What’s been going on!
“Are these field grown tomatoes already?” We get some version of this question every year in June as they pick up a Big Beef and have that look like they just ate a stink bug. We usually just say yes, or they were grown in the dirt or some other quick response but the answer to that question is actually a complicated one.
It used to be that there were greenhouse tomatoes, bred specifically for those indoor conditions of lower light and cool nights (as most are grown in the off season) to be pruned and tied up in ways that only can be done inside a structure. They are also almost entirely grown in plastic bags filled with some sterile media and all the water and nutrients are pumped to them. Some of the varieties taste OK but are never as good as a tomato grown in the dirt and with high light and warm days.
Then the other side of the coin are “field grown” tomatoes which is no guarantee of a decent tomato either. Sure they are grown in the dirt but how has that soil been cared for and just because they are outside in high light and warmer temperatures doesn’t mean that we won’t have bad experiences with crappy Florida winter tomatoes or even North Carolina “field” tomatoes.
For good flavor and texture in a tomato it all starts with the variety and how it was bred. To industrialize the production of tomatoes they started by making the plants short which makes for easier trellising, in fact they are working hard on even shorter and stockier plants that will need no plant support. When you make a tomato plant small you reduce the amount of leaf surface that photosynthesizes all the sugars and other flavor compounds that go into the fruit. The second thing they did was breed in thicker skins and firmer texture so they could be mechanically harvested and shipped long distances.
Now let’s add in a single layer of plastic suspended over the plants to warm up the soil and to protect them from cold nights in the early spring while the young plants are growing but they are tall “field” varieties chosen for the best flavor and texture and grown in beautiful soil. Does that make them greenhouse tomatoes? We say No!
It used to be easy to tell, pretty much any ripe tomato before the 4th of July was from a greenhouse but we all have gotten much better at pushing “field” tomatoes earlier and earlier with raised beds of rich soil, covered with soil warming mulches, planting big transplants with larger root systems, inside of protective structures, trellised and pruned in a way so that the plants get the maximum sunlight and voila- ripe, great tasting tomatoes in June! And plenty for the 4th of July holiday, are we lucky or what?
Picture of the Week
Jacob just at the start of the tomato harvest day
What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading