Profiles in the Veg Garden: Tomatillos

 

“A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success.”

~Elbert Hubbard

 

Do you enjoy trying to grow your own food?  I use the word try because growing veggies is not always a successful endeavor, but one where, if you have patience and tenacity, you can learn and reap the benefits of your efforts.  That’s how it has been for me over the past 10 years.  Learning from my successes and failures has brought me the sweet joy of eating fresh food right out of our garden grown the way we like, organically.

And because I love to learn, I am always looking to try something new in the veg garden….sometimes without doing much research on how the seed and plant grows.  And so it was, three years ago when I planted one tomatillo plant I grew from seed.  I decided late to try them, and only one seedling grew big enough in time.  And oh boy did it grow and flower, but no fruit.  I had heard they grew just like tomatoes so what was the problem.

 

 

When I delved deeper, I learned, yes indeed, they grew like tomatoes except in how the fruit was formed.  Unlike a tomato, you need 2 tomatillo plants for cross-pollination….oops!  Well no tomatillos that year, but I kept the plant growing to make sure I understood what conditions they liked.  The next year I grew 3 plants, and what a harvest they gave me.

Tomatillos are pretty easy to grow, just….

  1. Provide a sunny location, and free draining soil enriched with compost.  I grow mine in grow bags as they drain more freely.  Due to my hot, humid, wet summer I let my plants dry out in these bags being careful not to over or under water.
  2. Plant the seedlings deep like tomatoes burying the majority of the plant.  If growing in a bed, this indeterminate plant needs at least 3 feet of space to grow and branch out. 
  3. I also cover my plants, with row covers, in spring due to the variability of our spring temps.  Tomatillos do not like cool temps when they are starting out, and when pollinating and setting fruit.  Once they get going, cooler temps don’t seem to impede their fruiting late in season.
  4. They also need support like tomatoes, so I provide tomato cages which work perfectly.
  5. Tomatillos are a great veggie for beginning gardeners because they rarely suffer disease or other pest problems.

 

Tomatillos, Physalis philadelphica, also called Mexican husk tomatoes, are part of the nightshade family.  I love the way they form with the husk ballooning out from the pollinated flower.  Over time it fills up with a small green fruit.  Once the husk starts to split open it is time to harvest the tomatillo, usually about 75 days later. 

Tomatillos can be stored in the refrigerator for two weeks, and you can freeze them just by removing the husks and washing the sticky fruit underneath.  I have also read, that before the first frost you can just pull the tomatillo plants, and hang them upside down in an unheated garage. They will keep for a couple of months.  This might be good if you have lots of plants, but I just harvest my few plants once the frost comes.

 

 

Tomatillos originated in Mexico and have been cultivated since pre-Columbian times.  I start my tomatillos from seed 8 weeks before our last frost date in spring.  Like all seedlings, the plants must be hardened off before planting them out in the garden.  And it is important the ground is warm so they can have a healthy start, much like the tomatoes.

 

 

So what do you do with them once they are harvested?  These wonderful green fruits have a lightly tart flavor and are great dropped into chili, soups and even tomato salsa.  You can even roast them and put them in guacamole. Although I have never tried them raw, you can also chop them up and add them to salads.  But my favorite is to make green salsa, also know as salsa verde.  

Green salsa is fairly easy to make.  My favorite recipe is to roast the tomatillos in the oven; 5 minutes each side close to the broiler.  Let them cool completely, and then put the fruit and juice in a food processor with a 1/2 cup of roasted green chiles and a bit of water and cilantro chopped.  Pulse until you get the consistency you like.  I like mine with some chunks.  Then I add chopped red onion and more cilantro and a pinch of salt and stir.  And voilà the salsa is ready to eat with dipping veggies or chips, or included in stews, chili, topping roasted meats….the possibilities are endless.

 

 

Tomatillos are quite healthy and low in calories.  They are rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, niacin, potassium, manganese, and healthy omega 6 fatty acids.  Such a bounty of healthy things packed into one small round fruit.

 

Do you grow or eat tomatillos?  What is one of your favorite veggies to grow?  What’s the most unusual veggie you grow?

 


A Later Harvest Vase

 

When I came home from a trip in mid-October, I thought I would find a bunch of frozen tomatillos on the plants I left out.  They were still not ripe enough to harvest so I took a chance they would ripen during the two weeks I was gone.  And so they did.  And to my surprise, the frosts many weeks later did not deter this Mexican sunflower, Tithonia, in the vaseThey made a simple little arrangement to honor the late harvests in my garden.

 

I am joining Cathy@Rambling in the Garden for her wonderful In A Vase on Monday meme. The pictures shared here were created with my iPod Touch camera and two free apps, Pixlr and Prisma

I am posting poetry, almost weekly on Sundays, on my other blog, Living From Happiness.  You can read my latest poem here.

 

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2017.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.

