Garden View: Tomatoes are tasty and so much more

BY BARBARA STORZ

Tomatoes are one of the most popular produce. With our lengthy growing season, tomatoes should be easy to grow in South Texas, right? Wrong! Yellow leaf virus, a long list of insects that never sleep and wind make growing tomatoes a challenge in our area.

So, when we have vine ripened tomatoes at our farmers markets, it is cause for celebration. Besides their tasty flavor, tomatoes are also loaded with important chemicals that protect our health.

Research shows tomatoes are an excellent source of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin K and the plant compounds lycopene, lutein and beta-carotene. These compounds are considered powerful antioxidants that maintain eye health and protect us from several types of cancer.

Additionally, the high fiber, potassium, Vitamin C, and choline in tomatoes reduce our risk of heart disease. And, regular consumption of tomatoes has been shown to be effective in reducing LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood.

Tomato products, such as, tomato sauce, paste and stewed tomatoes contain much higher levels of lycopene than fresh tomato. Cooking tomatoes appears to increase the availability of lycopene, lutein and other anti-oxidants.

To retain the best flavor of your fresh tomatoes, never put them in the refrigerator. Keep them at room temperature until you use them.

Researchers at the Texas A&M Vegetable Center in Weslaco have found net houses, hoop houses and greenhouses exclude insects and wind, may be the most practical manner to grow tomatoes in the Rio Grande Valley. The center is testing several varieties to find tomatoes that are resistant to yellow leaf virus, but more work needs to be done.

Tomato types that are available for planting and that are resistant to yellow leaf virus are “Tycoon,” a medium sized slicer, and the patio type tomatoes, including the grape and yellow pear. Most other varieties will require covering with insect fabric to get them through to harvest.

In South Texas, we usually have a fall crop and a spring crop. It gets too hot in the summer to have tomatoes. They are happy with temperatures between 80 and 90 degrees. So, once we start really heating up, it is time to pull up the vines, usually about mid-June.

The Growing Growers Farmers Market in McAllen’s Firemen’s Park will have a variety of tomatoes today, along with a bountiful selection of locally produced spring and fall vegetables, local fruits and herbs, both fresh and dried.

The market will also have grass fed lamb, goat’s milk and goat’s milk cheese, as well as eggs, jams and jellies and local honey. The Home Bakers group will be at the market with a wide selection of baked goods, including sour dough bread and products that are gluten free and vegan. This market is on the corner of 1st street and Business 83 in McAllen and is open from 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

Barbara Storz is a local horticulturist. You can listen to her garden show at 7 a.m. Saturdays on 710 KURV Radio. She can be reached at bstorz@rcommunications.com.