How to Increase a “Tomato Problem” (with Gratuitous Photos)
Does anyone who loves tomatoes really need advice on more tomatoes to buy? Yes. Because how else are we going to make it through the winter?
Everyone has a favorite (or five) so I’ll start right off with mine. ‘Juane Flamme’ is the best tomato I’ve grown so far (and I’ve probably grown at least 200 varieties at this point). I actually like it better than my pink beefsteaks. Each fruit is like a large apricot in shape and color. The flavor is outstanding and it has heavy, reliable production all season long. It is meltingly complex and addictive. Yum!
‘White Currant’ is another tomato I have decided never to be without. I don’t recommend it to someone who hates harvesting (it is like a cherry tomato x5 to pick them all) but if you are the kind of person who likes to stand out in the garden and munch, it’s perfect. The fruits are so sweet and intense that they make any tomato you eat afterward seem pale and bland. I know some people are “sweet” or “tangy” tomato purists, but I am a solid fan of both types.
Which brings me to ‘Opalka’ and ‘Jersey Devil’ paste tomatoes. Oh my. So useful, and so easy (delicious!) to eat out of hand! Also, they will weird out anyone you know who is used to the more common ‘Roma’ shape seen in supermarkets and garden centers everywhere. Another plus (for me) is that they are indeterminate and produce heavily. I don’t have room for tomatoes that quit.
While I am on the subject of white tomatoes I will also recommend ‘Mikado White’ as the only other “white” variety I’ve tried that I thought tasted good enough to bother growing. It has a full, tart flavor that stands up next to other varieties in colorful salads. Too many white tomatoes taste like the anemic commercial varieties shipped to grocery stores and salad bars across the country. Who would waste garden space on them? If you know of any other white varieties that taste as good as they look, let me know.
Oh, red and pink tomatoes… let me count the ways. I’m not a fan of ‘Brandywine’ though. I’m not. I don’t have any complaints about the flavor but I’ve found dozens of other heavy beefsteak heirlooms that rival or beat it in taste and also manage to give a more generous harvest. Try ‘Marianna’s Peace’, Arkansas Traveler’, ‘Matina’ (small but big flavor), ‘Rose’, and my favorite, ‘Russian 117’. You can get all of these varieties (except ‘Marianna’s Peace’) at Appalachian Seeds.
I also have to mention ‘Better Boy’ tomatoes. If you have disease issues or you just want to run out to the local garden center, get this tomato. And maybe a ‘Sweet Million’ too. They won’t look as fancy (and they are both hybrids, in case you only want open-pollinated varieties) but you’ll have true tomato flavor nonstop all season.
‘Sunsugar’ is another hybrid I make room for, though mostly I prefer heirlooms. It is supposed to be the sweetest on the brix scale which is not hard to believe when the buckets of golden orange, sun-warmed fruits start coming in during the early summer.
Black tomatoes are a must for me now too. ‘Black from Tula’ earns its spot in the garden with bumper crops of richly colored and flavored fruits. I also grow the odd and yummy ‘Purple Calabash’ more frequently than some of the other purple-black tomatoes I’ve encountered. I think their ruffled shape is particularly pretty sliced on plates with fresh mozzarella and basil.
Less purple than brown is ‘Nyagous’, a tasty and perfect tomato for people who want heirloom flavor and color without the odd shapes and catfacing. The baseball-sized fruits grow round and smooth.
Though I’d prefer to scoop the insides out of a regular tomato and stuff it, experimental gardeners may want to try the beautiful ‘Striped Stuffer’ tomato. I got my seeds in a trade and found the tomatoes to be gorgeous but bland. I also discovered that the hollow seed cavity was occasionally moldy when I cut them open, in spite of a perfect exterior.
Another popular heirloom I’m not a big fan of is ‘Yellow Pear’. The ones I’ve grown so far were rather hard and bland. Plus, if there was a microscopic change in their watering pattern they split and molded on the vine. Eww! I’ve tried them 3 different seasons because they come so highly recommended but always have the same results. Maybe it is my region, or maybe it is the strain I had. I have heard that this strain of ‘Yellow Pear’ is superior, and in spite of my previous trials I’m still seduced by the idea of trying again. They’re so cute… (I clearly have tomato-itis).
I start my transplants only 5 weeks before the frost-free date because I prefer to plant slightly small, stocky transplants over larger, leggy ones. I don’t have indoor lighting or greenhouse conditions so I roll my seed trays outdoors on warm days.
The following catalogs will tempt you with endless varieties (this list is slightly different than the one on my catalog post):
- Appalachian Seeds – Website only, excellent heirloom tomato selection. If you live close enough to visit, highly recommended
- Amishland Heirloom Seeds – Website only, very unusual varieties in small quantities
- Tomato Bob’s Heirloom Tomatoes – Website only, lots of heirloom tomatoes and hot peppers
- Gary Ibsen’s Tomatofest – Website only, dozens of varieties available
- Tomato Growers Supply Company – A solid selection of heirloom tomato varieties
- Totally Tomatoes – Commercial and more hybrids but I still find myself trying something from them every year
- Seeds of Italy – Italian varieties and generous packets of seed
- Seeds of Change – Fully organic with lots of heirloom tomatoes
- Seed Savers Exchange – Lovely selection of heirloom tomatoes
- Southern Exposure Seed Exchange – Many heirloom tomato varieties well suited to the south
- Pinetree Garden Seeds – One of the cheapest tomato seed options with smaller packets for home gardeners
If you have trouble growing your own seedlings you can still find heirloom tomatoes for your garden. Farmers markets and Master Gardener organizations often have festivals in the spring where vegetable transplants get sold. Even regular garden centers tend to have a few options. You could also try to convince a green-thumbed friend to start some seedlings for you.
I emphatically invite you to share your own tomato experiences in the comments. Frost-free date, here we come!