40 comments

  1. Cathy says:

    I love the look of the tomatillo in their husks but grow minimal vegetables, usually just tomatoes, courgettes, climbing French beans and perpetual spinach. Your IAVOM contribution has such complementary elements – the tithonia, the vase itself, the squash and the tomatillo look great together

    • Donna says:

      That is a great list of veggies Cathy. I am pleased you liked the vase and arrangement. The mini pumpkins were too perfect not to use as a prompt for many of my fall vases especially this one.

  2. Kathy says:

    Wow Donna! Love these photos! I remember the one time I grew tomatillos, I had them everywhere!! And I was weeding out tomatillos for seasons after that because like you, I left them on the vine. I think they scared me and I haven’t grown them since. I made batches and batches of salsa verde that tasted amazing on pulled pork as I was still eating meat at that time. You have inspired me to grow these again – just one plant will do. I think that salsa verde would be excellent on some cauliflower or seitan tacos. I think the weirdest thing that I consistently grow now is cukamelons or Mexican sour gherkins. They are just too cute to pass up!

    • Donna says:

      Wow that is amazing….but remember you must have 2 tomatillo plants to get the plants to produce fruit. I have never tried the cukamelons as my husband is not a cuke fan. Have fun with your winter garden!

  3. Susie says:

    These images are lovely Donna. I’ve never grown many vegetables on my own. When I was growing up my family grew quite a lot of our food, but Tomatillos and many other things I eat now were unknown.

  4. Annette says:

    I grew Tomatillos one year on our terrace, they grew so big, they almost pushed us into the borders. I made chutney and used it in stir fry, delicious. I love many vegetables but tomatoes and aubergines rank high. Love your dainty little vase, Donna, have a good week 🙂

  5. AlisonC says:

    That is really interesting, I have grown tomatillos and got plenty but didn’t know what to do with them all. We only ate a few but I love salsa. They are beautiful as are your photographs. The pods are lovely rather like Nicandra which I grow but I don’t think is edible. I wonder if they are related.

    • Donna says:

      Oh that is wonderful that I could provide some more ways to use them….indeed Nicandra and Tomatillos are related as both are from the Nightshade family.

  6. rickii says:

    My corner grocer gave me some tomatillos once, which I made into salsa, using them raw. It was quite good. Your photos make me think I should try growing my own. Romesco was my most exotic experiment. So beautiful, but an aphid magnet.

  7. Eliza says:

    Salsa verde I made with some my sister gave me turned out deliciously. Good to know they need more than one to pollinate. Tithonia is another plant I have admired, but have not yet grown. The redder hybrids I find are most attractive.

  8. Cathy says:

    I have never heard of tomatillos before! I haven’t grown any vegetables recently, but loads of herbs! 🙂 I love Tithonia – how lovely to still have a few flowering!

  9. Kris P says:

    I love the look of tomatillos but I’ve given up growing anything other than herbs and cutting flowers in what was my vegetable garden. I do have one old, resilient artichoke plant growing on my back slope and, given its success, I recently bought plugs to try growing more in that difficult area – the chokes are delicious and the plants are also ornamental so they’ve double the value in my eyes.

  10. Elephants Child says:

    Tomatoes will continue tor ripen after the first frost if hung upside down in the garage too.
    I do love growing vegies. The taste leaves anything store bought in the dust.
    Various critters get a lot of ours – which doesn’t stop the attempts.

  11. Margaret says:

    I have never tried growing tomatilloes, but they are on my list. I didn’t realize that they needed cross-pollination – thanks for that tip! I think that salsa would be my go-to use for them and yours sounds absolutely delicious.

  12. Beth @ PlantPostings says:

    Yum, your recipes sound tasty! I haven’t eaten Tomatillos much, although I know they’ve been in salsas at restaurants we’ve visited at times. We have the related Clammy Ground Cherries (Physalis heterophylla) growing wild up at the cottage. But the birds and critters seem to get to the fruits before we have a chance to harvest them. They are tasty, though!

    • Donna says:

      I always wondered about the ground cherries which do not grow wild here in NY….and with limited room I have never tried them…I can see why the critters get to them first.

  13. Cath says:

    I have tomatillos coming up everywhere at the moment – I just leave them where they are convenient and pull them out otherwise. They are great raw, just sliced like tomatoes, or in a raw salsa. I have the cape gooseberries too but the mice and birds eat them. They make amazing jam if I can get enough of them.

  14. Allison says:

    Your tomatillos look very attractive with their purple stripes. I’ve grown plain green ones for the last two years and they are great fun to watch fill their pods. I make salsa verde too and I have eaten them raw in salads, but salsa is best. Lucky you to still have a tithonia flowering. Definitely worth celebrating both!

  15. Rebecca says:

    Hi donna – this is a cute vase – v autumnal with the flower colours. Ive never heard of tomatillos. look intersting. We’ve only got a tiny garden so we only grow cherry tomatoes, soft fruit and alot of herbs. All well over in our garden now. Ive got the very last of the hardy fuchsias in my vase, 🙂 lots love bec xx

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