Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tomatillos



Now that the gardening season has come to a close for most of us, now is probably the best time to reflect on what did not do well and what did and what you would like to plant next year. Make room for the tomatillo. The picture to the left by gourmetsleuth.com.

A tomatillo has many names such as husktomato, jamberberry, miltomates, Mexican green tomatoes, strawberry tomatoes and ground cherry. In Mexico where the tomatillo is native, they call it tomate verde. Not only does the tomatillo have so many different names, but also so many different variables within its plant characteristics. To make matters worse growers have made attempts to improve tomatillo selection with very little success. It is the crop that should win the award for great variability in plant habit which includes fruit size and the timing on harvest.

The tomatillo is in the Solanaceae or nightshade family along with pepper, tomato, potato and eggplant.

If you plan on planting tomatillos you must have at least two plants because they are not self-fertile. They are hardier than a tomato. Being in the same family as a tomato, they do share the same cultivation practices. The tomatillo plant grows best in rich loamy soil and with that said, they are rather tolerant of a variety of soils. The best pH range is between 6.5 and 6.8 and again, they do just fine in the pH range of 6.0 to 7.0. Like tomatoes they require a full day of sun and do better with even soil moisture. They do benefit from adding a general purpose fertilizer or 10-10-10 in the planting bed when you are preparing the soil. As the tomatillos fruit starts to ripen add potassium sulfate to give the plants much needed energy for development and healthy leaf growth at this time. Tomato and tomatillo are susceptible to leaf blights. These can come about by poor irrigation practices or rain. Do not use over head irrigation with these plants.

You can start your own seedlings indoors. Remember to do this 6 to 8 weeks before the intended outdoor planting date. Go to your local weather station and get a listing of the history of average frost and freeze dates for your area. Before you transfer the transplants directly to the garden, harden the plants in a shady, protected area and gradually move them into longer periods of sun. If you forget and just get so excited to start gardening again and transplant them directly in the soil without any acclimation, they will suffer transplant shock with symptoms of burned leaves, wilting and so on. They may even die. In human terms it would be like you going from a hot shower into a tube with ice water. Naturally you would not die, but you get the picture. When you finally have the transplants acclimated and you are ready to plant your tomatillos, space them 3 feet apart with rows 3 to 6 feet apart.

Be sure to plant your tomatillos with enough time for the fruits to mature. This takes about 75 to 100 days. The best time to harvest the fruit is when the husk turns from green to tan. Fully ripe fruit will be a yellow or purple color and loses its tangy flavor.

If you wish to store your tomatillos in their husks you can keep them in the refrigerator in a paper bag for about 2 weeks. If you wish to store them longer remove the husks and refrigerate the fruit. They will keep up to 3 months this way.

Here are a few cultivars to chose from:

Pineapple: 3/4 inch round fruit with a sweet fruit taste like pineapple. Plants are short, spreading but give a high yield.

Purple: small purple fruit with a sweet, tart flavor. Plants are vigorous.

Purple De Milpa: fruit is 2 inches covered by a husk with purple stripes and a strong-flavored taste. This is also an heirloom variety from Mexico.

Toma Verde: green 2 inch fruit with a sweet, tart favor. Plants are more prolific and vining.

Verde Puebla: 1 to 2 ounce green fruit with a sweet, tart flavor with continuous production.

Zuni: cherry-sized fruits with a sweet, tart flavor. This is from the Zuni Indians of New Mexico.

With extensive testing done on some of these varieties, studies have found that the purple varieties such as Di Milpa have a flavor that is sweeter and juicier. Grow tomatillo plants and try them for yourself.

Varieties most commonly found in catalogs are as follows: Toma Verde, Purple Di Milpa, Verde Puebla.