Fruit or vegetable, now that is the question! Much confusion exists around tomato’s classification, but that doesn’t make homegrown tomatoes any less delicious. Believed to have originated in South America, the tomato plant has made its way up through Mexico to the US and Canada and even to Europe via Spanish conquistadors, where it has since become a beloved ingredient in all manner of cuisines. While the “fruit” part of the plant is clearly edible, the rest of the plant is, in fact, toxic and should be grown somewhere away from small children and furry friends who have a tendency to explore the world with their taste buds. The tomato plant comes in a plethora of varieties which vary in shape, color, size, and taste, so we recommend investigating all your options and selecting varieties that cater to your preferences prior to growing!
Don’t be fooled by its hue; the Green Zebra tomato remains green in color even when it’s ripe, which can cause some confusion for gardeners. You know when this tomato’s maturing when green horizontal stripes form along its skin (hence the name!). When these stripes start to turn yellow and the bottom of the tomato starts to take on a pinkish hue, it’s time to get picking! The Green Zebra is a mid-season tomato, so don’t expect to get fruits until mid to late summer in most climate zones. Your patience will pay off as its lovely colors and tart, yet sweet flavor never fail to impress!
Seed Depth: 1/4″
Space Between Plants: 18–24″
Space Between Rows: 3–5′
Germination Soil Temperature: 70–90°F
Days for Germination: 6–10
Sow Indoors: 5–7 weeks before average last frost date.
Sow Outdoors: After all danger of frost has passed and soil is at least 65°F. Only recommended if your growing season is long.
Vegetative: Can be easily propagated by taking root or stem cuttings or by layering. Cuttings will root in an aeroponic system or soilless media.
Tomatoes grow best in warm weather and the Green Zebra variety is particularly fond of higher temperatures, especially during the germination period. Be sure that you plant early in areas with short summers to allow time for ripening before the first frost. If your summer is extremely hot (regularly over 90°F), some light shading will help tomatoes stay happy. Not frost tolerant.
Natural: Full sun. Prefers partial afternoon shade in warm weather.
Artificial: Grows best under HID lamps due to their need for tons of light. Use metal halide for the vegetative growth and switch to high pressure sodium when you want the fruit to start forming.
Soil: Prefers a well-drained loamy or sandy soil with a high amount of organic matter. A pH between 6.0 and 6.5 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
SOILLESS: Start seeds and root cuttings using a soilless mix. Mixes with perlite, vermiculite and/or coco coir will keep your growing medium airy, allowing your plants to produce healthy root systems.
Hydroponics: Thrives in a variety of hydroponic systems, including NFT, slab, and media-based systems. Use perlite or mineral wool as the growing medium.
Aeroponics: Cuttings will root in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires moderate levels of water. Once established, they are fairly drought tolerant. Even soil moisture is necessary to prevent cracking fruits and blossom end rot. Avoid getting water on the leaves.
Nutrients: Requires high levels of nutrients. Amend soil with compost and aged manure before planting. Fertilize 3–5 times during the growing season using a balanced liquid fertilizer, compost tea, and/or liquid seaweed.
Pruning: Remove suckers—the auxiliary buds that form at the intersection of leaf and stem—to divert that energy into fruit production.
Mulching: Use mulch to conserve soil moisture. Black landscaping fabric can be helpful in warming the soil more quickly and allowing for earlier planting in addition to suppressing weed populations.
Support: Indeterminate varieties like the Green Zebra require staking, trellis, cages, or another type of support for best results.
Deficiency(s): A calcium deficiency can lead to blossom end rot. To remedy, try adding a small amount of crushed eggshells to the soil around the base of your plant.
Rotation: A 3-year rotation away from all plants in the Solanaceae family is recommended. Plant after a cover crop or nitrogen-fixing legume like peas or beans. If nematodes are a problem, plant after tilling marigolds into the soil.
