It's been a good year for tomatoes in my garden. I've canned, frozen and juiced lots of fruits, so I'm all set for winter. But there's more to tomatoes than just the garden variety hybrids and heirlooms. One of the best tomato relatives to grow is the tomatillo.
Tomatillos have been grown almost as long as tomatoes in their native Central America. They're also called the husk tomato because they have a papery husk surrounding the green- or purple-colored fruit inside. Unlike the ground cherry, which has a small, cherry-sized yellow fruit inside a papery husk and is eaten raw, tomatillos are larger and mostly used in cooking. The sweet, citrusy flavored fruits add a zip to salsa, chili and salads.
Unless you plan on making lots of salsa and Mexican food, you'll only need a few plants. Tomatillos, like tomatoes, are prolific. The two main varieties are 'Toma Verde' with green fruits and 'De Milpa' with purple skins. Purple tomatillos are a little sweeter.
Grow tomatillos as you would tomatoes. Start from seed grown under grow lights or from seedlings purchased at a local garden center. Unlike most tomatoes, tomatillos are a bushy two-to-three foot tall plant, so give them some room to sprawl. Keep the plants well-watered and fertilized all summer and watch out for tomato family pests.
Harvest fruits when the papery skins turn tan-colored and split, but the fruits are still firm. Peel off the husk and wash the fruits with soapy water to remove any remaining husk. Use immediately or store in a paper bag in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. If frost is threatening, like tomatoes, harvest immature tomatillos to ripen indoors.
Now for this week's tip: cut panicle hydrangeas now for drying and using in flower arrangements. Cut a six-to-ten inch long stem, and hang it, upside down, in a well-ventilated shed or garage. Once dry, arrange the flowers in a vase with other dried flowers such as strawflower and status.