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Summer 2013 - Lets Talk Tomatoes

As published in Families First Magazine - Summer 2013

Hillbilly, Green Zebra, Texas Wild and Cherokee Purple - These heirloom tomatoes pack a lot of flavor and come highly recommended from some urban farm friends at Inter-Faith Food Shuttle.

If you're thinking about testing your green thumb, tomatoes are a great summer choice! "They are delicious, versatile and full of nutrients, such as Vitamin C and lycopene which kids and adults need," said Lori Stevens, WakeMed dietitian.

And the best part? You can eat them just the way they are! We caught up with Chef Chad McIntyre from Market Restaurant to find out how his family prefers their tomatoes. McIntyre says he is a big fan of canning for year-round tomato ingredients, but his daughter Paisley's eyes widen and twinkle at the sight of a fresh tomato. Although she is lucky enough to have a father who can create practically anything in the kitchen, McIntyre says Paisley prefers to enjoy them fresh off the vine!

Tips from 'Father Earth'
We asked Maurice Small, urban agriculture educator at Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, to share his tomato wisdom with us. Small seems to know it all when it comes to natural gardening techniques. People around town even call him Father Earth!

And for good reason, he works from the ground up with his step-by-step tips for success with tomatoes.

Soil Check & Prep
It is a good idea to have your soil tested for harmful components, but it can take two weeks and costs approximately $60. Small offers some alternatives:

1. Build raised beds 4 to 8 in. off the ground using untreated, native North Carolina hardwood and fill it with new, organic compost.

2. No time to build beds? Put 3 to 4 sections of newspaper down to kill grass and prevent weeds from coming up. Then put 8 10 in. of new, organic compost on top of that; plant away. This works because tomatoes are a shallow root crop.

3. To simplify or plant where there is limited land, use a #2 food-grade plastic five-gallon container for each plant. Fill it with organic compost up to 5 inches from the top.

NOTE: Most cities are making compost and mulch available for purchase at a reasonable price.

Planting Tips
Plan 60-90 days for the tomatoes featured in this article to grow.

  • Tomatoes like full sun.
  • Plant for 5 hours of sun per day.
  • Morning sun is best.
  • 4 plants is plenty for a family of 4.
  • Try 4 different varieties; 1 plant of each.
  • 8x10 feet is a good amount of gardening space if available.
  • Place plants 2.5 to 3 ft. apart.
  • You can plant closer if tight on space.
  • Tomato cages should be placed before a lot of growth.
  • Stakes are also an option for support. They should be 1 to 2.5 in. diameter and stick out of the ground 6 to 7 ft.
  • Bamboo is a good natural choice for stakes.

Mulch is a Must
Small emphasizes the importance of adding 3 to 5 in. of organic mulch on top of compost right after planting. You do not want to be able to see the soil. Use your index finger to measure and make sure mulch comes up to the knuckle. You can also use natural, untreated wood bark. There are four seasons in a year. You should mulch every growing season. You can make your own mulch for next year by collecting fallen leaves and letting them break down naturally.

Visit the Farm
Inter-Faith Food Shuttle (IFFS) invites groups to visit their Teaching Farm at 4505 Tryon Road in Raleigh. Tours and service projects can be organized for groups by contacting You can also buy produce grown on the farm at their on-farm produce stand Thursdays and Fridays, noon - 6 pm, and Saturdays, 9 am - 1 pm. All proceeds go to support IFFS programs to end hunger. To reach Maurice Small and learn more about urban agriculture, email Learn more about the many ways IFFS is fighting hunger at

Bring On the Flavor!
When it comes to a tasty treat from the garden, you can't go wrong with heirloom tomatoes. Below are some of Small's favorites:

This tomato is yellow on top, orange in the middle and red on the bottom. You pick it when it looks like that. "It's beautiful when you slice it open," said Small. "It is not going to last long - a great one to share as is between you and your neighbors."

TIP: Plant as soon as you can; have some patience - up to 80-90 days!

Cherokee Purple
This one is dark green on the inside. "It may not be as attractive as others, but the flavors will knock your socks off," said Small. "It's an out-of-control tomato - try on top of steak, with your burgers or toss it in a salad."

TIP: Watch for these to come in between 69-75 days.

Green Zebra
This tomato is pretty popular, and you can probably find it at some of the home improvement stores. It will never turn red. It stays green and has some interesting stripes. "This one is best picked once it gets soft," said Small. "It is the sweetest green tomato you'll ever have in your life!"

TIP: Plan for these to be ready in about 70 days; check firmness instead of color.

Texas Wild
These bright red tomatoes stay tiny - about as big as your pinky nail. "This one is not as well known, but I've seen them growing all over the country," said Small. "You will want to pair it with everything, including salmon, basil, mints - even as a simple snack with warm sun tea in the afternoon." He also suggests using these for gazpacho recipes.

TIP: Get ready to enjoy these after 65-70 days.

NOTE: You should be able to source these tomato plants from local garden shops, and some organizations such as Seed Savers Exchange may ship the plants to you.

Tomato Recipes

Simple Salsa
Mix it up when you make salsas. Aside from the tomatoes, everything else is optional. Add fruit and spices to suit your family's personal tastes.

8-10 ripe-sized tomatoes
1 clove of garlic
1/2 of a medium onion
1 jalapeno pepper
Juice of half a lime
1 tsp. kosher/sea salt
1/2 tsp. cumin
Large handful of cilantro

Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta
Courtesy of Chef Jason Smith, 18 Seaboard & Cantina 18

1 pound mixed variety of Brinkley Farms heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 shallot, finely minced
¼ cup basil, chiffonade
¼ cup balsamic glaze
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For serving:
Toasted (or grilled) foccacia or baguette
Prodigal Farms goat cheese
Basil Oil (recipe follows)
Balsamic Glaze
Basil Oil
One handful of fresh basil
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine the basil and oil in a blender and puree until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh strainer lined with two layers of cheese cloth.

Serving suggestions:
Combine all ingredients for the bruschetta the day before you are serving it. Allow it to marinate in the refrigerator overnight. To serve, toast or grill the foccacia or baguette and top with the bruschetta, goat cheese, oil and glaze.

Tasty Benefits
Contributed by Lori Stevens, WakeMed dietitian

Tomatoes are naturally low in sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories. They are also a good source of Vitamin C and lycopene. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and is needed for the growth and repair of all tissues in the body. Lycopene is the phytochemical that gives tomatoes their red color. Research suggests that lycopene may help lower cancer risk as well as make skin less sensitive to ultraviolet light.

Eat tomatoes fresh, freeze for later, cook them or try your hand at canning. Cooking tomatoes actually makes some of the nutrients like lycopene more available. Your family can plan several different things to do with the tomato crop. Try sandwiches, sauces, salads, soups and salsas!

Your child will enjoy eating food grown right in your yard. Don't forget to have your child eat some tomatoes right off the vine. It sounds simple, but there is a special satisfaction and excitement that comes from munching a sunwarmed ripe tomato that you grew yourself.


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