Tomatillos (also called Mexican green tomatoes) are small, round fruits that grow on a vine. They look like little green tomatoes with the husk still attached to them. The fruit is covered in papery skin and has a slightly sour taste. It’s also known as “green tomato” or “poblano”.
Tomatillos have been cultivated for thousands of years in Mexico. In ancient times they were used as food for children and pregnant women because their high vitamin C content made them safe during pregnancy.
Today, they’re grown commercially in many parts of the world with a warm climate and good sunlight exposure. In order to grow tomatillos properly, it is important to understand how a tomatillo plant grows, and how to care for it.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the different varieties, how the plant grows and produces fruit, some details on how to harvest tomatillos, and some tips and guidelines you’ll find useful if you’re planning on planting tomatillos.
There are different types of tomatillos depending on their fruit color. Green varieties include: Rindidora, (upright growth; high yields), Giante, Tamayo, Tomato Verde, and Gullivere hybrid have more sprawling growth habits than upright varieties.
There are also the Purple tomatillos which are generally sweeter than green varieties. They are also more nutrient-rich and contain anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants. Purple varieties include purple cobbler, purple de milpa, and purple hybrid.
Choose varieties that fit your growing environment, primary use, and available garden space. Most varieties will grow in warm climates with full sun exposure.
Most garden centers and nurseries offer a limited selection of varieties, which have been proven to do well in your location. You might need to buy seeds and grow your own transplanted plants to get a specific type of plant you want.
The time requirement for a tomatillo plant to start producing fruit can differ from one variety of the plant to another and depends also on the climate, soil pH as well as the care for the plant. Usually, this will take 65 to 100 days in order for the variety to grow and produce ripe fruit.
How do Tomatillos grow?
Growing tomatillos resemble to tomatoes because they produce both roots along their stems, so they profit from being planted deeply in a garden. The indeterminate plants grow 3 to 4 ft tall and at least as big as they are wide, so space them 3 ft apart in rows 3 to 5 ft apart.
Growing tomatillos takes patience. It can be very slow to fruit. (You may even want to hand pollinate them if you’re impatient.) But once they get going, look out! The plants can become very heavy once the tomatillos start to develop.
If you plan to grow tomatillos in pots, you’ll need to provide them with some kind of support, such as trellises or tomato stakes. You need two to four plants to get enough fresh herbs to use in cooking.
Tomatillo plants are hugely prolific and produce continuously until they’re knocked down by frost. First, spread two to three inches of organic mulch (such as grass clippings) on top of the soil to suppress weeds and keep it moist.
Tomatillos need moderate amounts of water. They do well when they receive an inch or so of rain per week. If space is limited and you want to keep the plants small, pinch off the growing tip to stop the plant from spreading. You don’t need much fertilizer.
When to harvest tomatillos?
Tomatillo harvesting typically begins 75 to 100 days after planting. Choose a full sun location with well-drained soil. The plants require even moisture, especially after fruits begin to form.
Tomatillos are usually harvested when a specific state is achieved. The papery husk becomes green in color, then tan. As soon as the husk begins to split, the fruit becomes ready to harvest.
The fruit color will be bright under the husk (green, yellow or purple, depending on the variety); a dull gloss however is mostly the sign of an overripe fruit. The size of the tomatillo is also important to consider, as smaller fruits tend to be sweeter.
A mature tomatillo is slightly bigger than a cherry tomato. To keep the harvesting optimal and yield the most of a tomatillo plant, it’s preferable to begin harvest 65 to 100 days after planting and to harvest tomatillos at weekly or bi-weekly intervals. Thereby, the plant keeps producing
How To Harvest Tomatillos?
It’s always preferable to use a pair of garden scissors or a pruner. For tomatillos, this piece of equipment provides the light twist required to pick ripe tomatillos without damaging the plant. They can also be detached by hand, with very little force.
Most tomatillo fruits would fall from the plant before they’re fully ripe, although it’s not always the case. It’s better to cut tomatillos off with a little bit of stem still attached to the fruit.
Ripe tomatillos have a smooth texture under the husk. In case it is sticky, it can be washed in water. Although, you should check for molds or insect damage.
Tomatillo fruits can ripen at varying intervals, so make sure to only pick the fully mature ones. Unripe tomatillos are not ready to harvest and should not be picked, rather left to mature for a few weeks before picking.
What happens if you don’t harvest Tomatillos?
