This story started last year when Mrs. F kindly gave me two tomato plants amongst others. They were an Italian variety : fat, squat & creased. I planted them in a grow-bag containing peat, not being aware of peat-free and the whys and wherefores at that time. I wanted to make the most of the opportunity to taste tomatoes which had been ripened till they were warmed through by the sun and filled with sweetness.
|Italian tomatoes grown last year|
When the day came to pick the dark red fruit, I anticipated their flavour from the scent of the vine before their actual taste registered. Unfortunately, the reality was that the flesh was somewhat woolly, the juice was not as flavourful as I had hoped and the skin was tough to chew. Were they sweet? - can't remember. So much for my plan to slice and lay them alternately with mozzarella and avocado in a tricolore salad, dressed simply with olive oil and vinegar. Interest in the few remaining fruit on the dying vines waned. I promised to try harder next time, noting that fertiliser would be required to produce more fruit and earlier harvesting before their texture deteriorated.
This year I opted to grow cherry tomatoes instead, selecting a packet of Gardener's Delight seeds as the photo boasted an abundance of fruit. I raised several seedlings just in case, however the slugs and snails avoided these, feasting on my annuals instead. Initially, I potted them in peat-free compost, being better informed this time, along with seedlings of plum cherry tomatoes from my neighbour, but sensing the pots were holding them back somehow, half of them were removed to a flower bed where they are definitely thriving much better.
|cherry tomatoes grown in a flower bed|
At the first sign of little fruits, remembering last year's notes, I was tempted to start dosing the tomato plants with the liquid fertiliser that you can buy in red plastic bottles, which my mother administers to any plant in her garden that she cares about. In her opinion, by the time tomato plants have finished flowering, the compost is spent and needs to be supplemented. This is true judging by the poor performance of my potted plants; the low acidity of the peat-free compost could also be a root cause. I can see why tomatoes are grown hydroponically commercially.
Finally, I decided not to go down this route because even though I give my mother full credit for my gardening gene, my motivations are quite different. My desire to observe the balance of my garden over-rides the need to be self-sufficient in tomatoes this summer; I want to understand how these plants take and give back to the garden without interference from external factors. Whilst making observations, I've snacked on a couple of ripe fruit and they are delicious.
|unripe Gardener's Delight cherry tomatoes|
|unripe plum cherry tomatoes|
|Gardener's Delight grown in a pot|
While searching the internet to find out how tomatoes are grown and ripened commercially, I discovered that they were the first food crop to be genetically modified, to enable them to ripen for longer without degrading. This reminded me of something I read once about iceberg lettuce causing belly ache for some people because it was specially bred to have increased shelf-life, which consequently means it takes a longer time to digest, during which it ferments in the gut. Food crops are also genetically modified to make them more disease resistant but this could prompt the evolution of stronger viruses or super-weeds.
I don't know enough about genetic modification to have an opinion for or against it; my concern is that quick fixes, however well researched, don't allow time for re-balance between the modifed plant, other living things and the environment. I guess the opposing argument is that our over-populated planet is already off-balance ... My cherry tomato plants have certainly given me some food for thought.
According to this post, the perfect vine-ripened tomato is a myth. The advice given here is to pick tomatoes when they are on the verge of turning red (the mature green stage) and leave them to ripen indoors :
Genetic modification can be used to encourage plants to cooperate with human beings, in the short term. Long term effects are yet to be seen :
The first genetically modifed food crop was the Flavr Savr tomato. The gene which causes tomatoes to soften as they ripen was extracted, reversed and reintroduced. The modified gene stuck to the original gene, counteracting its effects, with these end results : allowing tomatoes to be ripened on the vine for longer, decreasing damage during transportation and increasing shelf-life.
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