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Posts Tagged ‘Husk Tomato’

Bowl of Tomatillos
Tasty image compliments of Rachel Steenland at The Plant Riot

Tomatillo, pronounced ‘toe-mah-tee-yo,’ means “little tomato,” but they aren’t a tomato. They grow in inedible papery husks, resembling small, straw-colored Japanese lanterns. Aficionados don’t substitute one for the other, but they are in the same family. Another variance from most plants is you need TWO to pollinate and get fruit!

CA Rare Fruit Growers says ‘There is considerable confusion in the literature concerning the various species. Hybrids between them are also known.’ Here’s their list! 

Cape Gooseberry (Physalis peruviana L.), Ground Cherry (Physalis heterophylla), Tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa), Purple Ground Cherry (P. philadelphica), Strawberry Tomato (P. pruinosa), Ground Cherry, Husk Tomato (P. pubescens), Sticky Ground Cherry (P. viscosa).

Cape gooseberry, also known as ground cherry, produces small, sweet fruit inside papery husks. Tomatillo, also called husk tomato, produces similar but larger fruit that is a staple in Mexican cooking.  It is tart/tangy and crisp, used in gazpacho, guacamole and salsas, especially salsa verde. They are also used in lighter moles, like mole verde and mole amarillo. 

Here’s another comparison from WeCanGrowIt. Tomatillos and ground cherries both belong to the nightshade family, and although they taste very different, they look very similar. Both fruits grow like paper lanterns, enclosed in an inedible husk. Tomatillos are medium sized, while ground cherries produce a cherry-sized fruit and closely resemble their distant relative, the cape gooseberry.

Luscious Varieties!

Beautiful Yellow Tomatillo Blossom!

Fruits come in yellow, red, green, or purple and the flowers come in several colors too, including white, light green, bright yellow, and sometimes purple. Flowers may or may not have purple spots at the center. The fruits come in 1/2″ to 4″ grandes or gigantes!

Green Tomatillos are the standard.

BIG is Better? Some say the big ones, gold ball size or more, lack flavor and can taste bitter. But there are clearly gardeners who love them and some gardeners love bitter flavors! Try a few different ones. Remember to plant by twos, for pollination, of each variety, to see which you like! There are different varieties and sizes of the of green ones as well!

Tomatillo Variety Mexican Stain Yellow GrandeLook at these beauties! Horticulturist Jessica Walliser, says the fruits of YELLOW variety, Mexican Strain, are almost twice as large as green and purple types – usually 2″, and she finds they’re more flavorful after they fall from the plant. She adds them to homemade spaghetti sauce and tomato soup and has had excellent results. They’re very meaty. Territorial Seed says ‘These tasty summer treats are even more mineral-dense than tomatoes, packed with unique phytochemicals and flavonoids.’

If you are looking for a cold tolerant yellow, try Yellow Amarylla, bred to thrive in the cooler summer conditions of inland Eastern Europe.

Purple Tomatillo in the Husk and cut open to see the Seeds!Purple Tomatillos! Caribbean Garden Seed says theirs are a rare variety with smaller 1″ fruit that has a sweeter flavor than green tomatillos. Easy to grow, less sticky! One gardener says ‘Purple Tomatillos can be eaten fresh off the vine, though we much prefer to grill them or make purple salsa.’ There is also a larger Purple Strain variety. Purple Tomatillos, more sweet, are used in jams and preserves.

Tomatillo rare Variety Queen of Malinalco Stephen Smith of Roughwood Seed Collection!Many Tomatillos have a long history and great stories! Specialty heirloom grower Stephen Smith says this about his 2019 Queens: I was so impressed with these “Queen of Malinalco” husk tomatoes we grew this year. While dubbed “Queen of Malinalco”, this is not the true name of this landrace. Locally they are called “acorazado or acorazonado” meaning heart shaped”. This landrace is found in the old Aztec village/town of Malinalco, named after the Aztec goddess Malinalxóchitl . It is said that Huitzlipochtli abandoned his sister Malinalxóchitl because she was practicing evil witchcraft. While she slept, he left her in the middle of the forest. When she woke, she was furious at having been abandoned by her brother. She gathered people loyal to her and marched off to settle in what is now Malinalco. I suspicion back then these were utilized in special ceremonies and were most certainly a food of the deities. Very productive, 3-6 foot tall plants yield long, pear-heart shaped fruits that begin green and ripen to a golden yellow and push through their husk. The largest tomatillo we have ever seen. Amazingly fruity tasting fruits are excellent in pies, jams, etc. Get seeds at Roughwood 

