By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
The other day I had a friend call me and ask me if I had seen the new addition to the garden store.
I said no, but really did not have time to explore the new addition right at that moment.
A few days passed and my friend again inquired about the new addition at the Feed and Seed.
What could have you so excited, I asked. She replied, my prayers have been answered. Again, I was perplexed about the new addition to the local Feed and Seed so I went to see for myself.
It was not a chicken laying a golden egg nor was it a rabbit that pooped jelly beans, but instead a tomato tree. I thought to myself a tomato tree.Â What do you do with a tomato tree and is the fruit really a true tomato? I also wondered is this Mother Nature made, grafted or some genetically altered plant. So I took my agricultural curiosity home and did a little research.
The tomato tree is known as Cyphomandra betacea. Its native land is the Andes Mountains of Peru and Chile. It is grown commercially in California and Florida. The plant is grows best when the temperature is 50F degrees but is hardy down to 25F degrees. It is well adaptive to container growing if the regional temperatures are too low.
This plant can be started from seed or it is grafted. If using seeds for propagation, first wash the seeds and dry them in the shade. Then, place them in the freezer for 24 hours. This process will speed up the germination process. Plant the seeds in a light, fertile soil. In 4 to 6 days 100 percent of the seeds will have sprouted.
Move the seedlings to a well-drained soil or container. The tomato tree does not like and cannot survive wet feet or roots so drainage is very important.
A fertilizer program is important for this plant. Fertilize with 0.5 to 2.2 pounds of 5-6-6 twice a year. In the spring, apply Â½ the prescribed amount and repeat this midsummer.
Pruning is another chore that needs to be done with the tomato tree. Prune the tree back the first year until it is between 3 and 4-feet in height. This will encourage lateral growth of the branches but make sure to do this in the fall to prevent removing blooms. The tomato tree is self-pollinating but can also be pollinated by bees.
The tomato tree will begin to bear fruit when it is 1 Â½ to 2 years of age and will continue to produce until it reaches 5 to 6 years of age. Fruit on this plant is produced throughout the season and can be picked by cutting it off leaving Â½ inch stem. The tree can be encouraged to produce until it reaches a ripe old age of 11 to 12 years but this requires a strict fertilizing program.
The fruit of the tomato tree looks like a tomato and can be eaten like a tomato but is not a tomato. It can be eaten raw, cooked on the grill, in drinks, used for stuffing, and chutney. So give the tomato tree a try this season. Until we blog again, the tomato tree is unique, to the gardenscape, but do not let that stop you, from trying a tomato tree shake.