Tomato Frenzy: New and Classic Varieties
There’s something about ripe-red tomatoes that brings out the green in gardeners.
I’m talking about green as in “green with envy,” and if you grow tomatoes, you’ve probably seen this, too. Tomatoes just seem to bring out our competitive side, as we dig, sow, fertilize, water and weed, working like crazy to be the first ones on the block to harvest those juicy, nutritious, bright red fruits (and botanically speaking, they really are fruits).
My local TV weatherman even ran a contest for many years, asking viewers to send in pictures of their tomatoes to see whose was the biggest, whose weighed the most, and, of course, whose tomato was the first to be picked from the vine.
It’s been a chilly spring in my garden, but the soil is finally heating up enough to plant these warm-weather crops, and if you’ve never bitten into a sweet tomato still warm from the sun—well, what are you waiting for? In the spirit of encouraging everyone to grow at least a few ‘maters for eating fresh, here’s a round up of both some new and some tried-and-true varieties to try. (Just don’t beat me to the harvest, okay?)
Note: indeterminate means a tomato plant keeps growing and producing all season. Sometimes indeterminate tomatoes are referred to as vining. You’ll need to stake or cage these plants.
A determinate tomato plant bears a crop all at once, but you can choose from early, mid-season and late-season types. Determinates are nice for containers because they’re bushier, and they stop growing after they reach a certain size. You may still need to give the vines some support.
- ‘Celebrity’ – This hybrid variety yields clusters of big tomatoes. It’s a semi-determinate type, which means it usually grows 3-4 feet tall, but it bears until frost. An AAS (All-America Selections) winner, ‘Celebrity’ is productive and well adapted to gardens across the U.S.
- ‘Early Girl’ – If you’re racing to grow the first tomatoes in your neighborhood, medium-sized ‘Early Girl’ plants might give you the edge. The fruits are ready to pick in about 59 days, earlier than other varieties of a similar size. They’re delicious, bright red and good for slicing onto sandwiches or in salads.
- ‘Jasper’ is a deep red cherry tomato with a rich, sweet flavor and a slightly chewy texture. It’s an AAS-winner, and it’s great for snacking. The fruits resist cracking and the indeterminate plants are vigorous.
- ‘Verona’ (right) is a new tomato from Johnny’s Select Seeds. It’s described as tasty and plump, with “cocktail plum” fruits held in long clusters. The vines grow with medium vigor and resist fusarium races 1 and 2 (fusarium is a fungal disease; race refers to the different kinds of genetic makeup in the fungal organisms).
Heirloom tomatoes are also increasingly popular to grow. Unlike the hybrids listed above, they’re plants whose seeds have been passed down from generation to generation. They’re often more flavorful than modern varieties that have been bred for disease resistance or other desirable characteristics.
- ‘Brandywine’ is an old favorite that dates back to 1885. The beefsteak-shaped, rosy-pink fruits are sweet and ripen late in the season—but they’re worth the wait.
- ‘Cherokee Purple’ is a great heirloom to try if you’d like to experiment with different colored tomatoes. The sweet fruits are large and dusky purple-pink. This variety, grown by Cherokee Indians, can be traced to pre-1890.
- ‘Black Prince’ is another tomato with a dark, almost garnet-black skin. It ripens mid-season, in about 70 days, and tastes rich and fruity. It’s recommended for eating fresh or cooking in sauces and other dishes.
There are thousands of tomato varieties in cultivation around the world, and while most vendors offer only the most popular, you’ll still find plenty of choices when you plant this season. The weather is warming up, so the race to harvest is on!
‘Verona’ and ‘Jasper’ are available from Johnny’s Selected Seeds