikely environments? Please share your story in a comment!
I figure to set tomato seedlings in the garden in late May so I started seeds at the beginning of April. I love how a tomato sprout pushes up a section of stem and then eventually pulls its leaf tips free.
As a kitchen gardener, I get excited when the first seeds sprout in my office each spring. If I manage things well, those sprouts are lettuces and brassicas (cauliflower and broccoli). They can go into the garden more than a month before cold-sensitive crops such as tomatoes and chili peppers, and it’s great to give them a head start so they have plenty of productive time outdoors before summer heat shuts them down.
My Small Kitchen Garden is a Lake
I planted several varieties of lettuce in early March along with a bunch of broccoli and cauliflower seeds. They came on well, and I figured to plant them outdoors in late March or early April—about when I started tomatoes and peppers in my office.
I started four types of lettuce near the beginning of March. The Summer Crisp and Purple Leaf lettuces in this planter should have gone in the garden two or three weeks ago. We’d be eating fresh garden salads if we’d had about six inches less rain in the past month.
Here’s the thing: my planting bed has been too wet to garden. The longest gap between rainstorms in the past six weeks has been, perhaps, three days. Each storm has lasted at least 12 hours and deposited enough water to saturate the soil and leave puddles on top.
When I first plunged a garden fork into the soil and pressed down on the handle to loosen things up for my lettuce seedlings, there was a loud sucking noise. My soil contains a lot of clay, so if I work it when it’s wet I might just as well be making pottery as tilling.
My tomato seedlings are getting big enough to set outdoors and I’ll probably transplant them to larger pots in ten days or so. In the meantime, my lettuce and brassica seedlings are getting really annoyed. They desperately want out of their planters and into the garden.
The cauliflower and broccoli plants look nearly large enough to put up their central florets. If the garden doesn’t dry out in the next few days, I’ll move the plants into large pots on my deck; I’ve never grown cauliflower and broccoli in planters, but I’m confident they’ll do well that way.
Because the garden continues to remain under water, I may need to set my lettuce seedlings in individual pots and manage them on my deck. Otherwise, it may be so hot by the time the garden is ready that the seedlings will bolt and there won’t be any lettuce to harvest.
Broccoli and cauliflower are a bit more heat-tolerant, and they can go in the garden later. However, they also need more space for roots, so if these rain storms continue I’ll be potting up the brassicas about when I pot up the tomatoes.
Usually I push the season a bit and get my plants in the ground too early. The way 2011 is developing, I can’t get them in the ground early enough. With luck, the rain will let up before June and I’ll be able to set out tomato and pepper seedlings without resorting to SCUBA gear. On the other hand, maybe it’s time to consider growing rice in my small kitchen garden.
How’s your kitchen garden doing?
No, I’m not making it up: my garden is very wet. Word is that local farmers are two weeks behind because of the weather. After a full day without rain, there is still standing water in my main planting bed. Apparently, some types of weeds don’t mind having wet feet.
Your Small Kitchen Garden’s 2011 seed giveaway is done; it closed on Sunday the 13th. and seeds went in the mail on the 22nd. Why the delay? It had to do with an ear and sinus infection. I’m feeling better, thanks, and finally getting back in stride.
Comments on Your Small Kitchen Garden
One great pleasure of running a giveaway is that it usually results in visitors leaving more than the typical number of comments on my blog. For this year’s giveaway, I included in the instruction …and make me laugh. I’m so pleased to report that some of the participants succeeded!
Had I been healthy, I’d have commented on comments as they came in. To make up for the dereliction, I thought I’d offer responses here:
Leslie (aka feralchick) – I’m sorry the squirrels beat up your garden last year and am pleased to be able to resupply you with seeds this year. Good luck with the squirrel-deterrent system. Are they using lasers in those things yet?
Renee – I loved the woodchuck photos… they made me laugh. I hope I find time this year to post the woodchuck videos I shot two seasons ago. Such persistent critters!
Cindy Scott Day – Good luck with the squash this year. Bugs were amazing last summer, but I’m surprised you didn’t have any luck with the neck pumpkins; they seem as hardy as butternut.
shala_darkstone – I hope you find room for winter squash this season. They tend to take a lot more space than summer squashes, but they’re so much squashier I can’t imagine my small kitchen garden without them.
Diana – Nice to see you back. Sorry, I’ve sent tomato, neck pumpkin, and blue Hubbard squash seeds… just got carried away. If you can’t use them all, I hope you know other local kitchen gardeners who might.
Nell – I hope you have great luck with blue Hubbard; they are truly amazing when they grow up. Blue Hubbard are very susceptible to squash vine borers, so planting late or keeping the plants under row covers may be necessary.
Justine – Sounds as though your first garden was quite ambitious. I’m so glad to hear that you garden to preserve… my book about preserving produce should be in distribution in a matter of days—I put up many gallons of produce every year. Good luck with the tomato seeds; they produce tomatoes ideal for saucing.
