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?

Note: for photo captions “OP” stands for Open-Pollinated, which means you can save the seeds. Heirlooms are OP. For hybrids you can’t save the seeds, but they aren’t the same as GMOs.

In this photo: 'White Currant' (tiny white OP), 'Juane Flamme' (medium orange OP), 'Peach Blow Sutton' (medium peach bicolor OP), 'Chocolate Cherry' (purple cherry OP), 'Brown Berry' (brown cherry OP), 'Elberta Peach' (medium red striped bicolor OP), 'Green Zebra' (medium green striped bicolor OP), 'Jersey Devil' (long red paste OP), 'Sunsugar' (orange cherry hybrid)

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.

In this photo: 'Green Sausage' (green striped paste OP), 'Jersey Devil' (long red paste OP), 'Speckled Roman' (red striped paste OP), 'Powers' (yellow paste OP), 'Purple Russian' (purple paste OP), 'Brown Berry' (brown cherry OP), 'Chocolate Cherry' (purple cherry OP), 'White Currant' (tiny white OP), 'Italian Ice' (white cherry hybrid), 'Lemon Drop' (yellow cherry hybrid), 'Green Grape' (green cherry OP), 'Sungella' (orange big cherry OP), 'Sunsugar' (orange cherry hybrid)

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.

In this photo: 'Brandywine' (pink beefsteak OP), 'Better Boy' (red medium-large hybrid), 'Sweet Million' (red cherry hybrid)

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.

In this photo: Tomatoes from my 2009 garden

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.

In this photo: 'Rose' (pink beefsteak OP), ''Purple Calabash' (purple wrinkled OP), 'Juane Flamme' (orange medium OP), 'Speckled Roman' (red striped paste OP), 'Lemon Boy' (yellow medium hybrid), 'Matina' (medium red OP), 'Sungella' (large orange cherry OP), 'Green Zebra' (green striped OP), ''Green Sausage' (green striped paste OP), 'Nyagous' (brown medium OP), 'Elberta Peach' (medium red striped OP), 'Dorothy's Green' (medium-large green tomato OP), basket of various cherries

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.

In this photo: 'Striped Stuffer' (medium-large hollow OP)

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).

In this photo: 'Elberta Peach' (medium red striped OP), 'Mikado White' (medium white OP), 'Green Zebra' (medium green striped OP), 'Peach Blow Sutton (medium peach bicolor OP), 'Garden Peach' (fuzzy medium peach bicolor OP), 'White Currant' (tiny white OP), 'Brown Berry' (brown cherry OP), 'Chocolate Cherry' (purple cherry OP), 'Green Grape' (green cherry OP), 'Sungella' (large orange cherry OP), 'Sunsugar' (orange cherry hybrid), 'Juane Flamme' (medium orange OP), 'Red Star' (flat red cherry OP)

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):

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!

Eliza Lord

I'm a Greenville, SC native (the Appalachian foothills) who wears the hats of Greenville Master Gardener & Upstate Master Naturalist. I love to write about food and sustainability.

8 thoughts on “How to Increase a “Tomato Problem” (with Gratuitous Photos)”

  1. Pingback: How to Select and Use Basil Varieties (w/Stuffed Artichoke Recipe) | Appalachian Feet

  2. Deborah - April 15, 2010 9:33 pm

    I’m growing ‘Juane Flamme’ for the first time this year — Can’t wait!!! Glad to hear how awesome someone believes it to be. Enjoyed your article — fun voice you have. — Debbie

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - April 30, 2010 11:43 am

      Thanks! I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. :)
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Identify Eastern and Forest Tent Caterpillars =-.

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  6. Gina - April 19, 2013 12:41 pm

    Your blog made my day! I found gardening in South Florida after gardening in Kentucky and Tennessee most of my life a real challenge. The humidity really gets to the plants if I’m not carfeul with the watering.

    I am growing about 7 different types of tomatoes and found the San Marzano to VERY prolific and are excellent roasted and then cooked into a sauce. What do you think about the Cherokee Purple Tomatoes? I tried them and found the taste was (not sure how to describe) off, they had a moldy smell and an unpleasant taste.

    I am going to click on some of the links on your site and find my way to where you purchased your tomato seeds. Your descriptions are exactly what one needs to make a decision on what to order.

    Besides my tomatoes my swiss chard and kohlrabi grew like gang busters this year.

    I have bookmarked your site and look forward to checking back frequently. Again thanks for taking the time to photograph and write up your adventures in gardening, much appreciated.

  7. Sonia E. - July 14, 2013 5:16 pm

    My favorite open-pollinated variety is Box Car Willie ( Been planting it for three seasons now and it’s my go-to slicer. It holds up so much better on the vine than Brandywine, and I like the “old-fashioned tomato flavor” that you get – sweet enough, but with good acidity. Gina, I am definitely trying San Marzano next year! I keep forgetting to order the seeds, but I know that this is the primary variety grown in Southern Italy – and of course the Italians know a thing or two about tomato sauce!

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