Unpicked tomatillos are overripe fruits, and can often become inedible if left unpicked for a while. Overripe tomatillos will slightly change color. Mildly overripe tomatillos are yellowish-green, and can often have a milder taste and flavor, and softer flesh.
Most mildly overripe tomatillos can still be used, and there are recipes and uses specifically for overripe tomatillos, or else they can be composted.
FAQs About Harvesting Tomatillos
How often To Harvest Tomatillos?
Tomatillos can generally take 2 to 3 months to ripen fully after being planted. When harvest begins, tomatillos are generally picked at 7 to 14-day intervals. The fruits do not always grow at the same pace, this is one of the eccentricities of a tomatillo plant. The picking intervals in harvest allow the plant to keep producing, and the other fruits to ripen fully, without interrupting the process.
Should I wash Tomatillos after harvest?
As with any type of crop and produce, washing is always a necessity. For tomatillos, this arises mainly when the skin of a ripe tomatillo does not have a smooth glossy texture. The fruit can sometimes be vicious or slightly blemished under the husk.
When the tomatillo leaves have been extracted, they contain ripe fruit that has been covered. This should be removed immediately when using your tomatillos. After you get rid of the husks simply run warm water through the tomatillos. Use a gentle wiping cloth on fruit and make sure there is no skin irritation. They are mainly used in preserving tomatillos and protecting their skin from insect bites and moisture loss. After ripening the fruit, the husk is still protected by the stickiness of the fruit. If you’ll never consume tomatillos immediately, keep them in your refrigerator.
What does a Ripe Tomatillo look like?
Ripe tomatillos often fall from the plant before they fully grow. Nevertheless, the color, size, and texture of the tomatillo fruit are the main distinguishers of a ripe tomatillo.
Ripe fruits will begin showing cracks in the husk. The latter will be thin and fragile and would fall apart quickly. Fully ripe tomatillos will be firm and the fruit turns yellow or purple. The tomatillo fruit itself will have a smooth texture and blemish-free texture.
The color depends on the variety, and would usually be bright green, yellow or purple. The color is usually consistent on a tomatillo fruit, patches of coloring are not uncommon, and can usually be washed away.
How do I know when my Tomatillos are ready to pick?
It’s always better to closely inspect your garden and the tomatillo plant. Considering the requirements of successfully growing and harvesting tomatillos, good care of the tomatillo plant can greatly impact the harvest time, yield, and fruit quality.
Tomatillo fruits are consistent in color and density. The size of a fully grown tomatillo is slightly larger than a cherry tomato. When the fruit grows to that size, it is then close to ripening fully. The papery husk becomes thin and decomposes quickly, revealing the fruit underneath. Bright and glossy color and a slightly firm fruit tell you that the tomatillo is fully ripe and ready to be picked.
Can you eat Tomatillos immediately after harvesting?
As with other fruits and vegetables, tomatillos are good when freshly grown. But if the harvest is good, you won’t want them to die. They can be kept in ‘the refrigerator’ for at least two to three months. Store them in a plastic bag in your freezer.
The best temperature for growing crops is 59-80 degrees with 86 -90% moisture which is the same environment commercial growers aim for. It’s ok to store them in a Ziploc bag and store it in a freezer. Remove all husks to prevent freezer burn. Always wash the tomatillos thoroughly before freezing.
Tomatillos can be eaten cooked, in a salsa, or raw. After harvest, tomatillos are often firm and cooked until tender, which also brings out the full flavor of the fruit. Tomatillo can be eaten raw. In fact, diced raw tomatillos are a popular addition to many salads.
Do tomatillos need cages?
Tomatillos plants are sprawling plants and grow naturally on the ground. Tomatillo plants require some kind of support. Although many have used tomato cages for tomatillos, but this isn’t a necessity. Stakes and trellises can also be used.
Most standard varieties of tomatillos would need 3 to 4 feet (1m to 130cm) tall tomato cages for support. This is also true for stakes when used for tomatillo plants. The support should be placed around the plant in its early stages, to avoid moving the plant to better fit, which can cause some branch damage
How to Store Tomatillos?
Tomatillo fruits are sensitive to cold and prefer heat, however, colder temperatures can help preserve tomatillo fruits. This becomes important when storing the fruit.
Tomatillos can be stored with their papery husks inside a paper bag in a refrigerator. The paper bag retains the moisture, and this can keep the fruit fresh for up to three weeks. It is also possible to preserve them for up to a year. This would require freezing the tomatillos in an airtight freezer bag. You can pre-chop tomatillos or freeze the fruits whole.
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