Tomatoes for Your Little Tomatoes
My favorite thing about gardens is that they are blank canvases that you can paint anyway you want to. Put in some hard work and creativity and you have a beautiful picture come fall. However, to create beautiful works of art, we must be inspired. Often we get bogged down into organization and toil and forget to remember why we do what we do. When this happens our creativity and love of things needs to be sparked. I find that nothing sparks love and creativity like the ideas of a child.
Many, many moons ago when my daughters were very little they began to help me garden. They weren’t worried about plant rotation, frost dates, or whether or not the cat used the garden as a litterbox. They just wanted to plant stuff to see if it would grow. Such simplicity and beauty in that idea. While gardens do require some planning and organization, we must remember our goal is growing living things for enjoyment and nourishment.
So, taking a chapter from my daughters’ book of thought, I try to remember gardens don’t have to be perfect; they just have to be loved. So, every year when it comes time to decide what to plant, I ask the family what they would like to see in the garden. From that time, so many moons ago, my daughters have never failed to request tomatoes, and not just any tomatoes, but the wild tangled mess known as currant tomatoes. From the time they were little, they loved the small shape and the sweet bursting flavor of currant tomatoes. So in honor of that tradition, let’s delve into tomatoes to grow for and with the little tomatoes in your life.
Currant tomatoes, the tiny sweet tomato fruit officially named Lycopersicon pimpinellifolium, are a rarer variety of tomato. They’re an indeterminate grower and therefore produce fruit all season long until killed off by frost. For this reason, beyond their small size and sweet taste, these tomatoes are great for kids. They grow all season long, without slowing up, allowing the little ones to have a whole summer and fall to pick and enjoy them. Plus, kids seem to like the somewhat unruly manner in which they grow.
These prolific little round beauties that originally came from the wild species found on the coasts of Ecuador and Peru, can grow up to 8’ tall. Due to their stature and vine-like growth, staking or caging is usually suggested. However, before you get to that stage it’s best to find a sunny spot with well drained soil to place your tomatoes. It’s best to plant tomatoes in late spring and early summer to allow temperatures to be warm enough to keep from damaging your plants, to increase robustness, and reduce susceptibility to disease. Plus, this allows for better quality tomatoes later into the fall. Just be sure to allow for at least 100 growing days before killing frosts set in.
When planning where to plant and how many plants to sow, remember indeterminate, unruly tomato varieties, like the currant tomato, need plenty of space to grow and allow for harvest. So, while most tomato plants need 1-2’ space in between plants, it’s best to give the currant tomatoes 4-5’ between individual plants. Allowing your tomatoes adequate water is essential as summer temperatures creep up, requiring regular, and in some cases daily, watering. Mulching can help to retain soil moisture and keep weed growth down. Tomatoes respond well to fertilizers containing nitrogen, just be sure to use organic and don’t get the fertilizer on the leaves.
Once you have nurtured your tomatoes to harvest, look for firm and fully colored fruit to pick. Your best tomato fruits grow in temperatures between 75-90° F, but lose quality as temperatures reach above 90° F. So be sure to pick tomatoes every other day when the summer heat is on. When killing frosts start to move in, pick all your tomatoes and individually wrap the green tomatoes in paper and store at 60-65°F. This will allow them to ripen over the next several weeks.
Eat Well – Be Well
One cup (200 grams) of chopped currant tomatoes offers 30 calories, 2 grams of protein, < 1 gram of fat, and 7 grams of carbohydrates (2 grams of which is dietary fiber). They’re a good source of Vitamins A and K and copper. Currant tomatoes are also an excellent source of Vitamin C and lycopene. The lycopene is a carotenoid that gives the tomato its bright red color, but also offers many health benefits. The health benefits include reducing the risk of developing cancer and chronic illnesses, reducing inflammation, improving cardiovascular health, preventing age related skin and eye problems and osteoporosis, and even acting as a sunscreen to prevent burning. Lycopene, along with the antioxidant powers the tomato has from its vitamin content, makes it a nutritional superstar to have in your diet. As with any small variety tomato, you can pop them right off the plant and eat them (my daughters’ favorite method) or add them whole to salads. If you are looking for a little culinary adventure, try the recipe below.
2 cups currant tomatoes (chopped)
1 cup Kalamata olives (pitted and chopped)
2 medium green onions (chopped)
2 tablespoons pomegranate infused balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper
In a large bowl, add tomatoes, olives, onions, vinegar, oil, and parsley
Sprinkle on salt and pepper
Mix well and add additional salt and pepper to desired taste
This relish is great to top fish, chicken, lamb, and beef dishes to add color, sweetness, and a unique savory taste. Feel free to get creative with this recipe! Add more or less of any ingredient or switch up the variety of olives or flavor of vinegar to make it your own. Add your own flare and enjoy!
The currant tomato may not be your first thought of a tomato variety to plant, but with its tiny size, vibrant color, and pleasant flavor, it’s a wonderful addition to your garden. Its brightness, sweetness, and the ability to fit perfectly in the hand of a child makes the currant tomato a great choice to get the little ones in your life interested in gardening. While they may be a bit wild and unruly, the tomatoes not the children, they do seem to delight and inspire young minds.
To this day my girls loving sowing and harvesting tomatoes and have found a true love of gardening. I believe caring for living things teaches kids (adults too!) to care about the food they eat, the environment they live in, and the rewards of hard work. Plus, watching little ones find true pleasure in something reminds us to enjoy more and worry less, and we can all use a little more of that.
Choose My Plate.gov. US Department of Agriculture. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/tools-supertracker
University of Illinois Extension. 2017. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. University of Illinois Board of Trustees. Watch Your Garden Grow. https://extension.illinois.edu/veggies/tomato.cfm#pagetop
Wikipedia.org. December 21, 2016. Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Solanum pimpinellifolium.