Tomatoes lesson

The Abundant Garden: Growing Quality Kids Through Gardening by

Public domain image by Vince Lee, found on

Tomatoes are one of the gardeners favorite fruits/vegetables to grow. Yes they are both a fruit and a vegetable. Botanically they are a fruit because they have seeds surrounded by a ripened ovary but they are also considered a vegetable because in the culinary world they are primarily used in savory dishes instead of sweet dishes.


Tomatoes have a unique and interesting history. Even though they are associated with the tastes of Italy, they did not actually originate there but rather were brought over from the new world by early explorers (which explorer exactly is still debated). Even after they were brought to Europe many people thought they were poisonous and would not eat them. It wasn’t till the last two hundred years that tomatoes became widely used in Europe and throughout the world. The following video gives a brief history of the tomato:

Here are some fun facts about tomatoes from Science Kids:

  • Tomatoes are the fruit of the tomato plant. They originated in the South American Andes around the area of modern day Peru and was first used as a food by the Aztec’s in Southern Mexico.

  • Because the tomato has seeds and grows from a flowering plant botanically it is classed as a fruit not a vegetable.

  • In 1887, U.S. tariff laws imposed a duty on vegetables, but not on fruits. This meant the status of tomatoes become a matter of legal importance. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Nix v. Hedden that tomatoes were to be considered vegetables, based on the popular definition that classifies vegetables by use, where they are usually served with dinner and not as a dessert. However, the courts did not reclassify the tomato botanically, it is still a fruit.

  • Tomatoes are the state vegetable of New Jersey. They are the official state fruit of Ohio and tomato juice is the official beverage of Ohio. However, Arkansas took both sides by stating the South Arkansas Vine Ripe Pink Tomato as the state fruit and state vegetable, due to its culinary and botanical classifications.

  • In cooler climates tomatoes are usually grown in glasshouses (greenhouses).

  • China is the largest producer of tomatoes, accounting for one quarter of the worlds production in 2009. The United States and India and the second and third highest producers respectively.

  • Pretty much all tomato varieties are red although other colors are possible including green, yellow, orange, pink, black, brown, white, and purple.

  • There are more than 7500 tomato varieties grown around the world.

  • Types of tomatoes include slicing (globe) tomatoes used in processing and for fresh eating. Beefsteak tomatoes are large, often used for sandwiches. Oxheart tomatoes vary in size and are shaped like large strawberries. Plum tomatoes (including pear tomatoes), are usually oblong, and used in tomato sauce and paste. Cherry tomatoes are small round, often sweet and eaten whole in salads. Campari tomatoes are sweet and juicy of small to medium size.

  • Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that is good for the heart and effective against certain cancers. Cooked tomatoes are actually better for you than raw ones, as more beneficial chemicals are released. Tomatoes are also packed with vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium.

  • The tomato is eaten in many different ways, raw like a fruit, as an ingredient in many dishes, sauces, salsas, salads, processed into ketchup or tomato soup. Tomato juice is made as a drink and used in cocktails like a Bloody Mary.

  • Tomatoes are very popular in Mediterranean cuisines such as Italian. They are important ingredient in pizza and pasta sauces.

  • The biggest tomato fight in the world happens each year in the small Spanish town of Buñol. The festival called La Tomatina, involves some 40,000 people throwing 150,000 tomatoes at each other.

  • The Guinness World Record for most tomatoes harvested from a single plant over one year weighed 522.464 kg (1151.84 lbs) with 32,194 tomatoes harvested between May 2005 and April 2006. The tomato plant was at the Epcot Science project at Walt Disney World Company, Florida, USA.

  • As of 2013, the heaviest tomato according to Guinness World Record weighed 3.51 kg (7 lb 12 oz) and was grown by G. Graham in 1986, Oklahoma, USA.

Growing your own tomatoes:

One of the reasons that gardeners love growing tomatoes is that they are easy to grow, but probably a more important reason is that home grown tomatoes taste so much better than store bought tomatoes. This is because store bought tomatoes must be tougher fruits to handle all the abuse they suffer during picking and processing. The videos below show just how jostling this process is. Homegrown tomatoes, on the other hand, only need to make it to the kitchen (and sometimes not even that far) to be enjoyed and make it possible to grow more tender varieties that are sweeter and more flavorful than commercial hybrid tomatoes.

Heirloom tomatoes:

Heirloom tomatoes are some of the varieties that gardeners prefer to grow because of their incredible variety, flavor, and other characteristics. The term heirloom tomatoes simply means that these tomatoes have been passed down from generation to generation. Although there are many varieties of heirloom tomatoes, there are fewer than there were fifty years ago. This is because, with the introduction of commercial tomato growing and canning, many families stopped growing their own heirlooms and those varieties were lost.

Heirloom tomatoes are open pollinated which means that they need no special pollination treatment and still produce fruit and seeds very similar to the parent plant. This is one of the traits that allows them to be passed down from generation to generation. They are also indeterminate which means that they set fruit throughout the season instead of all at once like the hybrid varieties grown commercially. This allows gardeners to enjoy their fruit for a more extended period of time. If you haven’t tried an heirloom tomato make sure you plant some this season. Be careful though, you may never want a tomato from the grocery store again! Here is some more information about heirloom tomatoes: