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Tomato: history of a difficult culture.

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Tomatoes are the most common vegetable in the garden – and not at all the easiest to grow . We offer you this article entirely dedicated to tomatoes: where they come from , how they have evolvedover generations, why their culture is often random , and why it is good to recover its seeds .

Where does the tomato come from?

From the supermarket?

The tomato is today the most consumed vegetable in the world , it produces more than 160 billion tons each year. In the form of tomato pulp, it makes a cube of 5 km side – higher than Mont Blanc – enough to make you dizzy.


It is now distributed worldwide, but originally it is a South American plant whose ancestors were found in Patagonia. The first domesticated species were probably cherry or gooseberry in the Andes. We know that when the Spanish found it in Mexico in the sixteenth century, it had already been domesticated enough to produce “big fruits”. 
The tomatoes were first acclimatized in Spain and then in the rest of Europe – where they remained mainly ornamental until the end of the 19th century. Today most cultivated varieties come from crossings in the United States and Europe, not Central America.

Why are you told all this?

Notably to emphasize that our “old” varieties of large-fruited tomatoes are not so much so, in the history of Solanum lycopersicum. On the other hand, as they have been developed far from their natural environment without regular crosses with the type species, they logically suffer from some genetic defects . As with purebred dogs after too many generations.

It is therefore understandable why some small malignant – commonly referred to as researchers – have regularly searched for wild tomato species in South America to hybridize with domesticated tomatoes.

Why is it still not easy to cultivate despite so many generations of domestication?

With greenhouse development, tomatoes can be easily eaten all year – they are tasteless in winter, but it seems like many consumers do not care.

This plant is the best known of tweakersresearchers; the variety ‘Flavr Savr’ was among others the first transgenic organism proposed for commercialization. An absolute commercial failure, by the way. The financial interests behind the industrial culture of this plant are colossal. And yet, after spending a fortune on research, tomatoes are still needed, and new resistant varieties are needed for the industry.

Why ? Simply because the mountain of tomatoes grown each year is a great breeding ground for “pests”. The more tomatoes are produced – especially without winter breaks thanks to the greenhouses – the more quickly the pests adapt.

Well, this is the case for the industry, but what relationship with our gardens?

In fact, our problems in the garden are different from those of the agri-food industry. That’s why new hybrids are of limited interest to the garden. 
The industrialist wants a plant that is resistant to growing conditions in large volumes – risks of high epidemics – that produce quickly, and much. Since it maximally controls the external conditions – heat and watering, the adaptability of the variety is a secondary criterion. 
The thoughtful amateur gardener needs tasty, productive varieties that adapt well to irregular watering rhythms, changing temperatures, and support moisture. These are the conditions in which the old varieties were developed.

So we understand that if we take for her garden hybrid varieties developed for greenhouses, we may be disappointed.

Why are some tomatoes tasteless?

According to this article , the fault lies in the distribution requirements, not in the growing conditions. We chose industrial varieties with shallow and firm flesh to be able to resist bottling and transportation. In addition tomatoes kept cold and picked before maturity never develop their aromas.

Why do you recommend cutting tomatoes?

We regularly read the story of people who do not prune their tomatoes, and who are very satisfied. This is especially the case south of the Loire, where actually the duration of sunshine is sufficient to ripen tomatoes. But for all the unfortunates who are in less sunny climates, it is better to encourage tomatoes to quickly use their energy to bloom. 
It should be understood that tomatoes are not annuals, but perennials of tropical countries. So they are not spontaneously in a temperate climate where you have to hurry to fructify in 6 months maximum after sowing. To make them understand the urgency, the market gardeners have developed this trick of “trimming the greedy”.

To easily grow tomatoes.

Forcing them with strong stalks is not necessarily the best way to talk with your tomato foot 😉 
Notably because the cutting wound is a place of entry for diseases. 
We can “adapt” its seeds by recovering them in previous years as does Pascal Poot , so we can do without explanations. The seeds have registered all the conditions they have met, and the plant that germinates adapts.

After all, the tomato comes down from species that inhabited the Gondwana continent, so to migrate to Mexico, she had to develop “some” adaptive abilities, eh.

The ideal way to develop these “adapted” seeds correctly is to not take care of them. We sow, we transplant and harvest . Nothing else. No watering, no staking, size. Nenni, nothing, nada. We may have crumbly and cracked tomatoes the first year on these feet … but in a few generations the tomatoes adapt .

To recover its tomato seeds, it is galère?

When you ask a market gardener who sells tomato seeds how to harvest them, you may be discouraged. We must let them ferment, filter them, dry them, and so on. 
Otherwise, there is also the lazy method of “forgetting” a few tomatoes all winter on the newspaper in an airy corner. They dry quietly while waiting for their moment. And miraculously, when the sowing period comes, we cut the dry tomatoes into small pieces , we put them down as if they were sowing and that germinates very well  ! Once again, the seeds did not wait for us to learn how to germinate 😉

Dr. Kanika Singla

Ph.D., IARI Postdoctoral Scholar, UC Berkeley

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