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BONNIE’S GARDEN – Tomatoes

By Bonnie Pega
Bonnie's Garden

Tis the season—to plant tomatoes

Tomatoes are native to the Americas, like peppers, and were grown by the Aztecs who called the fruits “tomatl”—meaning “plump thing with navel.” Tomatoes are botanically berries, believe it or not!

So which one is the best? Well, I can only tell you my favorites because there are tiny nuances of flavor that some may prefer over another. My advice is to try one new variety every year. That’s how you find your favorite—that’s how I found mine.

And to help you find yours, here is a list of the tomatoes we’ll be carrying this season:

  • Amana Orange: 1 to 2-pound fruits with a mild, sweet flavor. Heirloom.
  • Beefmaster: Meaty and flavorful fruits can weigh up to 2 lbs.
  • Better Boy: Well-known for its disease-resistance and reliable harvests.
  • Big Boy: Large smooth red fruits with good flavor. Bears heaviest in mid-summer but will continue to bear until frost.
  • Black Cherry: Sweet cherry tomatoes with pretty burgundy fruits.
  • Black Krim: 10 to 12 oz. fruits, set well even in the heat. It has a rich flavor with an almost salted undernote. Heirloom.
  • Brandywine: Exceptionally sweet and rich—a consistent winner at taste trials. Large beefsteak-type fruits.  An Amish heirloom.
  • Celebrity:  A favorite for canning and freezing, Celebrity produces a large crop over a short period of time. Good flavor and disease-resistance. Determinate.
  • Cherokee Purple (my favorite): An heirloom from Tennessee with a rich, complex almost smoky flavor. Large nearly one pound burgundy fruits. Heirloom.
  • Early Girl: A reliable early tomato with 4 to 6 oz. fruits.
  • German Johnson: An heirloom from North Carolina and Virginia. Meaty one pound pinkish-red fruits with few seeds.
  • Grape: Long productive vines with clusters of meaty bright red fruits.
  • Hillbilly: 1 to 2 lb. fruits are golden orange with red streaks. A West Virginia heirloom.
  • Juliet: Vigorous vines with clusters of 1-inch bright red grape tomatoes. Resistant to late blight. Indeterminate.
  • Lemon Boy: Bright yellow ½ lb. fruits are mild and sweet.
  • Mortgage Lifter: Large meaty red fruits, reaching up to 2 lbs. Heirloom.
  • Patio: Small 2 ft. tall plants bear 3 to 4 oz. bright red fruits. Determinate.
  • Roma: A popular variety for canning and sauces because of the flavorful meaty fruits. Determinate.
  • Rutgers: Rutgers has been around since the 1920s and is popular for productivity and good flavor. Determinate. Heirloom.
  • San Marzano: A mild meaty Roma-type tomato, particularly good for sauces. Determinate. Heirloom.
  • Sun Sugar (my other favorite): Delicious crack-resistant golden-orange cherry tomatoes on very productive, disease resistant vines.
  • Supersonic:  8 to 12-ounce crack-resistant fruits are meaty and flavorful on vigorous vines offering some disease resistance.
  • SuperSteak: Large 1 to 2 lb. fruits on vigorous disease-resistant vines.
  • Super Sweet 100: Clusters of sweet red cherry tomato on very vigorous disease-resistant vines.
  • Whopper: Productive disease-resistant vines with ½ lb. fruit.
  • Yellow Brandywine: 1 to 2-pound golden yellow fruits with delicious flavor. Heirloom.
  • Yellow Pear: A sweet pear-shaped 1 to 2-inch fruit. Heirloom.

A few things to keep in mind

If you had a disease on your tomatoes last year, DO NOT plant another tomato family member in that spot for at least three years—or they’ll get it again. You can plant cucumbers, squash, etc., just not tomatoes or tomato relatives (which includes potatoes, eggplant, peppers, and tomatillos).

Tomatoes love full sun. Anything less than that and your fruit production will diminish. A good tomato fertilizer will help with productivity. I like Espoma Organic’s Tomato-tone because it has a little extra calcium (and, yes, you can use it on ALL your veggies).

There are determinate and indeterminate tomatoes. An indeterminate tomato is a vine that will continue growing and producing all the way until frost. A majority of tomatoes are indeterminate.   A determinate tomato produces a larger crop at once so is a good choice for canning, freezing or saucing, but generally will not produce all the way to frost. They are usually smaller bush-type plants. I have marked the determinate varieties above.

Right now, our selection is fabulous! Whichever variety you pick, you’re growing the quintessential American fruit—well, berry!

9 thoughts on “BONNIE’S GARDEN – Tomatoes

  1. Dan–we do have three grafted varieties this year–San Marzano, Cherokee Purple, and Mortgage.

  2. Janis, you can grow ANY variety of tomato in a container. Choose a container that around 18 inches in diameter and put a tomato cage in there to hold it up. You do not have to grow a special “container” type tomato. I always grow a Sun Sugar cherry tomato on my deck (that’s the one I snack on when I’m sitting out in my rocking chair drinking my iced tea). It grows to be about eight to ten feet tall.

  3. Hi Bonnie,
    How many hours of sun is ideal for tomatoes, and what is the least number of hours a tomato plant can receive and still be productive? Thanks.

  4. Kelly, ideally tomatoes need FULL sun–six to eight hours. If you only get four or five hours, you will still get something but not nearly as much as if they were in optimum sunlight. The timing of the sun is important, too. Four or five hours of direct sun around the middle of the day is better than the same amount earlier or later in the day.

  5. Well you said you could only tell us what your favorite was but not the “best” that we would have to decide. So what is your favorite and why?

  6. My favorite slicing tomato is Cherokee Purple. It’s an heirloom variety with dark burgundy fruits that are rich and sweet. It’s fairly disease resistant.

    My favorite cherry tomato is Sun Sugar. It has almost a citrusy back note to it and is an incredible producer.

    Like I said, different people have different tastes. When it comes right down to it, ANY homegrown tomato tastes better than a store-bought tomato.

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