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  • Writer's pictureWarner's Nursery

What’s So Great About Tomatoes? Everything!

Our staff at Warner’s Nursery are pretty passionate about the versatile tomato for many reasons. They are fun to grow, tantalize the senses and can be a primary ingredient in soups, sauces and salads.

But did you know that tomatoes are not just good, but also good for you?

Tomatoes are chock-full of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. It’s an organic pigment that gives tomatoes their bright red color and protects them from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Similarly, they can help protect your cells from damage. Tomatoes also have potassium, vitamins B and E, and other nutrients.

Here are just a few of the ways tomatoes are good for your health:

  • They boost your immune system, with the lycopene taking on free radical molecules and helping prevent cancers.

  • They can lower your levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol).

  • Vitamins B and E are plentiful in tomatoes, and they can boost your heart health.

  • Here’s one for all of us that are shackled to our mobile devices: Tomatoes contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which research indicates can help protect your eyes from the blue light made by all those screens we stare at all day.

  • Just the way lycopene protects a tomato’s skin from burning, it can also help shield you from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. However, don’t skip on the sunscreen. Tomatoes help from the inside of your body and won’t keep you from getting a burn if you go out without protection.

Despite northern Arizona’s short growing season, it is possible to have lush tomato plants gracing your garden with their beautiful lycopene-filled red bulbs. Scientific selection has helped make tomatoes hardier. Over the years, hybridization has resulted in an ever-growing selection of plants with traits that are helpful in our region, such as tomatoes that mature faster and ones that can withstand cooler climates.

A few of our favorites at Warner’s Nursery include:

  • Better Boy, which could also be called “Big Boy,” as it often produces plump, juicy fruits that weigh more than one pound!

  • Celebrity, which is known for its taste as well as its resistance to disease.

  • The Early Girl truly lives up to its name, providing meaty, ripe 4-to-6-ounce fruits extra early in the season.

  • Stupice is another popular plant that ripens early and has abundant yields, producing 3-to-6-ounce red fruits with exceptional flavor.

  • Then there’s Siberian which, as you might have guessed, can withstand cool conditions and can be successfully germinated at slightly lower temperatures.

In addition to these “full-size” varieties, there are also the compact, bite-size “cherry” tomatoes, including the Sungold, a golden beauty with a thin skin bursting with flavor, and the Sweet 100, which produces huge clusters of ½-inch fruits that are very sweet and high in vitamin C.

Growing Tomatoes in northern Arizona

The first – and most important – tip to growing tomatoes in our region is protecting them from northern Arizona’s changeable weather. If growing from seed, be sure to get them started early and cultivate indoors before planting them outside.

If you purchase your plants as “starts” (as opposed to growing from seed), we recommend you plant them outside, but with season extenders to protect them from northern Arizona’s late frosts; we sometimes get freezing night-time temps well into June.

Season extenders, tubes you fill with water and surround your plant with, absorb the heat of the sun during the day to keep your plant warm at night. Frost cloth will also help protect your tomato plants.

Once your tomato plants are in the ground, remember they like lots of food and water. Some common tomato problems are caused by incorrect watering, so we recommend a drip irrigation system.

Another tip is to not plant tomatoes in the same soil as last year, as this can allow disease to spread.

Common Problems and What to Do About Them

This brings us to the common diseases we see with tomato plants. Fortunately, most of the issues we see in northern Arizona can be controlled easily.

  • Phosphorus deficiencies occur early in the growing season when the soil is still cool. Although our soil has phosphorus, it can be unavailable to the plant if the soil it too cold, which is yet another reason not to plant too early. However, once temperatures rise, the problem typically corrects itself.

  • Curly top virus is transmitted by the beet leafhopper. Infected plants turn yellow and stop growing. Row covers are suggested to keep the leafhoppers off your plants.

  • Psyllids feed on tomato plant sap and inject a toxic saliva that turns leaves yellow and distorts the stems. Check the undersides of leaves for nymphs, which are about the size of an aphid and are yellow in color, slowly turning green. They secrete small white granules that look like sugar. To control them dust the underside of the foliage with sulfur.

  • Speaking of aphids, these insects (as well as whiteflies) cause leaf yellowing and leave a sticky substance behind. The good news – damage is usually minimal to the tomatoes themselves. However, if it becomes a problem, use insecticidal soap.

  • Flea beetles are small, black or brown beetles that jump when disturbed. They chew small holes or pits in leaves. Wounded tissue may be more susceptible to diseases such as early blight. Again, this is a problem most plants outgrow.

  • Early blight is caused by a fungus and typically can be seen during hotter months. This is one that might attack both the leaves and fruit of your plant. The leaves drop off, which makes your tomatoes susceptible to sunburn. Sanitation (i.e., removing affected plants) is your best option here.

  • Tomato or tobacco hornworms are large, green or gray-green caterpillars with white to tan V-shaped or dashed markings on their sides. A green to reddish horn protrudes from the hind end. They are voracious feeders, stripping leaves from stems and even eating unripe fruit. Pick them off by hand. The caterpillars are susceptible to many common vegetable insecticides.

During Memorial Day weekend, Warner’s Nursery will hold its traditional Tomatopalooza, our annual celebration of all things tomato. Stop on by to pick up some plants or ask our experts about cultivating these amazing – and very healthy - edibles.


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