How to - Gardening with Kids

Kids and tomatoes

Plant these easy-to-grow favourites with your family for a bountiful harvest

What would pizza, pasta and tossed salad be without tomatoes? Most Canadians eat raw or cooked tomatoes almost every day, and even fussy youngsters eat this vegetable packed with vitamin C and A—botanically a fruit because they contain seeds—without complaint. Since tomatoes are easy to grow in containers, they're great for kids to nurture in patio pots, window boxes and even hanging baskets.

Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) are indigenous to South America. Yellow and red varieties grow wild in the Andes valleys where the Incas of Peru domesticated them as early as 700 AD. During the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors took them home to southern Europe, adding a delicious new taste to Italian and Spanish cuisine. But most of the English-speaking world was slower to recognize a good thing, believing until the 19th century that tomatoes, related to deadly nightshade, were poisonous.

Choose from a rainbow of varieties
Today, cultivated varieties may be pink, orange and even striped, as well as red or yellow. They range in size from small enough to pop in your mouth (cherry varieties) to large enough to carry with two hands ('Beefsteak'). Shapes vary, also. Most tomato varieties produce round fruit, but 'Zapotec Pleated' is fluted or rippled, 'Yellow Stuffer' resembles peppers—hollow with hard walls—and 'Amish Paste' is pear shaped.

Tomatoes grow successfully in just about any sturdy container filled with rich, well-drained soil, but large containers (20 litres or more) yield healthier plants and more fruit. Some varieties of cherry tomatoes perform well in hanging baskets, and many patio types (dwarfs) can be grown in 30-centimetre terra-cotta pots.

When danger of frost is passed, purchase healthy plants with straight, sturdy stems (about as thick as a pencil) and four to six young true leaves (no blossoms or fruit). Plant each tomato seedling deeper than it was growing in its nursery pot or cell pack—up to its first true leaves encouraging it to develop roots along its buried stem. Place the container where it'll receive at least six hours of sun every day. Unless the plant is a dwarf variety or growing in a hanging pot, stake it or place a cage around it, to keep fruit and leaves off the ground.

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