When it comes to local tomatoes versus grocery store tomatoes, there’s no competition. Locally-grown tomatoes are plump, flavorful, and sweet. There’s a reason they are often referred to as nature’s candy.
Because the growing season is short in Montana, it’s best to use transplants in your garden rather than direct-seed for tomatoes. It’s also best to choose early ripening cultivars that ripen in 60-70 days such as Prairie Fire or Fourth of July varieties. Indeterminate varieties will produce fruit throughout the growing season. On the other hand, determinante varieties will have their fruit all ripen at once and are great for canning and freezing.
Tomato plants prefer well-drained, sandy soil that is high in organic matter. In the spring, prep your garden soil with super phosphorus to help plants set and ripen fruit. After the frost has passed, plant your transplants with about four square feet of space per plant. Pruning is important to help speed ripening, so be sure to remove all suckers that are growing in stem axils. Water tomato plants deeply, once a week, wetting the top foot of soil.
For an in-depth guide to growing tomatoes in Montana, check out this free resource from Montana State University Extension.
Like most plant foods, tomatoes offer many nutritional benefits. Most notably, tomatoes are the primary source of lycopene in the American diet. Lycopene is a naturally occurring phytochemical that gives fruits and vegetables their vibrant red or pink color. It is also found in watermelon and grapefruit. Lycopene is known to have antioxidant properties, which essentially means that it helps protect cells from damage by free radicals in the body.
Growing up, my mom always looked forward to the first tomato harvest of summer. When the time came, she would slice one up, sprinkle it with a little salt, and eat it standing over the kitchen counter. I didn’t appreciate the simplicity of this snack until I grew older and now it’s one of my favorite ways to enjoy tomato season.
As far as fruits and vegetables go, tomatoes can really do it all. They are great in salads, soups, sandwiches, salsa, pastas, curries, and even make great tarts. And, they are great at every meal. Tomatoes are the star in this shakshuka breakfast recipe. They are a delicious addition to any salad, especially grain salads like this roasted tomato quinoa salad. And for dinner, slice up some juicy tomatoes to make a classic margherita pizza.
Because tomatoes and herbs go together like peanut butter and jelly, we wanted to share a no-cook, no-fuss summer recipe highlighting this dynamic duo. Meet our Herb Whipped Goat Cheese with Marinated Tomatoes recipe.
Tracee Hume is a Registered Dietitian and Bozeman-based Communications Coordinator for Abundant Montana. She loves making a mess in her kitchen, but doesn’t love cleaning it up. Send her your favorite recipes at [email protected]!