Baker Creek Heirloom Rare Seeds says this Tomatillo is more like a sweet paste tomato! The fruit grow up to an awesome 4 inches long and the plants are very productive.  

Tomatillos originated in Mexico and were cultivated in the pre-Columbian era. The Aztecs are credited with domesticating them. They were more important than the tomato.

Companion Plants can make a marked difference!

Plan ahead to include helpful plants where your Tomatillos will be planted. Plant those plants well before you plant your tomatillos so the companions will be working as soon as you plant your tomatillos. Plant with Borage to repel tomato hornworms. Basil is a classic with tomato type plants, also helps repel hornworms. Be mindful of differing water needs.

Nasturtiums (caution if you have snails) and Marigolds, attract pollinators. Marigolds repel nematodes in the soil; nasturtiums deter whiteflies! You can plant your Tomatillos with Peppers, Tomatoes, Sunflower, Onion – repels beetles, spider mites and ants, Garlic, Cabbage, Kale and Carrot. Basil, mint, chives, sage, parsley, garlic repel insect pests. Parsley in bloom also attracts hoverflies whose larvae eat aphids and predatory wasps that eat other pests!

Incompatible! Kohlrabi stunts tomatillos. Corn (not recommended as a food) attracts pests that harm tomatillos. Potatoes and eggplants attract potato beetles and potato aphids that tomatillos are also susceptible to. Dill and Fennel have oils that inhibit root development and can kill neighboring plants.

Companion planting is not an exact ‘science.’ There are contradictions online, so try it for yourself. There are so many soil variations, different planting times of year per temps, distances between plants, differing plant varieties that have different hardiness or tolerance. Note how far apart you plant companions/not companions from your Tomatillos. Is your Tomatillo growth slowed, then when they get bigger things are fine? Have you planted a ‘good’ companion close enough to your tomatillos to do them good?

GROWING Details!

Half-Black Bumblebee on Tomatillo Flower
Half-Black BumbleBee (Bombus vagans) on Tomatillo Flower

Tomatillos are in the Solanaceae family like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant. Honeybees DO NOT pollinate them, Bumblebees DO! It’s called buzz pollination! If you are inclined, make homes and habitat for wild bees! It’s easy!

You need 2 or more plants placed close together for cross pollination.

Bonnie Plants says ‘Plan for each plant to produce about a pound of fruit over the season. However, most recipes call for ½ pound to make sauce, so plan to grow a minimum of 2 to 3 plants to have enough fruit ready to eat at one time. You may need more if you like them a lot.’Choose full sun, except in hot climates where some afternoon shade is recommended.

Soil & Water: Tomatillos love fertile loamy soil rich in organic matter. Add plenty of compost prior to planting. Preferred soil pH is between 5.5-7.0. If you have heavy clay soil, grow them in raised beds. They grow well in containers as long as watering is kept regular.

Seed Sowing Depth: ¼” deep   Germination: 7-14 days

Starting Indoors:  Sow 6-8 or 8-10 weeks before last frost. Sow in flats/cells/pots. Provide 70-80ºF or 75-85ºF soil temperatures. Those are optimum, but they can be planted at 59ºF! Cooler soil temperatures increase germination time. If your Tomatillos don’t germinate, supply bottom heat to the plants, and cover them with a dome or plastic. This will definitely help.

Thin to 2″ apart after the first true leaves appear. Fertilize the seedlings every 7-10 days with a liquid or water soluble fertilizer (diluted to ¼ of suggested measurement). Transplant seedlings 24-48” apart after last frost.

Sowing Outdoors: Not recommended, especially in short season northern areas. Because of Tomatillos long growing season, this shortens their production time by as much as 2 months. 

