The tomato is native to South America. It was grown by the aborigines. There is abundant evidence that the varieties first cultivated in European countries originated in America. Although students generally agree as to the place of origin of cultivated forms, there is no definite record or history concerning them. Deductions from the studies of Sturtevant lead to the conclusion that large, smooth specimens were grown at least 200 years ago. Tracy ("Tomato Culture," p. 15) states: "In the transactions of the London Horticultural Society for 1820, John Wilmot is reported to have cultivated under glass in 1818 some 600 plants, and gathered from his entire plantings under glass and in borders some 130 bushels of ripe fruit. It is stated that the growth that year exceeded the demand, and that the fruit obtained was of extraordinary size, some exceeding 12 inches in circumference and weighing 12 ounces each".
The same writer asserts that it was grown for culinary-use in Virginia in 1781. A Frenchman grew and attempted to sell tomatoes to Philadelphians in 1788, but with poor success. An Italian made a similar effort at Salem, Mass., in 1802. Tomatoes were quoted in the New Orleans market in 1812, and offered by seedsmen as an edible vegetable in 1818. The plant gained rapidly in popularity after 1820, and was a standard vegetable in many sections in 1835.
This class has not yet varied to any extent in cultivation. The one variety is known as the currant, or German raisin.
The parent of all commercial tomatoes, (a) Var. Cerasiforme. Cherry tomatoes, characterized by slender growth, small, light-colored leaves, and small globular fruits, normally two-celled. Red and yellow varieties are known. (b) Var. pyriforme. Pear and plum tomatoes, distinguished from the preceding subdivision by the pear-shaped or oblong, pendent fruit. Red and yellow varieties are known. Nes-bit's Victoria has foliage much like that of Section d. (c) Var. vulgare. The common tomatoes, represented by three main groups, viz., (1) oblong tomatoes, represented by King Humbert; (2) angular tomatoes (scarcely known in this country) ; and (3) apple-shaped tomatoes, represented by the Peach, (d) Var. grandi-flora. Large-leaf tomatoes, represented by Mikado, (e) Var. validum. Upright tomato, represented by Dwarf Champion.
Immense quantities of this vegetable are sold on the American markets. The tomato is a standard truck crop near all of the larger towns and cities, and is grown extensively in the South to supply the northern trade. Thousands of acres are planted annually for canning and catsup. The home garden always contains at least a few tomato plants. The fruit is now so popular that hundreds of greenhouses are devoted to its culture to supply the trade during the winter or cooler seasons of the year. It is also an exceedingly popular fruit or vegetable in many foreign countries.
The tomato is readily injured by cold. It requires rather high temperatures and plenty of sunshine for its best development. Eighty to 90 degrees during the day and 15 to 20 lower at night provide the most suitable growing temperatures. Daily sunshine is always an advantage. Notwithstanding the fact that these conditions are important, the crop is grown under a wide range of climatic conditions. Good local markets often make it profitable to sow very early in hotbeds or greenhouses, the plants being kept under glass until they have formed several clusters of flowers, and perhaps developed a few green tomatoes. (649.) As the plants are tender to frost they should never be planted in the open ground until after danger of injury from this source has passed. The crop should be matured and harvested, if possible, before there is much danger of destructive frosts in the fall.
Sudden changes in temperature are a disadvantage, especially decided drops, because they check growth and may permanently impair the fruiting qualities of the plants. A medium rainfall is essential. The crop fares best when the precipitation is well distributed throughout the season.
A deep, fertile, sandy loam with a well-drained clay subsoil, undoubtedly provides the best conditions for the culture of tomatoes. The crop, however, is grown successfully on a great variety of soil types. Tracy ("Tomato Culture," p. 33) records: "Of the 10 largest yields of which I have personal knowledge and which ran from 1,000 to 1,200 bushels of fruit (acceptable for canning, and at least two-thirds of it of prime market quality) an acre, four were grown on soils classed as clay loam, two on heavy clay—one so heavy that clay for making brick was subsequently taken from the very spot which yielded the most and best fruit—one on what had been a black ash swamp, one on a sandy muck, two on a sandy loam and one on a light sand made very rich by heavy annual manuring for several years. They were all perfectly watered and drained, in good heart, liberally fertilized with manures of proved right proportions for each field, and above all, the fields were put into and kept in perfect tilth by methods suited to each case".
Sandy soils are, of course, especially desirable for the early crop; they are also injured less by tramping over the ground when gathering the crop in wet weather, and the cost of tillage is not so great as in clay soils. In Indiana (Ind. Sta. Bul. 144, p. 512) "the highest yields are being secured on sandy loam soils well drained, and comparatively rich in plant food. On the heavier soils the yields have not been So large as on the lighter types, although the tomatoes are usually more firm and meaty, which it is considered makes them better adapted for canning. On lighter soils, as a rule, the fruits are more juicy and the meat is less solid." While the sandy types are perhaps preferred in all of the states, large areas are often grown on heavy soils. In any case, however, the drainage must be perfect if large yields are expected. There is abundant evidence that the fruits of many varieties, especially the early ones, are smoother and more symmetrical when grown on sandy soils.
For the early crop, location and exposure should be carefully considered. Protection from the north and west winds is a great advantage and southern slopes favor early maturity.