Companions: Grows well with basil, asparagus, beans, bee balm, borage, carrots, celery, chives, cucumber, garlic, lettuce, marigolds, mint, nasturtium, onion, parsley, pea, pepper, and sow thistle. Avoid dill, corn, kohlrabi, potatoes, apricot, fennel, cabbage, and cauliflower. Don’t plant tomatoes under walnut trees.
HARVEST: Pick fruit at the peak of ripeness when there steps turn yellowish. Check plants daily or every other day to make sure you don’t miss any ripe tomatoes. They don’t need sunlight to ripen, so be sure to reach all the fruits in the middle of the plant. Some gardeners have suggested waiting until the end of the summer to pick the majority of your fruits since being left out in the sun longer can reduce wateriness, making them crisper. If you decide to give this strategy a try, keep a close eye on your plants to ensure that you aren’t losing many of these delectable fruits to rot, especially in humid climates. Wear long sleeves and gloves when harvesting to protect your skin from potential irritation that some people experience after contact with tomato leaves.
Storage: Keep fresh tomatoes at room temperature for 2–3 days for the best taste. Handle gently and store ‘upside down’ with the stems carefully removed. If you can’t eat your entire harvest, we recommend preserving tomatoes rather than refrigerating them, since this alters the texture of the fruit.
Fun Fact: Figuring out whether or not a plant is an heirloom can be a lot trickier than one might think, and the Green Zebra is one such example. In some circles, an heirloom is a plant that’s been passed down between generations of farmers for more than 50 years, while others say a plant must have been kept “true” (open pollinated, not genetically altered) for more than 100 years to be given such distinction. The Green Zebra was created in the 1940s and is open pollinated, which makes it an heirloom to some gardeners, while others feel it’s still got quite a ways to go. Whatever your opinion is, we believe this tomato is worth preserving in all its glory and should be considered an heirloom. After growing it, we’re sure you’ll agree!
Seed Saving: Although there is quite a bit of debate about whether or not the Green Zebra is an heirloom, we recommend saving some seeds if you are a fan of this tomato and experimenting to see if your next crop produces “true” tomatoes. To save heirloom tomato seeds, select tomatoes at their peak ripeness (not too soft and not too firm) that display characteristics you value (e.g., size, shape, color, heartiness, and/or taste). Cut your tomatoes in half, scoop out the seeds and jelly-like liquid inside, and place in a jar. Add about ½ a cup of water and put jar in a dark location for 3—4 days until the seed coatings separate from the seeds. As this happens, viable seeds will sink to the bottom of the jar. If a mold forms on top of your jar, don’t be alarmed! This is a natural part of the process and won’t negatively impact your seeds. Pour off the top layer of the mixture (the mold, seed coatings, etc.) and place the seeds that are left in a strainer and rinse. Lay out seeds on a cookie sheet or coffee filters to dry, and then store in an airtight jar until ready for use!
Preserve: Tomatoes are easy and fun to can as sauce, cubes, or peeled and whole. Green tomatoes can be made into a chutney or salsa and canned or pickled.
Prepare: Can be used to make sauces, salsas, ketchup, and soup, or used raw in salads or on sandwiches. Green tomatoes are delicious sliced, breaded, and fried.
Nutritional: Provides high levels of vitamin(s) A and C. Also a good source of B vitamins, potassium, and calcium.
Medicinal: Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant compound that is currently being investigated for its cancer fighting and cholesterol lowering abilities. Lycopene may also help your skin protect itself from UV damage. Regular consumption may also help protect against heart disease.
Warnings: Tomato leaves can be a skin irritant for some, so wear long sleeves and gloves when harvesting.
Ever wondered how Italian’s make those amazing, tangy marinara sauces? Wonder no more! This Rustic Tomato Marinara is not only easy to make, it incorporates Green Zebra tomatoes that add a wonderful, slightly tart flavor to the sauce that would be sure to impress Strega Nona herself!
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