Plastic Bottle Cloche

It helps to use row covers early in the season, giving the plants extra warmth, especially in the north. Or use cloches to protect and keep young plants warm. A simple cloche can be any large plastic container with its bottom cut off, with or without the cap. Not only does it keep your plant warm, but protects it from bird damage. On hot days be sure to remove that cap! 

If you have good hot summer temps, lay down a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch to preserve moisture and keep weeds down. If you have less than optimal hours of sun, are in a northern area or are in a cool area (our community garden is seaside cooler), don’t apply soil cooling mulch.

Days To Maturity: Depends on the variety and your local temps, but generally 65 to 100 days after transplanting.

Tomatillos can be compact and upright OR are highly-branched and sprawling, semi-indeterminate, with a more open canopy. Trellis or stake those plants for support. Staking the plants will ease harvest and keep fruit off of the ground, which reduces slug and other damage to the fruit and husk. It also enhances air circulation and discourages fungus problems on the foliage during periods of high humidity. If allowed to sprawl on the ground, the stems will rootand the plants will require more space than you may have anticipated, so be sure to use a trellis or tomato cage – unless you have the room and want more tomatillos!

Maintenance!


Tomatillos work hard making all those little lanterns! They are heavy feeders and will benefit from regular fertilization. Others say they are hardy and too much food gives you leaves and little fruit! If your soil is poor, feed ’em. If your soil is rich, let them alone. Probably is
wise to do the standard side dress when the flowers begin to form. 

Soak the soil 4-6″ deep at 7-day intervals. Like with any fuzzy leaved plants and tomatoes, avoid wetting the foliage when watering. Water at ground level. Keep the soil consistently moist. Overwatering can cause fruit to crack.

Pests & Diseases

Prolific Tomatillos and Flea Beetle Damage

Not only can you see how prolific Tomatillos are but also the Flea Beetle damage! See all the little holes in the leaves?! Plants are usually vigorous enough that the damage is merely cosmetic.

Pests: Aphids, cutworms, snails, slugs, flea beetles, European corn borer, mites, fruit worms, whiteflies, tomato hornworm, leafminers.

Diseases: Fungal leaf spots and early and late blights, powdery mildew, viruses, Bacterial soft rot. As possible, do a 3-4 year rotation, remove vines at the end of the year. as of 2017 two diseases have been documented, tomato yellow leaf curl virus associated with whiteflies, and turnip mosaic virus associated with aphids – see the last listing on this page. What turnip mosaic looks like.

Harvest Pointers Vary!

When to Harvest your Tomatillos
Thanks to Bonnie Plants for the image! 

Cutting is better than pulling them from and damaging your plant. Ripe fruits often fall to the ground, where they can be collected and taken to the kitchen. You can place some type of cloth under the plants for an easier harvest. These babies are prolific! harvest every two to three days.

Harvest when the fruit fills the husk, botanically called a calyx. Harvest lasts 1 to 2 months or until first frost. In that short time, your plant can produce 60 to 200 fruits within a single growing season! That means harvesting daily is common.

Some say the fruits should be hard, while others say they should feel slightly soft. Still others say the best time to pick for salsa is when husks turn brown & begin to open. They can be several colors when ripe, including yellow, red, green, or even purple depending on the variety. With some varieties the plump fruit will bust right through the husk, and that is when you can tell that it is ready to harvest. You can just twist the fruit right off the vine at this point. 

For the green variety in the image, the bright green color on the right is ripe. The left is overripe, turning yellow because it was left too long on the plant. Overripe is not as good for cooking, as they lack the firm flesh and tart flavor of the green tomatillos. For Salsa Verde, tart is right! With additional time, they will become more seedy, but sweeter, for eating raw.

One gardener says Tomatillos are often ripe when the husk splits, the husk turns tan or dry, and the fruit is still green. However, some fruits fill the husk but do not cause splitting. Some experience with harvest will be necessary to assess ripeness per various varieties and your location.

How do you store them?

