It takes 3 gallons of water on average to produce one standard size market tomato. That water isn’t in the tomato, but in the plant itself, much of the water is lost through the plant with evapo-transpiration. The process of water applied to the plants evaporating and transpiring through the leaves of the plant. This has to happen so that water can continuously carry nutrients to all the parts of the plant.

Tomatoes are one of the most popular fruits/vegetables to grow in gardens, and for good reason. Store bought tomatoes are bred with the intent that they’ll ship well over long distances. These tomatoes will have tougher skins, and low in flavor because the tough skins keep them from bruising and the low flavor is a result of picking tomatoes before they have become fully ripe on the plant.

Garden grown tomatoes of various shapes sizes, flavors and colors. Photo taken by and tomatoes grown by Rose White of Baton Rouge.

Tomatoes are so popular because they are very easy to grow. They can be grown all over California are abundant and their are so many different varieties and flavors to choose from. At about this time of year tomatoes are ripening up. If you started early then you should already have ripe tomatoes, if you started late you should at least be seeing flowers and probably some baby green tomatoes beginning to sprout.

Here is an interesting historical fact about tomatoes that can be shared with students. Though they are quite popular in Italy and many people think they are from there, tomatoes are actually native to the Americas. It is in fact a “new world” fruit. Where exactly they have come from is of dispute, but the more common belief is that they were first domesticated in Mexico by the Aztecs and likely came from plants that are native to Peru. In Britain and the United States colonies it was a common belief that tomatoes were poisonous until the mid 18th century. Tomatoes are in the nightshade family which have many toxic plants, so this may have just been a misunderstanding of the plant’s family.

Another tidbit: While Tomatoes are actually fruits, it is classified as a vegetable for culinary purposes and customs regulations (as decided by the court case Nix v. Hedden in 1893).

Tomatoes have a huge variety of flavors colors, sizes and shapes. There are pink, yellow, striped, orange, green, and black tomatoes. Round, oval, and ribbed in shapes. Small and Large. Some are very sweet and some aren’t sweet at all. Some tomatoes are really juicy and some tomatoes usually the kinds used for paste and catsup have a lower water content.  (Catsup is actually a Chinese word and invention and is actually pronounced how it is spelled. Catsup actually just means a thick sauce. After many years, the word was too hard to pronounce for English speakers so a new spelling was added: ketchup. Plum and chilli is actually still quite popular and can be found in Asian markets.)

Different types of chilli ketchup. Photo by Robin Uit of Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Can you think of another vegetable that is native to the Americas that is commonly grown in gardens? Here’s a hint. It is often eaten with hamburgers and many people think it’s from Ireland