Whether you want to amaze your guests with a citrusy, bright and spicy salsa or simply wish to unwind after a long day with a cold, refreshing soup; growing tomatillos may be your way to go. This green fruit that is enveloped in layers of paper-like husks lends freshness to your soups, salads, wraps and stir-fries as much as its distant cousin, the red tomato. The fruit is native to Central America and like any abundant produce, is used vociferously in the local cuisine. For those who are fortunate enough to have a backyard and are planning to have a home n soon will be pleased to know that growing a tomatillo plant is the easiest thing ever; provided you know and follow a stepwise method of planting and nurturing this species.
Did you know?
- Tomatillos grow well in summers so it’s wiser to wait till the frost is over to plant them.
- The plants need cross-pollination.
- Birds and pests can hardly reach the tomatillos that come encased in papery husks. They are self-defensive in warding off pests.
- A bright green colour on the fruit indicates that it is ripe and ready to be plucked.
- Yellowing fruits could be signs of over ripened or rotten fruits.
- The fruit is also called husk tomato because of the outer layers.
Growing Tomatillos – To Choose A Site:
Growing tomatillos in your backyard can be easily carried out by following the steps listed below. As exotic as the fruit may sound, growing it is certainly not a complicated process.
You will need to choose a site that has a good amount of sun-exposure and well-drained and rich soil. Unlike tomatoes, tomatillos do not need a lot of water and if you happen to load the soil with excessive water, the plants may die.
As mentioned earlier, these plants need warm summer gardens to flourish; ensure to plant them well after the frost season is over. Before planting them, enriching the soil with compost and forking deeply will improve the drainage of the soil and consequently, the quality of the plants.
Tomatillo blooms require cross-pollination and therefore you will need two or more plants to receive an average produce of about two pounds or more. Depending upon your requirements for the season, you can choose to increase the number of your plants.
If your garden has heavy clay soil, a trick to ensure good produce is to have raised beds for the plants to avoid the soil from becoming soggy and poorly drained after watering the plants.
How to plant tomatillos
You will not have to wait for the frost to bid goodbye to start planting and growing tomatillos at home. Six to eight weeks before the winters are expected to be over; you can start planting them within the comfort of your home. Gradual exposure of the new saplings to sun is quintessential so start off by slowly exposing them to sunlight. As the soil starts getting warmer, you can transplant them outdoors. Planting them deeply in the ground will help them to sprout better. Since they tend to sprawl about, you can choose to lend them support with a trellis or a cage depending on the availability of space. If space is not a constraint, you can also choose to let them sprawl and pick the fruits off the ground, later.
However, it is important to know that getting the plants off the ground can help in better air circulation and keeping fungus away if humidity sets in.
The best way to plant them is to keep a minimum distance of 3 feet between one plant and the other. Keeping the soil evenly moist is important. You can use mulch to conserve the moisture and also to keep down the weeds.
Watching them grow:
If weather conditions are favourable and the soil is moist and well-drained, tomatillo plants will continue to bear fruits in abundance. If you choose to use mulch, pick out the organic variety like grass clippings and apply 2-3 inches to keep the weeds from overgrowing and to retain moisture in the soil.
You will often notice that these plants are prone to spread out prolifically. Not everybody is blessed with unlimited space and if you are one of them who are scared of overcrowding your backyard, you could pinch off the growing tips for a more controlled growth.
Harvesting your hard-earned fruits of labour:
When are tomatillos ready to pick? Once the tomatillos have filled out their husks, they are ready to be plucked. You will most certainly need tart and firm fruits to add the right flavours to your dishes. That means you cannot let the fruits be on the plants after they have ripened or else there is always the fear of them over-ripening and turning a sick yellow or pale purple. Using a tomatillo at its greenest best is what you should ideally do.
Tomatillo storage – you can store the harvested fruits encased in husks at room temperature for up to a week and three weeks in the refrigerator.
If you are a beginner, it is best to learn a few tips at this stage:
You don’t want self sown seedlings next year so harvest all the fruits on time.
If some of the tomatillos have over ripened or look rotten, you could always add them to your compost heap instead of throwing them away.
Tomatillos are not the same as green tomatoes so before you embark on the planting journey, you could choose to read up on the different species and the weather conditions specific to their survival. Or you could simply choose to go ahead with your tomatillo plant to impart an unbelievable freshness to your salsa verde. These little fruits and plants rarely get infested, owing to their husks so there is no need to worry about using insecticides or pesticides. Using undersize cages to support them can help keep snails and slugs away. Freshly plucked tomatillos can either be consumed raw or used in your favourite Mexican dish for an explosion of irresistible flavours.
So now, if you ever asked yourself a question “where can i buy tomatillos”, you might want to consider growing tomatillos yourself!