Image by Clay Irving
By Bonnie L. Grant
Tomatillos are related to tomatoes, which are in the Nightshade family. They are similar in shape but are ripe when green, yellow or purple and have a husk around the fruit. The fruits are borne on warm season plants and from inside the husk. You can tell when to pick a tomatillo by watching for the husk to burst. Growing and harvesting tomatillo fruits will enhance your culinary range and provide nutrients and variety to your diet.
Plant tomatillos from seed in warmer climates or start them indoors 6 weeks before the last expected frost. Tomatillo harvesting typically begins 75 to 100 days after planting.
How to Tell if a Tomatillo is Ripe
Cultivation in the United States of the plant only began in the 1980s. The relative newness of the plant means it is unknown to many gardeners. If this is your first time growing the fruit, you may wonder how to tell if a tomatillo is ripe.
The color of the fruit isn’t a good indicator because each variety matures to a different hue. The early green fruits have the most tang and flavor and mellow out as they age. The best indicator for when to pick a tomatillo is the husk. Fully ripe tomatillos will be firm and the fruit turns yellow or purple.
How to Harvest Tomatillos
Tomatillo harvesting is best when the fruits are green because they contain the most flavor. It is important to know how to harvest tomatillos to enhance continued fruiting. Choose fruits that have burst their husk and have no signs of disease, mold or insect damage. Remove and compost any damaged fruits. Cut the fruits off the plant to avoid harming the stems and other fruit.
When to Harvest Tomatillos
Harvesting tomatillo fruits is best done in the morning from mid-summer well into fall. To know when to pick a tomatillo, watch the husk on the outside. The plant produces papery shells and the fruit grows to fill the husk.
As soon as the dry exterior splits, it is time for tomatillo harvesting. Once you know when to harvest tomatillos you will need to decide how to use them. Tomatillos store well in a cool, dry location. They can hold for several weeks in this manner. For longer storage, can or freeze the fruits.
How to Use Tomatillos
Tomatillos are slightly more acidic and citrusy than tomatoes, but can be substituted in dishes where you use the juicy, red fruits. Tomatillos make a delightful pureed sauce to pour over enchiladas. They are excellent fresh in salads or make a “sopa verda.”
Each medium sized tomatillo has only 11 calories and 4 milligrams of Vitamin C, so why not try growing tomatillos in your garden as part of a healthy diet.