June 1, 2015

Plant This: Green Zebra Tomatoes - Photo by Kevin Fogle (UrbanFarmOnline.com) 

Want to grow a funky-looking tomato in your garden this year? Turn your eyes to the Green Zebra tomato. This cultivar developed in the second half of the 20th century and was bred from several earlier heirloom varieties. While there’s some debate whether this tomato cultivar is old enough to qualify as a heirloom, there is no contention about its remarkable beauty and luscious flavor.

Named for its unusual dark- and lime-green stripes that stay green even when ripe, the Green Zebra is an indeterminate tomato variety that produces a medium yield of small globe-shaped fruit no greater than 2 to 3 inches in diameter. It has a nicely balanced semi-sweet flavor that makes it perfect in salsas or fresh salads and provides an unexpectedly tasty fried green tomato.

Like most tomatoes, the Green Zebra is relatively simple to grow and should be started indoors from seed or purchased as live starts from your local garden center. Space plants about 2 feet apart in the garden, and stake or cage them soon after planting to support their 5- to 6-foot height and avoid damaging the delicate root systems. Green Zebras can also be successfully grown in large containers. Water daily or as needed to ensure even moisture levels, which will help prevent the fruit from cracking and developing the dreaded blossom-end rot.

The real challenge with these unique tomatoes is knowing when the green fruit is ripe and ready to be harvested. There are several cues that can help. As the tomatoes ripen, the light-green stripes on the fruit will gradually turn yellowish. They’ll also become slightly less firm, producing some give when gently pressed with your thumb—similar to testing for ripe avocados. If you like your tomatoes slightly more acidic pick them a little early. If left on the vine too long, they tend to get sweeter but also turn a little mealy.

Also consider planting a close cousin, such as Red Zebra or Black Zebra tomatoes, which can make for interesting visual pairing in any garden, big or small.

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