Burnett: Tomato craze originated in South America

It’s tomato planting time in the Okanagan, one of the easiest and productive edible plants to grow in a vegetable garden.

The tomato can be grown in garden plots, in raised gardens and containers.

The only criterion needed for success is some decent soil, a nutrient source, a little water and most importantly plenty of sunshine.

The fact that the Okanagan has plenty of sun and heat makes for a perfect climate to grow tomatoes as we are famous for the commercial crops that are grown here.

My Grandpa Burnett started his business on Ethel Street in 1922 growing field tomatoes for the cannery. That morphed into the greenhouse/nursery/garden centre/florist business which ran for 75 years in the same location.

The florist shop is still thriving in its location on Bernard Avenue in downtown Kelowna.

The tomato has an interesting history. Like all domestic plants it comes from a species of a naturally occurring Genus, in this case the nightshade family Solanum lycopersicum.

Because of the toxicity of many species of nightshade, the tomato was considered poisonous and only used as an ornamental for many years.

The species originates in South America and was first used as a food in Mexico.

After the Spanish Inquisition, the tomato was introduced to Europe and the rest of the world.

Imagine Italian cuisine without the tomato. The tomato was introduced there in 1548 and soon became a staple in the diet.

It wasn’t introduced to Britain until almost 50 years later in the 1590s.

Quite a difference in today’s world when even a virus can cross the ocean in a few hours.

In about 1799, it was introduced to the Middle East and North Africa. The earliest reference to tomatoes being grown in British North America is from 1710, when herbalist William Salmon reported seeing them in what is today South Carolina.

A man by the name Alexander W. Livingston was the first person who succeeded in upgrading the wild tomato by selecting seedlings that displayed the attributes he was looking for and carefully saved the seeds.

In 1870, he introduced a variety called Paragon, and then in 1875 he introduced one called Acme which is said to be the grandparent of many of our modern day varieties.

So whether we are planting Beefsteak, Fantastic, Early Girl or Patio, they all can be traced back to that wild tomato in South America.

If you haven’t grown a garden for years or perhaps ever, then I encourage you to pop in a few tomato plants this season.

There is absolutely nothing like picking a ripe tomato off the vine, slicing it up and adding a little salt before putting it in your mouth on a hot summer day. Even better in a veggie burger.

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