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JEFF TIEDEMAN: Garden tomatoes ripe for the pickin'

I don't know if the move to the backyard made the difference, but this summer's crop of tomatoes -- 36 plants that all have approached 6 feet in height and are full of fruit -- is one of my best in years. And that makes me happy.

Jeff Tiedeman
Jeff Tiedeman

I don't know if the move to the backyard made the difference, but this summer's crop of tomatoes -- 36 plants that all have approached 6 feet in height and are full of fruit -- is one of my best in years. And that makes me happy.

That's because of all the vegetables I grow in my garden, tomatoes are my favorite -- and not just because they're so tasty and versatile.

Nutritionally, tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin K and a very good source of molybdenum, potassium, manganese, dietary fiber, chromium and vitamin B1. (In addition, tomatoes are a good source of vitamin B6, folate, copper, niacin, vitamin B2, magnesium, iron, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, vitamin E and protein.)

Some people may quibble with me about my labeling tomatoes a vegetable, since botanically, it is a fruit. (I base my opinion on an 1893 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that decided the tomato is a vegetable.)

But there's hardly any dispute about it being one of Americans' most popular foods. According to nearly every national poll, tomatoes rank 30 percentage points ahead of their nearest vegetable rival. And the National Gardening Association says 85 percent of U.S. gardeners grow tomatoes.

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There are probably a few reasons why my tomatoes are doing so well besides the cooperating weather. (I've had adequate -- but not too much -- moisture and no hail.) The backyard spot is not as sunny as the one where I've grown tomatoes in the past. But it is enclosed, surrounded by fence on two sides and our house and garage on the others.

The dark-colored wooden fence absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night, thus maintaining a temperature that is conducive to optimal growth. (Tomatoes love temps from 60 to 85 degrees.) And the house and garage, both yellowish in color, a reflect light in the daytime, which makes up for fewer hours of direct sun my other garden received.

Another reason for the flourishing is that the tomato patch in previous years held green bush and yellow wax beans. Like other legumes, the beans deposit nitrogen, an important nutrient to tomatoes, into the soil.

We've been eating tomatoes for about two weeks, starting with a couple of cherry varieties and more recently our Early Girls.

Soon, I'll be making fresh salsa. I have all the other ingredients on hand, including cilantro, onions and peppers from my garden.

And then comes the canning. I'll be doing whole tomatoes, tomato juice and more salsa. While the cooking destroys some of the tomatoes' nutrients, it increases the amount of lycopene, shown to help protect not only against prostate, but breast, pancreatic and intestinal cancers, especially when consumed with fat-rich foods, such as avocado, olive oil or nuts.

No matter what you call them, tomatoes can make a difference in your life.

Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at (701) 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at jtiedeman@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: FOOD
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