Pick tomatoes frequently…and not just because they’re delicious!
This is a tidbit that my friend Liz reminded me of recently – always pick vegetables daily, and pick as many as you can. You can use them immediately in recipes (like my South of the Border Salad or others) or can them into tomato sauce or juice.
I’d forgotten about this bit of garden wisdom. You see, tomatoes, peppers and other plants that produce “fruits” do so as part of their reproductive cycle. The tomato is the seed container for the tomato plant. When you slice open a tomato, you can see the tiny seeds inside. The same for a pepper, or an eggplant.
The flowers on a tomato plant, pepper, eggplant, cucumber, watermelon, green beans, and so on are the same as the flower on other, more showy plants, like sunflowers. Bees, butterflies and other insects visit, and by visiting the flowers to obtain pollen and nectar, they spread pollen among the flowers. Some plants, like tomatoes and corn, are wind-pollinated. A good breeze moves the pollen from the anther of one flower to the stigma of another, fertilizing it and producing the next generation.
On some flowers, we simply enjoy the seeds, like on this sunflower plant, above. I leave them for the goldfinches to eat, but a careful gardener can cover the seed heads with paper bags and enjoy delicious sunflower seeds.
When you pick the fruits or flowers, the plant senses the loss. All living things strive to reproduce, to share their genes so that their genetic material lives on. It’s the energy of life, the push to reproduce. Among plants, it’s what we as gardeners can harness to encourage an abundance in our garden.
Picking cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers or other produce signals the plant that it is missing its seed-bearing body. In the wild, an animal might graze and eat the fruit or the flower, and the plant must then quickly product another to replace it or else it has lost the window of time for it to reproduce.
In the garden, we mimic this behavior by simply picking tomatoes or what not. The plant doesn’t know that a human picked it or a deer ate it. It just knows it’s missing its seed-bearing container…and it diverts its energy to producing more.
In other words, if you want more tomatoes…pick your tomatoes frequently.
So there you have it. The simple science behind why picking your garden vegetables more frequently actually adds to your garden’s bounty rather than subtracts from it. You can share the excess, can it, or give it away to your local food pantry if you find you have too much…but keep on picking!
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.