Tomatoes are an integral part of many dishes, lucky they're so good for you!
Tomatoes are definitely a warm season crop as they are very frost sensitive and like nice warm summers for fruit ripening. With a little planning, you can however be eating tomatoes year round.
If you have a short growing season, start seeds in punnets indoors about a month before your last expected frost. You can start hardening them off after your last frost and can transplant them into pots at this stage but don't plant them into garden beds until the soil has warmed up - about mid spring. It's also a good idea to select early maturing varieties such as ananas noir so that you can get the maximum harvest before frost hits again.
Whether you have a short or long growing season, it is a good idea to select a few different tomato varieties. If you like eating fresh tomatoes, try selecting some salad tomato varieties as well as some for slicing and stuffing. If you like tomato sauce and tomato paste, try some roma varieties or some heirloom varieties such as Amish paste or San Marzano.
When cold weather hits, you can pull up your tomato plants and hang them inside - many of the still green fruits will continue to ripen on the vine, extending your harvest. If you plant more plants than you need for the warm season, you can also harvest plenty of excess tomatoes for preservation. You can bottle or can whole or diced tomatoes as well as homemade tomato sauces and pastes. You can also dice tomatoes and freeze them ready for use in sauces and other dishes. You can freeze them whole but it will take up more freezer space and they won't maintain their shape upon defrosting. You can also dry tomatoes.
Generally people like to sow tomato seeds under cover about 2 months before plants can go into the garden in order to maximise the growing season. Transplant seedlings into their growing position:
- Early summer in sub arctic areas and areas with cold winters
- You may need to extend the growing season with a greenhouse or cold frame in sub arctic areas
- Late spring - early summer in areas with cool winters
- Early spring - early summer in temperate areas
- All year round in warm arid, subtropical and tropical areas
- Tomatoes can even be perennial in tropical areas
Tomatoes can typically be harvested after 12-20 weeks although some heirloom varieties can be ready in as little as 8 weeks from transplant. Look for a deep rich colour (not all tomatoes are red).
Tomatoes are heavily used in Italian cuisine - pizza, pasta etc. They are great in soups and salads as well as quiche and muffins. You can also make home made tomato sauce. Some people grow different varieties for specific purposes.
Tomatoes are very high in betacarotene (which is converted by the body to vitamin A) and lycopene, both of which are antioxidants. They are also a rich source of vitamins C, A, K and E, a good source of potassium and magnesium, a useful source of fibre and contain small amounts of vitamins B1, B6 and B9 (folic acid).
- Don't refrigerate though - they will lose their flavour