Although most vegetable research is conducted at the NMSU gardens just west of the university, Leyendecker has several plantings. One, on the side of a greenhouse, shows the effects of water running downhill. Inside, with controlled temperature and moisture, tomato plants are stronger and healthier. A third, surprise planting is west of the Weed Garden, where healthy, happy tomato plants are growing against a white wall.
Growing tomatoes in southern New Mexico is difficult. Tomatoes like light and warmth but not at desert intensities. They prefer moderately moist growing environments. And while gentle winds help tomato stems grow stronger, they are allergic to the local version that gusts to 50 miles per hour. But aficionados persevere. Deliciously ripe choices come from local greenhouses, appearing in places like the Toucan and Mountain View markets. Some backyard gardeners have exemplary results.
Besides their deliciousness and the gustatory joy they bring, tomatoes are important in preventing many devastating illnesses. Tomatoes figure prominently in the list of foods in the Mediterranean Diet that has been the subject of research since the early nineties. It was first described by Dr. Ancel Keys, but received little attention until recently, when coronary heart disease has become epidemic.
After much research into the precise nature of fats and their effects on human health, lycopene-rich tomatoes have been found to be “one of the most potent antioxidants among dietary carotenoids “ (carotenoids give yellow, orange and red fruits and vegetables their color). Further, the lycopene is better absorbed when the tomatoes are cooked with a little oil and heated. This causes the shape of the lycopene to change from a linear to a bent form. The bent form is more easily absorbed. Additional research indicates that yellow and orange tomatoes, which contain more of the circular form naturally, actually raise lycopene blood levels higher because of this difference.
The public is encouraged to come and "’Celebrate the Past, Plan for the Future’ with NMSU” on August 25th 2012, when the Leyendecker Plant Science Center will host a Centennial Field Day.