I remember when I saw my first tomatillo as a kid. It is a strange-looking fruit. It was fun to peel open the green sheathes to find small green fruits. There were no adults around to tell me it was edible and since it wasn’t sweet, I didn’t explore it too much. I figured it was poison. Tomatillos are part of the very poisonous nightshade family (along with tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant…) so the wild versions of tomatillo may just be borderline poisonous as is true of many edible nightshades. It takes human selection sometimes to render plants edible. As an adult I have come to love and know tomatillo as more than the strange plant in the neighborhood, especially since my girlfriend makes the best tomatillo salsa ever…
Start seeds indoors in January or February. Plant out in March and protect from frost.
Tomatillos are grown in much the same way as tomatoes. However, I find tomatillos to be more sensitive to over-feeding. Too much nitrogen in the soil yields copious leaf and branch production and no fruits. You must watch this. Make sure lots of phosphorous is in the soil. Prepare soil with bone meal or any other organic plant/soil food that is low in nitrogen and higher in phosphorus–if you see the three numbers on an organic (or any) fertilizer, the first number represents nitrogen (promotes leafy growth) and the second number represents phosphorus (promotes flower, fruit and root production). The third number represents potassium which is something we generally don’t have shortage of in Tucson. Potassium promotes cold tolerance in plants, activates enzymes, and helps fruit of plants good quality.
Just make sure plants have enough phosphorus and not too much nitrogen. Tomatillos love basic garden soil, and full sun. Give them room because they can sprawl out quite a bit. give each plant at least 2 feet. Some support is nice for the plants like tomato cages, but plants can be allowed to sprawl out on their own if you have the room.
Don’t plant with fennel, dill, potato, or beans.
You will know if fruit is ripe when husks begin to split. The fruit will also fill up the inside of the husk.
The seed can be easy to get unless you are looking for variety. I find that many of my trustworthy sources fail me here. Reimer Seeds is a company I sometimes forget about until I am looking for something like this. They have the best variety of tomatillos right now. As with many new world crops there are many varieties we don’t get in the U.S. yet. So keep your eyes out. There are also some relatives to look out for like cape gooseberry or Poha Berry (Physalis peruviana) which is sweet and delicious. Kitazawa Seed has seed of these.