Fruit from Heaven or deadly toxic

By Andrew Collyer - Practical Gardening

Published 07/07/2015 | 00:00

Check tomatoes for whitefly, nip out side shoots

Cornus kousa 'Cherokee Chief' Pink flowering dogwood

What I most look forward to from the kitchen garden during the summer are new potatoes and tomatoes. In fact if I were on a desert Island I would be quite happy with only potatoes and tomatoes, a little olive oil and of course the sports channels. Both these wonderful veg/fruits are producing at the moment so these are glory days for me.

Potatoes and tomatoes are from the same family of plants, Solanaceae. Solanum tuberosum, potato. Solanum lycopersicum, tomato. Other plants closely related in this family include Deadly Nightshade, Atropa belladonna, which is a native and extremely poisonous. Amazingly women used to put the juice of this plant in their eyes to dilate their pupils as a form of cosmetic.

Sweet peppers, aubergines and chillis are also from this plant group. A close look at the flowers of all these plants is a give away that they are closely related. Nightshade and potatoes even produce fruit that is very tomato like. But that is where the resemblance ends as both are toxic and should not be eaten.

There are many ornamental plants in this family as well. The familiar Solanum crispum 'Glasnevin' [Chilean potato plant] with rich purple blue flowers that is seen in many gardens and named after the botanic gardens in Dublin.

Solanum jasminoides 'Album' is a late summer white flowered climber. Solanum laciniatum [Kangaroo apple] a tender shrub with striking violet flowers and yellow orange fruits. Solanum rantonnettii often seen now grown as a summer bedding standard plant with violet flowers and red fruits.

I must stress that all these plants and fruits are toxic if eaten. All have flowers exactly as you would expect to find on a potato plant but are more showy.

But my real interest here is in the very edible Solanum the tomato. The one thing tomatoes really need is hot sunshine. Therefore to have any real success tomatoes in Ireland need to be grown in a greenhouse or poly tunnel. A trip to Southern Europe fills me with envy where you see fields of plum tomatoes, brilliantly red, unkemptly growing across the ground. Here we need to be more circumspect.

Assuming you have a greenhouse or polytunnel the next step is to look at your growing medium. Tomatoes shouldn't be ground in the same soil every year so unless you have the space to crop rotate, move to a different area each year, grow bags are probably your best bet. Large pots are perfectly adequate as well.

Next selected your type. Cherry, beef, standard globe, plum are the main types available. Cherry types now come in plants suitable for small pots and baskets and can be grown with care on a window cill.

The others types are best trained up a sturdy bamboo can to let as much sun and heat into the plant as possible. In our climate I would allow only seven trusses of flower and fruit to form, then I would take out the leading shoot. More trusses than this and they are unlikely to ripen anyway. Removing the growth shoot and all side shoot from fruiting trusses will divert all the enery to the forming fruit.

Tomatoes are hungry plants so make sure you feed and water regularly. Special tomato feeds are commonly available in garden centres.This regular feeding will keep your plants strong and healthy and importantly increase the flavour quality.

Wexford People

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