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AGRICULTURE REPORT — August 25, 2003: Growing Tomatoes - 2003-08-23

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Plant scientists consider them fruit. Most other people think of them as vegetables. Whatever you call tomatoes, there are many different kinds of this popular and healthy food.

Each plant can produce about four to seven kilograms of fruit. Growers can harvest a big crop with little space. Full plants with fruit take about eighty days to grow from seed. Cold weather can damage young plants, so they are often grown inside for four to six weeks.

A tomato plant can grow several thick stems from its base. Only two or three stems should be kept. From the stems come smaller growths called suckers. New suckers that grow between the stems should be removed. There should be a full meter between plants with three stems, a little less for plants with two stems.

There are two general groups of plants. Small tomato plants grow to about one meter. They can be planted rather close together. Some short kinds do not require special care and are often harvested by machines.

Large tomato plants can grow over two meters tall. They also provide larger fruit. These plants need support. One method uses wires run along both sides of a row of plants. The wires help hold the suckers and fruit. The wiring is secured to strong posts on either side of the row. The wires are raised as the plants and fruit grow.

People who grow only a few plants can place wire cages around each one. The cage can be made of wire fence material. The cage helps the plant grow taller and to produce a bigger crop.

Tomatoes often need extra calcium, or the fruit may be ruined. Adding lime to the soil can prevent this problem.

Dry conditions may also ruin fruit. Tomatoes need water regularly. The soil should never dry out completely. Dried grass or leaves placed around the plant can help keep the soil wet and control unwanted plants.

Tomatoes are native to South America. The tomato is a member of the potato family. Like its relatives, the leaves of the plant are poisonous. Before the middle of the eighteen-hundreds, people only grew tomatoes as pretty plants. They called the bright red fruit a "love apple," but would not eat it.

The North Carolina State University Web site has more about growing tomatoes. The address is You can also find a link on our site,

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter.