Welcome back from the Thanksgiving smorgasboard everyone! I, for one, am still full and have a whole tray of turkey leftovers waiting for me. Oy! The Christmas tree is up and the house is now fully Holiday-ized. The first of the seed catalogs arrived shortly before Thanksgiving (High Mowing Organics), so I figured I’d better get started!
I’m going to officially kick off the “Let’s Talk Veggies” series with the one veg that everyone grows- be it on 40 acres or a balcony container garden: Tomatoes.
I find choosing tomato varieties to be among the hardest task to sort out come seed catalog season. There are just SO MANY varieties and the list of adjectives used would stretch to the moon and back. How do you sort out what all those words really mean and how will it translate to your own garden?
Time to maturity: Most tomatoes mature in 80 days or less, so most varieties should be okay for gardeners like myself and all but the coldest climate gardeners.
Use: How are you going to eat these guys? Do you want to make salsa or tomato sauce? Are they fresh for salads or fresh for slicing. There is a tomato (or 20) for your needs!
- Paste type tomato varieties are lower in liquid and high in fleshy goodness that makes for delicious, robust sauces. Look for terms like sauce, paste, meaty, and robust.
- Think Amish Paste, San Marzano, Hungarian Heart, Rebekah Allen
- Slicers like Beefsteaks are great varieties for sandwiches and fresh use. You’ll see terms like slicing or fresh use.
- Think Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, German Pink
- Cherry/Grape tomatoes are pretty self-explanatory. Just look for a plant that won’t get too big or rangy and has strong flavors. I tend to stay away from the smaller Currant types as they are an absolute PAIN to pick and will self-seed everywhere when you inevitably can’t harvest all of them.
- Think Black Cherry, Blush
- All Purpose tomatoes are ones, by my definition, that aren’t specified as paste or slicers necessarily. I tend to put these in fresh use primarily, but they are the most likely to have markedly unique flavors and colors.
- Think Green Zebra, Wapsipinicon Peach
Every one of the varieties I listed above are ones I’ve grown in my own garden. I’ve left out the varieties I’ve not been thrilled with and only listed the ones I’ve had good success with- meaning good yields, low disease issues, a great taste here in Zone 4.
Key Words: I like to look for key words that describe what I want in my tomato. It seems simple, but there are subtle differences. Do you want bright, acidic flavors or mellow sweet ones? Do you want boatloads- look for heavy producer in the description. I also like to keep an eye out for the size of the fruit. Too small and they are useless on a BLT, too big and they get huge cores and are hard to wrangle. I always (always) look for information on cracking. I hate cracked tomatoes and if a variety is prone to it, I won’t buy it.
- Green Zebra. I grow it every year. Its flavor is superior for salsas and use in fresh salads, pasta salads, etc. I roast it with the others for ‘confit tomatoes‘ that I use all year long. It is fantastic in a salsa verde or green chile sauce. It is bright, acidic and a tiny bit tart. Don’t let them get super yellow though, just wait for the darker green stripes to become pronounced against the slightly yellow body and become tender to the touch.
- German Pink. This is a stellar tasting, easy to grow, all purpose tomato. Delicious on sandwiches and it cooks down beautifully for sauces. A tomatoey tomato to the end. Fantastic for BLTs too!
- Wapsipinicon Peach. They are pale yellow and fuzzy like a peach but are delicious fresh eaters and perfect in salads. This tends to be lower yielding, but since I don’t preserve it, I don’t mind. Its a fresh, summertime delight. The flavor is fruity somehow and is easily one of my favorites.
- Black Cherry. I love, love, LOVE the flavor of these. They can be prone to cracking, but are usually good producers, not too lanky, and so flavorful you’ll want to add them to everything you cook.
I do love to try new varieties every year. Usually just one or two, unless I’m doing a seed trial, then four. But have fun with these! Seeds are cheap if you don’t mind growing your own. If you have a great nursery with lots of varieties, do your research before you go. Many taste surprisingly different and if you narrow down your choices to ones that fit your own criteria (size of plant, size of fruit, type of fruit, blight resistant) you should have pretty good luck.
Last year was an abomination for tomatoes, so I plan to re-try some varieties that failed last year and hope they do better this coming year.
Here’s the list of what I’ve grown (and what is residing in my seed storage box):
- Moskovich: Middling producer last year, will try again in the hopes that it will be a good all-purpose tomato.
- Blush: Larger than a grape/sherry variety, pretty yellow color, bright flavor, will absolutely grow again.
- Tomato Napa Chardonnay Blush: Couldn’t get it to germinate last year, will try again.
- Black Vernissage: Didn’t grow, free variety from Baker Creek. May try this year.
- Mom’s Heirloom: I’ve no idea what this variety actually is, its just a delicious tomato my mom saved the seeds from and I grow it every year.
- German Pink: see above
- St. Pierre: Terrible luck last year, should be a good tomatoey mid-sized fruit, perhaps will try again as the flavor is supposed to be delicious.
- Rebekah Allen: Big producer, great paste tomato.
- Green Zebra: see above
- Black Krim: Bad luck with this one last year, will try again to see if it can replace Cherokee Purple.
- Cherokee Purple: Beautiful fruit and good producer but very prone to splitting for me.
- Wapsipinicon Peach: see above
- Italian Heirloom: Decent producer, solid flavor, just not my favorite.
- Sweet Pea Currant: Delicious little marbles of tomato, but a PAIN IN THE ASS to harvest.
- Dixie Golden: Fair producer, underwhelming taste when I grew it, prone to splitting
- Amish Paste: Good, big tomatoes. Great for sauces and preserving.
- Hungarian Heart: Another huge (HUGE) tomato with loads of flesh, great for sauces.
- Orange Icicle: Very mild flavor and split like the Dickens, won’t grow this one again.
- Pink Brandywine: I prefer this one as a fresh eater for sandwiches. Very large fruit.
- Striped Roman: These are my favorite for sauce as they never have a huge core and their flavor is tremendous. They don’t crack easily and the plants are prolific.
- Black Cherry: see above
- Riesentraube: Cherry type, decent flavor. Big, rangey plants.
- Woodle Orange: Delicious orange tomato, mid-sized fruit, will likely grow again next year.
Now its your turn! What varieties do you grown and love? How do you pick your favorites and what did I miss? I can’t wait to hear your feedback!