THE FORTUNE OF THE GOLDEN APPLE, FROM THE AZTECS TO NOON
Today the tomato is the king of the Italian garden and one of the products most present on our tables, but the story tells of an unlucky introduction. Today’s English term “tomato” comes from the Aztec “xitomatl” and in fact the tomato plant is native to Peru and Mexico. When in 1540 this vegetable belonging to the Solanaceae family was introduced to Europe by the Spanish leader Hernán Cortés, the start was not exciting because of the area in which it was initially cultivated and because of the suspicion of poisoning with which it was looked at. The fortune of the golden apple, as the botanist Pietro Andrea Mattioli called it, changed when the Sun King elected it as his favorite vegetable and when it was introduced massively in southern Italy: the southern climate favored the development of larger and redder fruits. The change from golden to red was in the countryside of Nocera between 600 and 700.
A THOUSAND AND ONE VARIETIES
Today, every self-respecting vegetable garden is home to at least one of over 300 Italian cultivars. Some varieties have been hybridized and therefore have been lost over the centuries, others resist well. They differ essentially in the shape of the plant, in the color and size of the berry, and in the use we make of them (for salads, for preserves, for drying). If some varieties have a bushy course, others need support to develop in height and can reach two meters. As for coloring, tomatoes can be orange or black, pale yellow or bright red. And then, of course, the dimensions and the shapes are the most varied: from the small pachino to the enormous heart of an ox, from spherical to elongated tomatoes, from ribbed tomatoes to those in the shape of a heart or pear. The consistency of the flesh also varies, just as the thickness of the skin varies from one cultivar to another.
Also suitable for small sizes, the tomato plant grows well in the South and Central Italy because of the favorable climate and generally does not tolerate temperatures below 4 ° C. For an optimal growth of the plant I recommend growing in a slightly acid soil, of medium texture, sufficiently drained and rich in calcium, while you should avoid excessively compact soils and poor in nutrients. In any case, the tomato plant does not require any particular requirements and is characterized by a good resistance. Optimum preparation of the soil must involve plowing about 50 cm deep, which should be done the summer before planting. In the following months you will provide the fertilization. You will administer the tomato fertilizer. One week before sowing, it is advisable to hoe the soil to sharpen the surface and eliminate weeds.
SOWING AND TRANSPLANTING
The tomato plant is usually sown from March to May, but it is possible to anticipate in the presence of a greenhouse. In a warm environment, the seed germinates within a week, while growth requires at least 10-13 degrees. When the pre-flowering state is reached (plant height of about 30 cm) you can switch to transplanting, provided that the temperatures are not severe. The planting time depends on the cultivar’s bearing: usually the vegetable tomatoes have an indeterminate development (vertical course), so you will carry out the postings according to the planting time 50×70 cm. On the other hand, for horizontal plants you will need to plant 70×120 cm.
WATERING AND SHEARING
Watering is not essential if the soil is fresh, but in case of drought you should water until the fruits ripen. Usually one liter of water per square meter (once or twice a week) is sufficient, provided it does not rain. In the early stages of growth you may want to weed the soil, while weed control may be useful before harvesting. If you have a small vegetable garden, you may consider mulching to avoid rottenness problems. One of the most common interventions remains the elimination of cackets and suckers, i.e. the non-fructiferous jets: pruning should be done at the height of the axilla of the leaves (caciques) and at the base of the plant (suckers). It is better to avoid this pruning if you grow varieties with a certain growth.
If your tomato plants are attacked by fungal diseases, you should avoid making them organic compost and remove them. Dander is one of the most common diseases and is manifested by the yellowing of the leaves: Bordeaux mush is the best solution. Instead, a copper-based treatment is recommended for the alternaria, which turns the leaves yellow and then rots the fruit. Copper itself can counteract bacterial growth, which occurs when growth stops. If your tomatoes are affected by fusarium, they should be eliminated to prevent the disease from being transmitted to adjacent plants. Water shortages can cause apical rot (you will notice a black spot on the tomatoes), canning (the fruit is soft to the touch), but also the interruption of lycopene production. A heavy rain, after a period of drought with consequent thickening of the skin, can break the tomatoes.