“A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success.”
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….
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- They also need support like tomatoes, so I provide tomato cages which work perfectly.
- 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 vase. They 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.
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