There are hundreds of different varieties of tomatoes commercially grown in Canada but the varieties originate all around the world. They can be grouped into the following categories based on size, flavour and colour. Tomatoes can be small, like cherry or grape varieties, and range in colour from bright yellow and orange to a rich red. Green tomatoes are usually just unripened red tomatoes, although there are now a few varieties that stay green when fully ripe.
Medium-sized, globe-shaped. Ideal for eating raw.
Roma or Plum:
Plum-shaped and thick-fleshed. Smaller and less juicy than the Round variety. Excellent for preserving, sauces, or making paste.
Similar to Round tomatoes but flatter with fleshier walls and not as juicy. Excellent for both cooking and eating raw. Size varies from small to large.
Cherry or Grape:
Small, sweet tomatoes, ranging from the size of a thumbnail up to a golf ball
How to Buy:
Greenhouse tomatoes should have smooth skins and be heavy for their size, plump, firm, even-shaped. Avoid tomatoes with surface cracks and bruises; however, fine cracks at the stem ends of ripe tomatoes do not affect flavour. Greenhouse tomatoes are red when ripe.Tomatoes continue to ripen after they are picked, thanks to naturally occurring ethylene gas. A fine star-shaped marking on the bottom of a greenhouse tomato will tell you that the tomato has already begun its final ripening process and is a good one to select.
How to Store:
Store greenhouse tomatoes stem side down at a cool room temperature, out of direct sunlight. Ripe tomatoes will keep for a few days and unripe tomatoes will ripen slowly. Do not store tomatoes in the refrigerator as this will decrease flavor and alter texture.
Cut tomatoes into quarters or smaller pieces and lay them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, skin side down. Cover them with plastic and place the cookie sheet in the freezer. Once they have frozen, put the tomatoes in a sealable bag (preferably in a single layer) and remove as much air as possible before putting them in the deep freeze.
You may opt to remove the skins and blanch the tomatoes prior to freezing.
Place the tomatoes in boiling water for 60-90 seconds and, using a slotted spoon, transfer them a bowl of ice water to cool. Skin will slip easily from the flesh. At this point you may keep the tomatoes whole or core them to remove seeds. Place them in sealable freezer bags and push as much air as possible when sealing to avoid freezer burn.
Frozen tomatoes are best used within 3 to 4 months, but they will retain flavour for 12 to 18 months. Frozen tomatoes are best used in soups, stews, pasta dishes, and casseroles as they do not retain their firm structure and will be too mushy to use sliced or adorning a salad.
How to Prepare:
Slicing: Slice tomatoes top to bottom rather than crosswise.
Seeding: Cut the tomato in half crosswise and gently squeeze each half so the seeds drip out. Use a spoon or its handle to scoop out any remaining seeds. If you would like to save the juice, seed into a sieve set over a bowl.
Peeling: Cut an “X” through the tomato skin at the bottom of each tomato. Immerse tomatoes in boiling water for 10-30 seconds, then in cold water and peel them immediately.
Tomatoes are a good source of Vitamin C and a source of Vitamin A, folacin and potassium. They also contain thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and ascorbic acid. A medium-sized tomato has around 25 calories.
How They Are Grown:
The cooler climate and shorter growing season in Canada limits outdoor tomato production; field tomatoes are predominantly grown in southern Ontario. Since the 1990s, the greenhouse tomato industry has grown substantially and now accounts for over 95% of Canadian production. Canada is now the main source of greenhouse tomatoes in North America and tomatoes are our number one produced greenhouse crop. Greenhouse tomatoes produce 10 – 20 times more fruit per square foot than field tomatoes, making them more environmentally friendly and energy efficient. For example, greenhouses only take up 0.01% of BC’s farmland, but are responsible for 11% of BC’s total agriculture production.
Although commonly considered a vegetable, tomatoes are actually a fruit of the tomato vine and in greenhouses these vines are hung vertically. This vertical production system takes up less floor space and allows the growers easier access to the roots to monitor and add water and nutrients. It also puts the tomatoes in a more ergonomic position for harvesting as pickers don’t have to bend over because the fruit is at waist height.
Tomato plants are started in propagation greenhouses where the seeds are planted in small ‘plugs’ of growing medium, often rockwool (a horticultural growing media made from the natural ingredients basalt rock and chalk) and raised to a certain size before being transferred to larger growing boxes and placed in a production greenhouse. Greenhouse growers use a sterilized growing medium like rockwool or sawdust instead of dirt to reduce weeds and disease problems. The growing boxes are outfitted with drip irrigation spigots that deliver fertilized water.
They are then monitored during the growing period and the vines are ‘trained’ upwards with clips on strings. Hives of bees are placed strategically throughout the greenhouse to assist in pollination and help the vines produce fruit. Tomato vines can grow a foot a week and once the vine has the optimal number of branches on it, the growers start removing new branch growth so the plant can put as much energy as possible into growing the fruit. They also need to add new clips to the vine during this growth process to hold it vertical as it continues to grow. It takes up to 72 days for a tomato flower to mature into a ripe tomato and in the summer this can be as few as 45 days because of more sunlight.
When the tomato vines are full of heavy red tomatoes, they are ready to be harvested. The space between the rows of tomatoes are fitted with a track system that transports carts up and down the rows. These carts either hold platforms for pickers to stand on to help them reach the tomatoes or trolly bins that the pickers deposit the tomatoes into after cutting them off the vines. Once harvested, they are shipped to a central warehouse for sorting and grading before being packaged and shipped to the consumer.
Greenhouse tomato production produces much less food waste because the quality is easier to control and monitor whereas in the field, the fruits are more likely to be damaged by weather, bugs, disease, or machinery and not fit for market sale. Therefore, field tomatoes are often grown for processing into canned tomato products, ketchup and juice. They are harvested by special machines that scoop the vines from the ground and separate the fruit from the vine. The plant matter is then deposited back in the field and the tomatoes are transferred by conveyor to a trailer pulled alongside the harvesting equipment. The majority of the unripe green or damaged tomatoes are identified by the machine and dropped back into the field with the plant foliage.
The tomatoes are then shipped to a packing house or processor where they are sorted to remove remaining unripe or damaged fruit, washed, inspected, cooked and turned into tomato products.
Canadian Crop is Available:
- Field Tomatoes – Late July to late September
- Greenhouse tomatoes are produced and available year-round.
- Greenhouse tomatoes are grown in Southern Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.
- Field tomatoes are primarily grown in Ontario.
For more Information:
- BC Greenhouse Growers Association
- les Producteurs en Serre du Quebec
- Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association
- Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers
- Red Hat Co-Op