Friday, May 29, 2015


Late season picking for preserving as tomato sauce.

What is the best tomato to grow in your garden?  For every tomato eating person in the world, there’s a different criteria.  Criteria may involve:

ü Do you like sweet or tart?
ü Do you only eat fresh in salads?
ü Do you have a big vegetable garden or put them in pots?
ü Do you plan to can/freeze/preserve?

Answer these and the other ten thousand questions and you know what kind of tomato plant to buy. 

Cherokee Purple tomato (pic from the web)
I was recently asked where I buy my tomato plants.  My answer is I buy the healthiest most common tomato varieties at the cheapest nearby store.  For heirloom or for specific uses/tastes, I hunt out what our local nurseries carry.

I don’t put in a huge garden anymore but I still want variety.  I buy a couple of traditional-big-round-perfect tomato type plants such as “Brandywine”, “Better Boy”, “Sun Gold”, “Big Beef”, “Early Girl” or “Mortgage Lifter”.  Many of these great old standards are now classified as heirlooms.

This is the stage where your
taste buds begin to go crazy.
For variety, I sometimes add a miniature tomato such as “Sweet Hundred” or one of the pear shaped tomatoes.  Caution:  Many pear and grape tomatoes will self-seed like crazy bringing you tomato plants for years to come.  Not all bad!

For those of you who like to make your own sauces and relishes:  “Roma” and “Amish Paste” both are full of acidity and flavor.   Choosing a smooth skinned tomato makes peeling easier and you want lots of meaty flesh.

Most yellow and some orange tomatoes have the least acidity, making them not only beautiful but also good for folks who can’t tolerate such high levels.  They turn cooked sauces lighter and you will need to add acidity in another form if you preserve through canning.

Making tomato juice.

I always plant a few heirloom tomatoes because they are so flavorful and it’s fun to taste something a little different.  “Cherokee Purple” is always one of my favorites and easy to find.  Others:  “Black Krim”,  “Giant Pink Belgium” and many more.  Each local nursery has their favorites – tell them what qualities you want and they can recommend some beauties.

The deal with the variety of tomatoes you choose to plant is to experiment with something new every year.  It’s like waiting 72 days to unwrap a surprise Christmas present! 

Sweet tasting tomatoes are a little less acidic and are best eaten fresh off the vine.  Varieties known as the sweetest of the sweet:  Most grape tomatoes, “Mr. Stripey”, “Mighty Sweet”, “Sweet Baby Girl”, “Big Boy” and “Sugar Snack”.

Love the feeling when these babies are done!
For unusual flavors consider the sweet smoky flavored cherry tomato “Sunchocola”.  “Japanese Black Trifele” is a pear shaped variety with deep, chocolate, smokey rich flavors.  “Green Zebra” has a tangy and zingy flavor.  “Black Krim” has an intense slightly salty taste.   

Most folks like a balance of sweet/tart and those are often times the most popular and easiest to find in stores.  

A good on-line informational site is  Some commercial sites will not only have information but they tend to push whatever they are selling which can lead to some misinformation.  Unless you raise your garden tomatoes from seed, I would stick to local nurseries,  stores, produce farms and farmers’ markets for both plants and ready-to-eat tomatoes.

I’ve listed only a very few of the great varieties available.  Some of the older heirloom varieties don’t have disease resistance.  These may require more vigilant monitoring and extra effort to keep them healthy.  They are worth the effort. 

Not all varieties do well every year in every situation.  Experiment, include several varieties every year to make sure some will do well and care for them like your first-born.  Fresh tomatoes are a true blessing in this area of the country – embrace your blessings.

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