Sherry – I’m touched to hear that you have my blog’s feed posted on your blog. I’m sorry I don’t keep it more lively… frequency ought to improve a bit this year as I don’t expect to be writing a book. I never found a “contact us” form with your mailing address in it… I sent a note via email, but I’m mentioning it here in case you missed the email. Please drop me your mailing address so I can send along your seeds!
Salman – I would love to see photos of squash growing in your garden. Alas, I explained in the original post: I won’t ship seeds to other countries (there are usually restrictions on importing agricultural products). I hope you find a local source for winter squash seeds and that you grow a terrific crop.
Jenna Z – If you’ve poked around in my various blogs, you might have discovered my great enthusiasm for squashes. I like ornamental gourds as well, but I can’t admit in a public forum that I actually plant stuff I’m not going to eat. I hope you have good luck with the seeds and I’ll look forward to any reports you might post.
Tom M – I hope that at least the neck pumpkins perform the way you’d like. I’m also frustrated by squash’s susceptibility to disease and insects—especially to insects. Here’s hoping we both have a great winter squash year.
nicky – Hey, you! Grow squash and tomatoes. The only decision will be where to plant them. I hope you’ll share your experiences as the season rolls along. Good luck!
meemsnyc – Romas! Funny they didn’t work out for you. I always thought Romas were a no-brainer of the tomato family. Perhaps these weird paste tomatoes will give you better luck. Please drop by in the fall and let me know how things worked out.
Bren – I’ll try the spray bottle thing this year. Last year I stopped aphids with a spray bottle of garlic oil, water, and soap; why not Squash Vine Borers? Was your story silly? The question was, and that’ll do just fine
Annie Haven/Authentic Haven Brand – You’re far enough up the list to get a complete set of seeds. I hope you have great luck with them… the tomatoes and neck pumpkins have been cake for me; the blue Hubbard is challenging. Good luck!
TZ – Depending on the weather, it seems squash and pumpkins are eager to die those horrible deaths. Butternut and Neck Pumpkin remain the hardiest, most pest-resistant varieties I’ve seen. I hope yours do well. That’s a nice sequence of photos explaining how you collect tomato seeds over on Flickr.
erynia – How nice to meet another fan of Gardenmom29! One strategy I tried for “expanding” my garden last year was to plant the space hogs near one end. I trained the squash vines over and through the garden fence and onto the compost heap. I may plant squash this year where a vegetable bed abuts one of my wife’s ornamental beds. The squash vines could serve as “mulch” around long-stemmed flowers.
Dakota – Thank you for the fire ants story. I really wanted to laugh, but instead I felt the deep despair of human tragedy. I feel self-conscious at Buster Keaton flicks because while the rest of the audience laughs, I choke up at all the horrible things he endures. Those AFV videos in which someone rides a bike off a cliff or faceplants off a trampoline? I don’t laugh, I cringe. So, I thought somber thoughts about your toosh as I packaged and mailed your seeds. I’m a simple person; I look for humor in corny garden jokes.
robbie – I hope you have great success growing tomatoes from seed. I’ll be starting mine indoors in about 2 weeks.
Jennifer – And you actually got squash off of last year’s Blue Hubbard plants! I’m quite jealous. This year, I will vanquish the Squash Vine Borers and bring Blue Hubbards out of the battle zone: mature and ready for the kitchen!
Mika – I hope you haven’t cried yourself to sleep over vegetable seeds. Thank goodness for the footnote in your comment… I was feeling all teary that my seed giveaway caused you such stress, but the footnote at least gave me hope that you might have been kidding.
Sonya – I laughed, I cried, I relived the terror of Boston in February, 2011. To borrow a line from VA Nuresmy: And, the fishing episode! We missed all but about 14 inches of the snow you folks hoarded. Even so, I’m hankering for some time with the soil. That wilty grayish powdery thing you described sounds like a damp growing season… or so many squash bugs that their activity promoted mold (which might have appeared about the time the leaves crossed over anyway). With a lot of bugs chomping on the leaves, sap can accumulate and provide a great breeding medium for mold. Sorry you had problems last year; I hope things work out better this year.
Jennie – I love your tomato-growing experience! I plant 8-foot stakes, leaving about 7 feet of vertical support. The plants usually grow 3 or 4 feet beyond the supports; they’d easily reach a first floor roof. Visitors from NY watched me setting my 8-foot stakes and were incredulous that I’d need anything so tall. I guess the shorter growing season up there means shorter tomato plants.
circulating – I recommend not growing vegetables out of any wazoo. Of course, they’re your vegetables, and it’s your wazoo, so do what makes you happy. Whatever planter you use, I wish you good luck with the seeds!
Joyce Pinson – I hope you have better luck with the Blue Hubbard than I had last year. They are such awesome vegetables! Thanks for your comment about my book. I learned today that it’s being bound so copies should be in circulation later this week. So cool!
Marsha Hubler – That first year of wrestling with rocky soil would lead me either to experiment extensively with potatoes and tomatoes, or to establish raised beds and make a whole bunch of compost. Even a few 5-gallon planters on a deck or along a walkway could provide a steady supply of fresh veggies. These days, people set up hay or straw bales and plant veggies in them—apparently adequate to raise all kinds of foods to maturity.
