Tomato 101

            On the third day God created the tomato and placed it in an Edenesque coastal Andean valley in South America.  There is no record of domestication of tomato plants by the early local inhabitants, but the Aztecs of Central America were cultivating descendants of wild tomatoes they called xitomatl by the time the Spanish explorers arrived in the 1500ís.   The Spaniards took a liking to the fruit and distributed them to all parts of their extensive empire.

            Correctly speaking, according to botanists who determine such matters, the tomato we eat is properly considered a fruit because it is the seed-bearing part of the plant.  But the Supreme Court, in its erudite wisdom, ruled in the 1893 Nix vs. Hedden case that since tomatoes are generally served with dinner instead of dessert, they should be considered vegetables and (hereĎs the relevant part) therefore taxed at the higher rate that applied to vegetables.

                    Tomato plants have two basic leaf types.
  Regular leaf  tomatoes have narrower leaves that are heavily serrated.  It is the more typical leaf type.
  Potato leaf tomato plants have wider, smoother edged leaves with less notching.


         Tomato plants are essentially vines and exhibit one of three growth habits.
Indeterminate tomato plants have vines that continue to grow, blossom, and set fruit until frost.   Vines can reach 10 ft or more.  Removing suckers and pruning is commonly recommended  and  large cages, tall stakes, or trellises are needed for support.

tomato  vine growth quits, and blossoming also quits, once fruit begins forming on the terminal bud.   Usually topping out at 3 to 5 feet, most of the fruit will mature over a two or three week period. after which the plant ceases production. 

tomato plants have the compact growth characteristics similar to the determinate  varieties, but after the main early crop ripens,  more fruiting continues.
        Determinate and semi-determinate tomato vines should not be pruned, but allowed to bush for maximum fruit production.  Both benefit from caging.

    Tomato plants are self fertile.  Each flower contains the anther that produces pollen and the stigma to receive it.   If insects are not available to spread the pollen,  a little breeze, or lacking that, even a finger gently flicking the flower helps to ensure the process.   If the pollen from the anther of one tomato variety is transferred to the stigma of a different variety, then we say cross-pollination has taken place and the plants grown from the resulting seeds will be unique but still have characteristics of both parents.   Cross-pollination sometimes can be the result of nature, but more likely it's the result of humans intentionally cross-pollinating plants to create new hybrids
    Open pollination (OP) is any pollination left totally up to nature.  Most OP is contained within a single flower, or plant, so seed produced from OP will more than likely produce offspring similar to its single parent. 
   Genetically Modified (GM or GMO) tomato varieties are not the result of pollination.  Instead, a gene gun, virus, or micro-syringe is used to insert desired DNA directly into the reproductive cell.  The DNA so transferred could be of tomato origin or from any other plant or animal under the sun.



    An heirloom is something so treasured that it has been carefully preserved and deliberately passed down from generation to generation.    When your neighbor shares with you an extremely savory tomato he just plucked and tells he got the seed from his Mother-in-law who was given seed by her Granddad that he had brought with him from the old country, you know you truly have an heirloom.  Unfortunately, the heirloom moniker is an enticing marketing tool that seed catalogues, restaurants, grocers, and farmstands have greatly abused.  There is no legal definition, so caveat emptor. 


Beefsteaks are defined by the arrangement of the seed cavities (locules).  A non-beefsteak tomato will have a central core.  The locules will be arranged in a radial pattern around that core.  A beefsteak has no central core, and the seed cavities appear to be random.    Usually beefsteaks have smaller locules and ergo more 'meat'. 

                              BEEFSTEAK                                       NON-BEEFSTEAK

      Ironically, the tomato slice above illustrating the non-beefsteak characteristic is marketed under the name 'Bush Beefsteak'.
All beefsteaks make great slices for sandwiches.  Many non-beefsteaks also are good SLICERS.   But also many non-beefsteaks are too small, or have too thin outer walls, or such large locules that when sliced the juice and seeds dump out and the slice falls apart. These may be great cooking or canning tomatoes, but not destined to top that grilled burger.

The term, STANDARD, sometimes referred to as CLASSIC, tomato is a catchall - defined more by what it's not than what it is.   So if it's not a beefsteak or cherry, and too late maturing to be considered early, still it's red and round, then we'll call it a Standard tomato.   Standard tomatoes can be slicers and/or heirlooms.  The main thing is that they are red, round, and bigger than a ping pong ball and don't fall conveniently into another category.  But don't take it personal.  It's nothing demeaning.  After all, Celebrity, Goliath, Rutgers, and Marglobe are definitely numero uno fruit.

Days to Maturity 
    The days to maturity printed on seed packets are merely a general guide to the length of time required from setting a plant out in your garden until picking fruit. The real time required depends as much on weather conditions as on the actual planting date. Most tomatoes varieties will not set fruit until nighttime minimum temperatures remain above 55 degrees F. several nights in a row. For Oswego, on average, that means the 1st or 2nd week in June. Having your plants in the ground before the beginning of June allows them to recover from transplant shock and develop a healthy root system, which is a good idea, but will not do much to advance the harvest time unless itís an unusually warm spring.
    Genetics play a key role, so plant breeders seek cultivars that can pollinate at temperatures below 55. Varieties like Oregon Spring, Subarctic, Cold Set, Glacier, Manitoba, Stupice, and Early Girl display this trait.
Once pollination does occur, the number of days to maturity is largely determined by the size of the anticipated mature fruit and weather conditions. So a tomato label marked 70 days to maturity should be interpreted to mean that fruit will be ready to harvest in approximately 70 days after pollination occurs if growing conditions remain nearly ideal for 70 days.