The tomato, Lycopersicon esculentum, is a part of the nightshade family. It is a warm-season crop that originated in the Americas and was taken to Europe by Spanish conquistadors in the sixteenth century.
Some believe the fruit might have been taken to Europe by Christopher Columbus himself as early as the fifteenth century. Botanically speaking, the tomato is a fruit but was deemed a vegetable in 1893 by the U.S. Supreme Court to clear up a tariff dispute.
Both field- and greenhouse-grown tomatoes for the fresh market are hand-picked, while most bound for processing are harvested by machine.
The world’s top producer of tomatoes is China, in both field-grown and greenhouse varieties. In North America, Canada rules the greenhouse market, followed by Mexico and the United States.
|CANADA||MEXICO||UNITED STATES||OTHER INTERNATIONAL|
San Luis Potosí
*includes Baja California and Baja California Sur.
References: Asociatión Mexicana de Horticultura Protegida (AMHPAC); Gary Hickman, Cuesta Roble Consulting; Roberta Cook (formerly of University of California, Davis), Statistics Canada, USDA.
Types & Varieties
Tomatoes can be classified several ways but usually fall into determinate and indeterminate varieties. Determinate varieties grow to a certain height and produce fruit for one cycle; indeterminate varieties require staking and grow throughout the season. Commercially, both determinate and indeterminate varieties are used.
Cultivars for greenhouses tend to be specifically bred and of a heartier nature due to reductions (15 to 20%) in light and with some seeds tailored to geographic location. Target harvests can range from 25 to 45 pounds of fruit per plant during a 10- to 12-month growing season.
Greenhouse-grown, like open-field tomatoes, come in several shapes, sizes, and colors. Standard sizes include the most common, the round or globe, as well as cherry, grape/plum, or pear/teardrop cultivars.
Cherry tomatoes are small and range in size from one to two inches in diameter; beefsteak tomatoes are large, wide, and somewhat flat-looking.
Grape, plum, or pear tomatoes have smooth skin and are shaped as their names imply.
Colors are no longer limited to traditional red, there are also white, yellow/orange, green, brown, pink, and even purple/black.
The USDA categorizes tomatoes as greenhouse, fresh, cherry, or on-the-vine.
Most greenhouse tomatoes are grown in one- or two-season crop cycles, often depending on location. Growers in the southern portion of the United States avoid July and August, when sunlight and high temperatures make it cost-prohibitive to cool structures.
The opposite occurs in the U.S. Midwest and Canada during the harshest winter months (generally December to February), when it is difficult to maintain adequate light and heat.
Greenhouse tomatoes need at least 4 square feet per plant or about 10,000 plants per acre, as higher density—and the resultant loss of sunlight—can cause lower yields and promote disease when pest treatments cannot reach all foliage.
Plants can be grown in a variety of media, including soil-less (hydroponic or aeroponic), sand, bark, peat, perlite, rock wool, and straw to name a few.
Structures range from bags and nutrient film to plastic piping and trellises or troughs. Greenhouse tomatoes are collected by hand throughout the harvesting period.