Tomatoes for the Home Garden – Part 2

Published: Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 09:21 AM.

Tomatoes are unquestionably the most popular vegetable for backyard gardeners.  But it wasn’t always like that.  In fact, the tomato is actually something of a new comer at the American table.

Believe it or not, tomatoes used to be thought of as poisonous.  Tomatoes do belong to the poisonous nightshade family, which didn’t help matters, but so do the potato, pepper, and eggplant, and they have been considered edible vegetables for centuries.  Part of the reason tomatoes were avoided may have been because they weren’t native to Europe.

They originated in South and Central America, and were first brought to Europe by the Spanish Conquistadors in the sixtieth century.

The English weren’t impressed by their food value; they grew tomatoes on trellises, as ornamentals.  The French considered the tomatoes “peasant food” some of these attitudes probably carried over into the United States, for the tomatoes wasn’t eaten here until about the middle of the nineteenth century.  Since then, moreover, the tomato has enjoyed a rapid climb to the top, and is now one of the most popular vegetable grown.

The large, red, succulent fruits that we enjoy today, however, have little in common with their ancestors, the “tomatls”, grown by the Incas and the Peruvians.

The early tomatoes were small and yellow; today’s sweet juicy tomatoes were developed by the Italians.  They found their way into America and became a staple in the American diet.  Since you probably have tomatoes in your backyard garden this spring, we’ll give you a few tips about the care they need to insure their best growth.

My information was provided by Extension Emeritus Specialist Jim Stephens of the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

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