Trent – I so hope that when you say “hanging tomato planters” you don’t mean “upside down tomato planters.” OK… we can still be friends, but it saddens me a bit to think the progeny of my tomato plants may grow up hanging from their toes. I hope you have better luck with your torture planters than I had when I grew tomatoes upside down.
lauranot – I’m glad you got in on time for the giveaway. “Sugar Snacker” is an awesome name for a tomato. I decided to stop growing cherry tomatoes after the 8th or 9th generation descended from plants I set some 12 years ago failed to reseed themselves.
Thank you so much for participating in my seed giveaway. I hope all you kitchen gardeners harvest lots of awesome produce this season.
This beauty isn’t quite ready to harvest. Yes, it’s a tomato. I believe it’s of the Andes variety… it’s a paste tomato with very little gel, few seeds, and delicious flesh. Pick a green tomato at your own peril. You can coax a green tomato to ripen, but the results are rarely satisfying.
Vine-ripened tomatoes are NOT better than tomatoes that ripen off the vine. Still, there is such passion for vine-ripening that kitchen gardeners perpetuate the lie; they claim a vine-ripened tomato is noticeably better.
Ripen Tomatoes Well
Last summer, Your Small Kitchen Garden blog challenged the conventional wisdom that store-bought tomatoes are horrible because they ripen off the vine. I argued that store-bought tomatoes are lousy because they are lousy cultivars: ripened on or off the vine, they grow up to be flavorless and wanting in texture.
Then I explained how I harvest, and I insisted that my “picked-pink” tomatoes are just as good as their vine-ripened counterparts… in fact, that picked-pink tomatoes are better because they don’t crack or develop “green shoulders.” Please read the original post here: The Vine-Ripened Tomato Lie.
I’ve enjoyed the insights from readers who have shared their opinions. Some are adamant that vine-ripened tomatoes are dramatically tastier than picked-pink tomatoes… and I won’t argue with their experiences. In my experience, if there is a difference, It’s insignificant and I’d be happy to prepare a scientific double-blind taste-test of several varieties of tomatoes both vine-ripened and picked pink. I’m confident that 99% of participants in such a test would not be able to distinguish between the two.
One person who read my original post on this suspiciously declared that picked-pink tomatoes lack the nutritional qualities of vine-ripened tomatoes. The visitor went by the name “Dr. Tomato,” lending a sense of authority to his or her comments. I conceded that it’s possible there are nutritional differences, and asked Dr. Tomato to provide links to the research that supports the claim.
My first tomato harvest of 2010 is a very large paste tomato that I’ve picked-pink. The tomato has just started to change color, and it will finish on my dining room table. Had I left it on the plant, a rain storm could have caused it to crack… and direct sunlight could have made it develop green shoulders.
Dr. Tomato probably wasn’t listening, because the links never materialized. Then, yesterday another commenter “sided” with Dr. Tomato. This left a bad taste in my mouth: I hate arguing about facts. If something is so, then opinions about it are meaningless. When a yardstick is 36 inches long, you seem a little silly to say, “In my opinion, the ruler is 37 inches long.” A simple measurement can settle the issue, so why take sides? I went in search of facts about tomato nutrition.
What Science Says
Turns out food science enthusiasts have done some research on ripening tomatoes off the vine. I read several (incredibly dull) studies full of science-writing gobbledygook and have reduced the obtuse language to a few simple factual statements:
1. There is no stastically significant nutritional (including vitamin C and Lycopene) difference between vine-ripened and picked-pink tomatoes. (Conclusion of the study Colour of post-harvest ripened and vine ripened tomatoes
(Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) as related to total
antioxidant capacity and chemical composition.)
At the peak of tomato season and then some, there are hundreds of tomatoes ripening on my dining room table. In this photo, the youngest tomatoes are in back, with the oldest – ready to eat – in front.
2. Some picked-pink tomatoes develop MORE lycopene (the antioxidant) than vine-ripened tomatoes do, others develop LESS lycopene. This seems to depend, in part, on the temperature at which you ripen the picked-pink tomatoes, and, perhaps, on whether you’re growing the tomatoes hydroponically.
3. You can harvest tomatoes well before they become fully ripe without loss of lycopene. (Conclusion of the study Lycopene Content among Organically Grown Tomatoes.)
So, you won’t become malnourished if you eat picked-pink tomatoes. Because there are so many advantages to harvesting tomatoes this way, once again I encourage you to try it and decide for yourself: When a tomato starts to turn from green to red—when it already has pink skin—pick it and set it in your house to finish ripening (I fill bowls with picked-pink tomatoes). When it’s fully-ripe, taste it next to a freshly-picked vine-ripened tomato.
If you taste a difference, is it enough of a difference to make you pass on the advantages of picking pink? Whatever you decide I hope we can still get along… and thanks for considering this heretical suggestion.