You probably already know that fresh, home-grown tomatoes are good for you, but I didn’t know how very good! The latest news is that a research team from the University of Eastern Finland, reports that eating tomatoes is associated with a 50% lower risk of stroke, due in large part to high concentrations of the potent antioxidant, lycopene.
Lycopene is a well studied compound that gives tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables their deep red color.
Science Daily says: “The researchers found that tomatoes are the top source of dietary lycopene; a powerful antioxidant that, unlike nutrients in most fresh fruits and vegetables, has even greater bioavailability after cooking and processing.”
Tomatoes also contain other protective mechanisms to lower the risk of:
ultraviolet light-induced skin damage
cognitive dysfunction such as in dementia and Alzheimer’s
deep vein thrombosis
By growing several of your own tomato plants (in containers, a raised bed, or in the ground), you can save money on your grocery bill and have all the tomatoes you will want for the summer. If you add a few more plants, you will likely have enough to put up pasta and sauce with as well as put some in the freezer for winter soups.
There is an old practice that some feel makes tomatoes perform even better.
Companion planting is part folklore and part science. Grouping companionable plants together in the garden is supposed to enhance their flavor, their growth, and give added protection to plants from pests and diseases as they give off the natural chemical compounds they contain.
This is a neat little chart I found at Small Farm Permaculture and Sustainable Living, and it is explained further here. Plants that share the same circle get along well together, either as mutually beneficial companions, or neutral neighbors. Those that do not share the same circle should not be grown together, they say.
Borage~ Borage improves the productivity and taste of tomatoes, plus its flowers attract parasitic wasps while some say it repels the tomato hornworm. I have planted borage every year at the base of our tomatoes, and it certainly hasn’t hurt them. We have had high yields all but one year during that time.
Grow borage for the leaves and flowers that have a fresh, cucumber-like flavor. Add the young leaves and blooms to salads, soups, and summer drinks. Borage self-seeds. I just turn the little starts I don’t want under as a green manure and allow the rest to continue growing.
Basil~ Tomatoes and basil are famous together, too. “Maters make the basil go wild and basil adds a certain quality to ‘maters.” Old-timers swear to it, and I believe it.
Some things are just meant to go together. And did you know that lycopene needs to be combined with fat to be absorbed well through the intestinal wall? Here is where you think good unsaturated fats: olive oil, avocados, nuts, and fish. I do love fresh garden tomatoes drenched in olive oil with a pinch of sea salt. Hmm… Mozzarella and fresh basil only intensify the taste-bud delight.
Lettuce, spinach~Growing leaf lettuce (and other leafy greens) in the same raised bed as my tomatoes acts as a living mulch which helps keep the soil cooler, and reduces the chances of spreading diseases from water and soil splashing on the leaves. Lettuce thrives in the partial shade of the tall tomato plants. The lettuce stays cooler and sweeter longer, so both derive a benefit.
Nasturtiums~ First, they are elegant and delicious in a salad, and second, they are gloriously old-fashioned in the kitchen garden. If they help the tomatoes, so much the better!
I am fascinated by Louise Riotte’s book Tomatoes Love Carrots. It really is an essential book if you are going to delve into the world of companion planting. Not only does it go through every vegetable and herb’s best and worst companions, but it also adds in tons of folklore, natural insect repellent and herbal health tips, just all sorts of great wisdom. I’ve done a post on it here.
It has also been said to never planttomatoes close to potatoes. I’m not going to try it to find out if that is true 😉
Here is a good tutorial on selecting and growing tomatoes from This Old House.
Please don’t use chemicals on tomatoes. They do just as well without, so why waste the money, time, or sacrifice your health. Don’t ever water from the top. Here is my post on growing tomatoes.
You may want to mark your tomatoes to remember which variety is which. Rocks markers work, kids love to make them, and they look cool!
Here are two of my favorite, easy ways to treat my family’s palate with fresh tomatoes in the summer:
The ‘cheese-toastie’ hot from the oven using your favorite melting cheese, fresh tomato slices, cracked pepper, and sea salt~
Tomato and avocado salad seasoned perfectly with fresh lemon, olive oil, fresh cracked black pepper, and sea salt~