Friday, September 15, 2017

Growing Tomatilloes

The tomatilllo  (Physalis philadelphica) is little known in American gardens.  This flavorful fruit, also know as a Mexican Husk Tomato, is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves, however.  

Tomatilloes are green or purple fruits that are used in salsa verde and other green sauces in Mexican cuisine.  These fruits are excellent however, sliced and lightly roasted on almost any starchy food.  Our favorite use is to slice them and place them on top of pizza (before baking), a recipe we call Pizza Victoria.  

Tomatilloes will likely grow anywhere tomatoes grow (far north of Mexico).  Our experience described below was at our test garden in central Indiana, hardly a balmy climate.  

Tomatilloes can seem difficult to grow - and indeed they may be without the Waterboxx.  Like most nightshade family plants, tomatilloes need very consistent watering.  With raised bed gardening, it is very hard to keep consistent water to the roots of the plant.  An ingenious gardening device, the Groasis Waterboxx, changes that.  

Two tomatillo plants growing in a Waterboxx in a raised bed.  Without any supplemental watering, these two plants produced over 200 fruit!
Tomatilloes must be grown from seed.  There are many seed suppliers on line.  Almost all of these seeds are heirloom, meaning you will not need to buy seed year after year but can just save and dry seed from your plants. The varieties that turn purple has more sweetness than the varieties that are green at maturity.  We recommend the purple variety unless you are only interested in tart salsa verde.

Tomatilloes, just like tomatoes, should be started indoors in a peat pot 6-8 weeks before last frost date.  Once last frost date has passed, they are ready to be transplanted outside.

To plant outside, first slightly moisten the soil and add any desired fertilizer.  Then take an assembled Waterboxx with two wicks, press this down into the soil to leave an indentation.  The raised dirt in the center should form a figure 8.  You will plant one tomatillo at each corner of this figure 8. 

Remove the dirt, plant the tomatillo even with ground level (leaving the peat pot in place), place an evaporation cover and then place the Waterboxx carefully over the tomatillo plants.  Your work is now done!

Three tomatilloes, about 2-3 days from maturity, in their husks (which look like alien pods from a science fiction movie) with the Waterboxx in the background.

The tomatilloes will not need any more care, with the possible exception of staking if your plant gets large, between now and harvest.  Tomatilloes are ready to harvest when the fruit is growing enough to burst out of its husk (or it the fruit falls from the plant).  

A ripe tomatillo, grown without any watering after planting with the Groasis Waterboxx

You can learn more about the Waterboxx at or buy it here

If you would like to learn how to grow plants without watering with the Waterboxx, the best resource is the book The Waterboxx Gardener: How to Mimic Nature, Stop Watering, and Start Enjoying Your Garden available here on  

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