- Author: Carol Constantine
Solanum lycopersicum, AKA Lycopersicon esculentum
By Carol Constantine
There are hundreds of known examples of S. lycopersicum ranging from tiny one inch fruits to monster specimens weighing one pound. Historically they were believed to be poisonous, but used decoratively in Italy in 1548. Not until 1692 are they mentioned in recipes. Typically red, they also appear in yellow, purple, pink, black, and striped varieties. There is increasing present-day interest in heirloom varieties. They are the most popular vegetables for the home gardener. Have you guessed yet? S. lycopersicum is known as “tomato” to most people.
If you haven't started tomatoes in your garden yet, it isn't too late. Although they are easily grown from seed, by June it is probably more prudent to buy starter plants. Your first decision will be to choose determinate or indeterminate plants. Determinate tomatoes grow to a certain size, then flower and make fruit. That's it, one crop and you're done. Indeterminate tomatoes, on the other hand, will keep growing and producing fruit as long as weather conditions are reasonably warm. Here in Southern California you can raise fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes nearly all winter.
Space starter plants at least 3 feet apart. To produce a vigorous plant, place the stem horizontally in soil and gently bend the top. Roots will form all along the underground stem.
Seeds are easy to save, but they require extra processing to free them from their protective gel coating. Put your fresh tomato seeds in a glass of water. In a day or two the coating will dissolve, and the seeds will fall to the bottom. You may want to change the water daily. Dry them on a paper towel, and they will be ready for next spring. (This may be done with grocery store tomatoes, but there is no guarantee that those F1 hybrids will be identical to their parent.)
Nothing is more satisfying and tasty as your very own homegrown tomatoes. Enjoy!