Native to the Andean region of South American and under cultivation in Peru in the sixteenth century, tomatoes (Lycopersicum esculentum) have been grown for thousands of years. The Spanish introduced them to the European cultures. Europeans were not open to trying tomatoes until the end of the sixteenth century, as tomatoes, being part of the nightshade family, were considered poisonous. Later, the French tried them and began to call them “pommes d’amour”, apples of love. They felt that tomatoes carried aphrodisiac qualities. It wasn’t until the 1900’s when the tomato gained popularity in North America.
Scientific research shows the health benefits from this tasty fruit. In recent years, researchers discovered that tomatoes were natural sources of the element lycopene. This antioxidant has been shown in tests to dramatically reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and many cancers, including prostate and colon cancers. Tomatoes are an excellent source of phytochemicals, nutrients, fiber, and contain practically no fat or sodium. They are significant sources of vitamins A, B, and C and a source of iron and potassium. In fact, one medium-sized tomato provides 20 percent of the daily-recommended value of vitamin A and 40 percent of the daily-recommended value of vitamin C.
How To Grow
Tomatoes are very easy to grow from seed. In all, there are more than 100 types of tomatoes to choose from. Though most people believe ripe tomatoes are red, they actually come in many colours, including green, yellow, purple — even striped. Unless you grow your own, you will not have the opportunity to experience the many varieties. If you don’t have the time, buy tomato plants from garden centres. Look for different varieties as they are becoming more readily available from growers.
Six to eight weeks before transplanting, start tomato seeds by filling a seedling flat with a good quality seedling mixture. Use an excellent quality potting soil from the garden centre to make sure the soil is sterilized and has a high percentage of sphagnum peat moss and perlite. Don’t use garden soil, as it tends to become hard and inhibits proper rooting of seedlings, and it may contain insects, disease, weed seeds, or chemical residue.
Sow seeds no deeper than the thickness of the seed: sprinkle the seeds onto the soil-filled flat and press them down gently. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of fine, horticultural-grade vermiculite to prevent drying. Water just enough to moisten the soil with a fine mist spray such as the sprayer on the kitchen sink or a mister bottle. Keep the seeds evenly moist to ensure the mixture never dries out as both germinating seeds and seedlings are very intolerant of dry soil and will die if they are dry for even a short time. Cover the flat or pot with plastic wrap or a clear plastic bag. Remove the plastic as soon as seedlings emerge.
Tag each container with the date planted and the tomato variety. To promote rapid germination, place the flat on a heated table, top of the refrigerator, or a heat register. Once they germinate and seedlings begin to appear, move them from the heat source into a location with lots of light. They need very high light levels to grow properly: a south-facing window without blinds or curtains is ideal. Use grow lights to enhance growth. Hang the lights 6 inches (15 cm) from plants and leave lights on for 14 hours a day.
Transplant the seedlings into larger, individual containers once the first ‘true’ leaves appear. After transplanting, fertilise once a week with a plant-starter fertilizer such as 10-52-10 at
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