Simply gather them up and keep them at room temperature in a basket without removing their husks. Tomatillos will last for up to two weeks this way, 1 to 2 months in a cool dry place. For best flavor, do not refrigerate! If you must, store tomatillos in their husks for 2 to 3 weeks in a paper bag in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator. Wiki says ‘They keep even longer with the husks removed and the fruit refrigerated in sealed plastic bags.’

For longer storage, you have to freeze them, whole or sliced, or can them.

Tomatillos are prolific! They can easily be frozen! Remove the husk, rinse and dry. Arrange the tomatillos, not touching, on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in the freezer. As soon as the tomatillos freeze (takes about 2 hours), pack the tomatillos in freezer bags. Freezing separately first prevents them from sticking together. Double bagging is a good idea to prevent freezer burn. Label the bags with the date and place them immediately in the freezer. Frozen tomatillos will be sweet when thawed, perfect for use in salsas, sauces, and soups. Tomatillos should keep in the freezer for up to a year.

SEEDSAVING!

Tomatillo SeedSaving
Thanks to Howard Parker for these images.

Per Seed Savers Exchange, Tomatillos are outcrossers, meaning that their flowers cross-pollinate and are incapable of self-pollination. So, if you have a favorite tomatillo variety for turning into salsa verde and want to save seeds, make sure you give it plenty of space from other varieties! If genetic preservation of a variety is the goal, Seed Savers Exchange says “the isolation distance should be increased to 1-2 miles.”

Keeping that in mind, let your green tomatillos ripen until they become bright yellow. Their seeds are tiny! If you aren’t needing a lot of seeds, try it like this with the tip of a small pointy knife!

As FOOD there is nothing like them! 

Salsa Verde made with Tomatillos!

I’m not sure Tomatillos have any whopping special nutritional features. Martha Rose Shulman, author of “The Very Best of Recipes for Health,” says ‘Tomatillos are a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, as well as dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, niacin, potassium and manganese.’ There are so many wonder veggies, does it matter whether Tomatillos contribute highly? They’re a treat!

First, when you remove the husks, you find their skin has a sticky, sappy-like coating. The film has chemical compounds in it called withanolides that taste bad to pests, so the pests leave the tommies alone in the field! Leave it there, until you are ready to use them, it helps protect them while in storage. No worries. A quick rinse, a little vinegar if needed, and it’s gone!  

Tomatillos contain a pectin-like substance and can be used to thicken soups, stews or sauces when cooked. They can also be eaten raw, sliced and added to salads, guacamole, and fresh salsas. When slicing, use a serrated knife to easily cut through the skin without bruising. They can also be baked, dried, fried or pickled whole as a cold meat accompaniment, added to curries and stir fries. Serve grilled! Make marmalade and dessert sauce. The fruits, canned whole in Mexico, are sold domestically there and in the western United States.

Enjoy Salsa Verde as a dip, savoury sauce over enchiladas, tacos, eggs, as salad dressing, drizzle over chorizo, grilled fish, chicken, refried beans, rice, toast, and baked potato! As a marinade, in a burger! Use it as a dip for anything, including your bagel! Use it with Italian and French cuisines! 

Quick Basic Salsa Verde recipe! Emphasize your favorite ingredients as you wish! Tomatillos are the start. Add spicy HOT jalapeño peppers or not! Your choice. Fewer if you want less heat. Onion, garlic, lime juice, and cilantro! Rachel Steenland at The Plant Riot gives you all the juicy details!

More Recipes! Dan noSowitz says, don’t be limited to Mexican cuisine! Make a Raw Tomatillo And Spring Vegetable Salad, or Pasta With Tomatillo, Ricotta, And Sunflower Seed! Fried Tomatillos With Labneh And Za’atar. He says they’re [tomatillos] a really spectacular, unique ingredient, and the U.S. is unusual in that they are a very common sight throughout the entire country. (Just try finding tomatillos in France.) See his tasty recipes!

Tomatillo Fairy Lanterns and Blossoms

In addition to the terrific recipes, thanks to Dan noSowitz for this sweet image by Tim Lewisnm

May your garden grow deliciously with magical Fairy Lanterns! 

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The Green Bean Connection newsletter started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is.

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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