Tomatillos originate from Mexico where they are a staple of the diet – equivalent to our tomato. They are easy to grow in the UK, suitable for growing in large pots or in open ground.
Although they look like a green tomato, they taste more like a green pepper combined with fruity lime juice. They make delicious salsa and soup.
- March – April
- Planting depth: Surface sow / fine covering
- Planting spacing: 100 cm between plants, 100 cm rows
- August – October
- In fridge with husks on, or turn into salsas or soups and freeze
Tomatillos are a relative of the inca berry. Tomatillos grow inside a hood or husk, and are ready for harvesting when they fill the husk – about the size of a golf ball.
Tomatillos are at their best harvested when young and green. This is when they have a fresh, crunchy taste and texture. If left to mature, they will turn purple and are more suitable for making jam.
Compared to the tomato, tomatillos contain less sugar and are therefore not as sweet, which is why they are used more for salsa and soup making.
Tomatillo plants produce a high yield of fruit. For a family of four, two to four plants is normally sufficient. Tomatillo plants are not self fertile. For pollination and to secure a harvest, a minimum of two plants is required.
Although suitable for growing outside, tomatillo seed needs to be sown like for tomatoes, indoors in early spring. A heated propagator or sunny windowsill is ideal.
The young plants are frost sensitive and need a protective growing environment until all risk of frost has passed. Growing on inside a greenhouse, polytunnel, or plastic greenhouse is ideal.
The plants will eventually require a big pot or growing space – plant the seedlings deeply as the buried stem will also produce roots. Provide a rich soil by mixing in homemade compost or some well rotted manure.
Plant outside when all risk of frost has passed. Allow at least 1 metre per plant in all directions. This is because a tomatillo plant spreads its branches in all directions, and unlike tomatoes, no pruning is require. Keeping all the branches significantly increases yield.
A tomatillo harvest will be on its way soon after the blooming of its bright yellow flowers.
After pollination from a neighbouring tomatillo plant, these flowers will be followed by the formation of green hoods, inside of which will grow the little green fruit.
Tomatillos should be available to harvest from late July onwards. Squeeze the paper husks to check that the tomatillo is of a size suitable for harvesting. For best flavour, harvest tomatillos whilst they are a fresh, bright green colour.
It is easy to buy tomatillo seeds in the UK, but finding a range of varieties to choose from is more difficult.