Home grown tomatoes and why we eat the anemic, tastless commercial counterpart

Hurray,  it’s that time of the year again when tomatoes start to ripen and this morning I had  the first one straight off the plant…Deliciously sweet with that home-grown tomatoey aroma that is always lacking from watery shop bought tomatoes.  No wonder really; commercial tomatoes, even the so called vine-ripened ones, are hydroponically grown in water that contains balanced chemical salts under optimum conditions (including energy hungry heating and grow lights). They are also picked when still green and are only allowed to ripen just before they hit the shop shelves.  I am convinced that one of the reasons why tomatoes from home grown plants taste superior to the commercial counterpart, besides being grown in  compost, soil and manure,  is the stress that home-grown plants endure during growth.  Stress occurs as a result of variations in humidity of soil and the surrounding environment, temperature etc.  Of  course we water and feed plants regulary for a good crop, but garden greenhouses are a far cry from  environmentally controlled commercial greenhouses! Beware of extreme plant stress, as one of the dreaded symptoms of chronic under-watering is blossom-end rot (or a lack of calcium to the fruits, as a result of cramped roots in small pots) or blossom drop during heat spells.  In contrast, over-damp conditions  speed-up fungal diseases such as blight, powdery mildew etc. and can also be detreminatal to fruit production and the plant.

Given the unpredictability of the English weather I always have several varieties on the go, and my bet would be that blight resistant varieties (ie Ferline F1)  will crop for longer considering the amount of rain we had in the last two months! An example of a variety that does not do well in rainy North-West England is “Marmande”, and two years ago I had to burn (no blight in the compost heap please) all these plants due to blight.  In contrast, cherry tomatoes (Growing Tumbling Tom this year) never develop blossom end-rot in dry condition or when pots are a bit too small.

The first! Ripening tomatoes "Shirley F1" in the greenhouse

I’m currently growing “Shirley F1″ in the green-house, and they seem to produce copious  amounts of decent-sized tomatoes, most of which are still green, but the ripe one I tasted this morning had a fantastic flavour.  I’m also growing an  heirloom variety called “japanese black trifle”, originating in Russia (I’ll post more on these when they start to ripen). This potato leaved variety is not a big producer, but the fruits look amazing (like a brown stumpy pear), and taste even better.  I found that some “easy” old commercial varieties such as “Moneymaker” have an inferior flavour compared to newer (seeds are more expensive)  F1-hybrid varieties of home grown tomatoes, so be picky about what you grow…..However these are still miles better than the commercial shop tomato!

So I guess the reason we still eat anemic tastless commercial tomatoes must be availability throughout the seasons, but nothing beats flavoursome homegrown produce.

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August 2010
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