Many of us know there’s nothing better than a fresh tomato sandwich on a hot, summer day. Tomatoes are now in season in our area and are often a staple with many of our summer cookouts and meals.
North Carolina ranks ninth nationally in tomato production, growing 96 million pounds of tomatoes in 2018. Although tomato production is across the entire state, most tomato production in North Carolina occurs in the western part of the state with Henderson County being NC’s top tomato-producing county (NCSU, 2018). An estimated 3,000 acres of tomatoes were planted in NC in 2017 with a value of $41,794 (NCDA, 2018). In 2012, NC counted 1,496 farms growing tomatoes to sell.
When looking at the United States, the top three tomato producing states are California, Florida and Indiana. Worldwide, China is the largest producer of tomatoes, with the U.S. coming in second and India third.
Tomatoes grown for production are either grown in the field or in a greenhouse. Field tomatoes are typically planted as the chance of a spring frost ends, around mid-April in Wayne County and are grown through September and even into October, depending on how early we get a first fall frost. Greenhouse tomatoes are often grown to allow growers to extend the tomato season and to have tomatoes available for an extended time during the year.
Since tomatoes have seeds and grow from a flowering plant, it actually should be classified as a fruit instead of a vegetable. Originally, tomatoes came from Peru and were first brought to Europe in the mid-1500s.
There are over 10,000 tomato varieties grown around the world. Several popular varieties were developed through NC State’s tomato breeding program, including Mountain Pride, Mountain Fresh, and Mountain Spring.
Tomatoes can be harvested after the fruit color begins to change but before it is fully ripe. Do not refrigerate tomatoes but instead allow them to ripen fully indoors at room temperature. Tomatoes will finish ripening on your kitchen counter if they were not fully ripe when picked. Light is not necessary for ripening mature tomatoes.
Be sure to include fresh, local tomatoes with your summertime meals and celebrate the season by purchasing fresh, local tomatoes. Several vendors at the Farm Credit Farmers Market now have tomatoes for sell. The market is open on Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The market is located behind The Maxwell Center at 3114 Wayne Memorial Drive, Goldsboro.
Jessica Strickland is an agriculture extension agent, specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.